During his trip to Augusta, Gov. Nathan Deal presented what he considers a clear message regarding Opportunity School District.
“There are two sides to this,” he said. “Who’s for the children? And who’s for the adults? I think it’s clear which side we’re fighting for.”
Georgia voters will get a chance to decide Nov. 8 on a constitutional amendment that would authorize the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing public schools and their students.
While meeting with The Augusta Chronicle’s editorial staff, Deal admitted recent polls indicate the bill is trailing with less than two weeks till the election. Across the state, 127 schools are targeted if the amendment passes. The state-operated school district could take over up to 20 schools a year and 100 schools total. Schools in the OSD would receive a per-student share of all local, state and federal funds coming into the school districts in which the schools are located.
“Right now, there are about 68,000 students in failing schools across the state,” Deal said. “That’s 15,000 more than the number of inmates in our entire state prison system.”
In Richmond County, 19 schools currently have the potential to be affected:
Three high schools – Butler, Glenn Hills and T.W. Josey. Four middle schools — Glenn Hills, Murphey, Sego and Spirit Creek. Twelve elementary schools — Bayvale, Diamond Lakes, Glenn Hills, Hains, Hornsby, Jamestown, Jenkins-White Charter, Lamar-Milledge, Meadowbrook, Terrace Manor, Wheeless Road and Wilkinson Gardens.
By definition, chronically failing schools have three or more consecutive years of scoring an F on the state’s criteria. According to Deal, less than 6 percent of Georgia schools are failing.
“I’m all for local control if it’s producing results,” he said. “But if someone’s driving the car off a cliff, someone better take the wheel. Look, there’s a direct pipeline between high school dropouts and our prison population. About one-third of paroled inmates return to (jail) because they can’t find jobs and keep jobs. Guess what? The most common characteristic of returning inmates is that 70 percent don’t have a high school diploma.”
For Deal, what stands out most about Richmond County is the number of failing elementary schools. According to the governor, only 11.8-percent of third graders in failing schools are reading at grade level.
When asked about giving local school systems more time to fix the problem, Deal chuckled, while stating, “How much time do they need?”
“The only schools on this list are the ones making F’s,” he said. “I mean, even if you make a D, you’re not on here.”
Deal went on to address concerns of teachers, while pointing out that his wife, Sandra, both of his parents and both of his wife’s parents were educators.
“First off, good teachers will always have a job,” Deal said. “They’ll always be in demand. Now, there may be some teachers removed from failing schools but the OSD superintendent cannot fire any teacher. They can move them from the failing school, and then the local board and superintendent has the option to transfer them elsewhere.”
Before leaving, Deal shot down the notion that he wants to implement OSD with hopes of garnering more power.
“I have many things on my plate,” he said, “and the last thing I want is more power. My goal, my No. 1 priority, is fixing this downward spiral that occurs when students don’t graduate high school. It’s our duty to help the children of Georgia.”