Area school boards reject state's advice

Local school leaders say a legislative fight might be looming over guidelines for Georgia's school boards.

Their concerns follow last month's release of a Commission for School Board Excellence report that recommends the Georgia General Assembly standardize school boards in several ways. Statewide suggestions include eliminating compensation for school board members except on a per diem basis, establishing a code of ethics policy, limiting boards to five to seven members and requiring board members to have at least a high school diploma or GED.

The 100-plus-page report was presented at a September meeting of the state Board of Education. Many local boards are worried it's an effort to limit their control.

"I don't think any of us want to relinquish any power to the state," Richmond County school board President Jimmy Atkins said. "I think that school systems are better served if they have a local board of education."

Columbia County school board President Regina Buccafusco agreed.

"When things are run from a distance, you lose something," she said. "All politics should be as local as possible."

The Georgia School Boards Association has sent local school boards Web-based surveys seeking their input. Laura Reilly, the communications director for the association, said she expects to compile those results next week.

"We're for anything that improves governance," Ms. Reilly said. "We did have some concerns, however, on some recommendations that sought to move local decision-making to Atlanta."

The boards in Richmond and Columbia counties oppose nearly all the recommendations, Mr. Atkins and Mrs. Buccafusco said. Both believe their school districts are challenged by different problems best understood by local representatives.

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach," Mr. Atkins said. "I don't even see an argument the state can make for that."

However, Mark Elgart, the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which helped develop the recommendations, says the changes would have benefits.

"I believe that what the legislation is designed to do is bring greater clarity to the role of a local board of education in conducting itself," Dr. Elgart said.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools President and CEO Mark Elgart said the Commission for School Board Excellence will start meeting with state lawmakers, hoping to turn school board improvement recommendations into bills for consideration during the next legislative session.

The Georgia School Board Association hopes to compile the results of an October survey of school boards next week. The results might be used as a lobbying tool against commission recommendations.