Originally created 02/19/03

Perdue's proposal overhauls Barnes' education reforms



ATLANTA - Key elements of former Gov. Roy Barnes' education reforms would be delayed or scaled back under a plan rolled out Tuesday by the man who defeated him.

A pair of bills introduced for Gov. Sonny Perdue would postpone assigning letter grades to schools and class-size reductions for one year.

The plan also would allow local school systems to get rid of an extra 30 minutes of academic classes that Mr. Barnes had added for middle school pupils.

The bills would restore one appeal for new teachers whose contracts aren't renewed and give local school districts more flexibility in how they spend state money.

Mr. Perdue campaigned heavily against reforms he said transferred too much power from local schools to state bureaucrats. He said his two House bills would begin to address the problem.

"We believe education in Georgia ought to be a team sport - from the governor's office to the classroom," said Mr. Perdue, who dubbed his effort STARS (Students + Teachers + Accountability + Respect = Success).

Supporters of Mr. Barnes' efforts, who have argued that the 2000 overhaul is just now starting to show results, greeted the announcement with caution.

"The question is going to be, 'What's in it for the kids?' and 'Is this going to help measure and make certain that student achievement is the focus of our schools?"' said Rep. Kathy Ashe, D-Atlanta, a teacher who played a key role in passing House Bill 1187, Mr. Barnes' massive reform plan.

Supporters of Mr. Perdue's effort say Mr. Barnes' reforms aren't popular among teachers and administrators who felt they were unfairly blamed during debate of the bill in 2000.

"If you talk to the people out in the field - the teachers, the principals - they don't think it's working," said Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "If those people don't buy into it, it's never going to work."

Mr. Perdue said the bill would not get rid of the school accountability in current law, but would simply give schools more freedom in achieving improvement. He said part of the reason for delaying school grades a year was to ensure they match up with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed by Congress last year.

"I think it's the wrong message to send to parents - one grade on one set of standards and another grade on another set of standards," Mr. Perdue said.

He said he wants to delay class-size reductions largely because of an ailing state economy, which would leave local districts struggling to pay for the extra teachers and classrooms required.

Even when reduction goals are reinstated, Mr. Perdue's plan would let a classroom be as many as two students over the maximum as long as the entire school system is not above average. Mr. Perdue's bill would also dismantle the Barnes-created Office of Education Accountability, which currently works independently and answers to the governor. That agency's jobs would be moved back to the Department of Education, under the state school superintendent's control, and be renamed the Office of Student Achievement.

School councils, which were created under Mr. Barnes' bill, would get to have any number of members under Mr. Perdue's changes. The majority of those members would be parents. Mr. Barnes limited the councils to seven members, divided between parents, business leaders and school representatives.

Instead of monthly meetings, they would only be required to meet four times a year.