Originally created 01/07/01

Lawmakers to amend school reform

ATLANTA - The second chapter in Gov. Roy Barnes' education-reform text will read more like a poetry anthology than the first chapter, which came across like a history of warfare.

Until Professor Barnes delivers his lecture to lawmakers after the General Assembly convenes Monday, Chapter Two will not be in the campus bookstore, so to speak. But he has hinted at what it will contain, calling it tame compared to last year's controversial plan.

Last year, the spitballs from the back of the room were hurled by teacher groups and Republican Superintendent of Schools Linda Schrenko. This year, Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, has restored order with a funding request he made Tuesday during a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees. His plan calls for spending $468 million of taxpayer money to construct more classrooms, $290,000 to help teachers receive national certification, and $13 million to develop standardized tests needed for teacher accountability.

"What's not to like?" Mrs. Schrenko asked. "Phase II, a lot of it, goes back to fix some of the things I had objections to last year. If you remember, I objected to this reduced-class-size model where you didn't have any room, any buildings, for them. So we've gone back to address that. He's going back to put (paraprofessionals) back in the kindergarten. That was a concern I had last year."

Mr. Barnes is also asking the General Assembly to appropriate taxpayer money for vocational labs, another about-face from last year.

Much of what education observers surmise about this year's proposal comes from comments the governor has made to recommendations by his Education Reform Commission. Based on those comments, they predict he will seek to add 20-30 minutes to the average day for middle schoolers and encourage several schools to experiment with even longer days.

Much of the bill is expected to deal with attracting and retaining teachers. One provision will likely sweeten the enticement for teachers to take hard-to-fill jobs in backwater towns or to specialize in subjects like math, science or foreign languages.

The commission also recommended revamping the salary schedule for teachers so they qualify for longevity raises twice as often and putting more rungs in the ladder to delay "topping out." Plus, changes will likely be made in how teachers are evaluated and coached by more experienced colleagues, said Ralph Noble, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

Ms. Schrenko and the GAE have lobbied for a 10 percent across-the-board teacher pay raise costing taxpayers $500 million yearly, but Mr. Barnes has indicated he won't aim that high, though he won't say how much lower.

The amount of the raise is the only area likely to spark much discussion.

"There are several things we will be pushing, a better raise will be one," said Mr. Noble, a fifth-grade teacher in Whitfield County. He also wants more time for teachers to do paperwork and offices to do it in.

And Ms. Schrenko said she'll seek funding for science labs and first-grade teacher aides.

But most observers see this year's legislation as involving funding of initiatives launched last year and ironing out some details in the earlier legislation.

"I think you'll see when the legislation comes out that tweaking will make it work," said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Georgia Association of Education Leaders.

There won't be much controversy because this year's changes are based on "common sense" and consensus, said Sen. Richard Marable, a teacher and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

"It's not election time," the Rome Democrat said. "There are some things that are pretty hard to argue against."

Mr. Barnes, playing the firm proctor, admonished lawmakers to behave this session.

"And for the long haul, the decisions we make and the steps we take to improve the education of our children and grandchildren are more important than - not just anything - but everything else we will do here," Mr. Barnes told legislators Tuesday. "I hope you will keep that in mind as you make your decisions."

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.


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