School Boards Could See Greater State Scrutiny Following Action on Teacher Raises and Vote on Opportunity School District

Most Gold Dome observers predicted that much of the 2017 legislative session would focus around education. Two years ago, Governor Deal created his Education Reform Commission to examine K-12 education, and make recommendations on how to improve it. Originally scheduled to make its recommendations during the 2016 legislative session, the governor agreed to a delay in announcing the results until 2017 so the education funding subcommittee could continue gathering feedback.

News that some local school districts used funding intended to provide 3% raises to teachers for other purposes, and the result of the vote on the governor’s Opportunity School District might well dictate the direction the reform proposal takes in January.

When Governor Deal announced the delay in reporting the results of the Reform Commission during the State of the State address in January, he also announced $300 million in increased K-12 funding, which he hoped would be used to provide a 3% raise for teachers. But, he also warned,

We will distribute this money to your local school system under the existing QBE formula, but it is our intention that your local school system pass the three percent pay raise along to you. If that does not happen, it will make it more difficult next year for the state to grant local systems more flexibility in the expenditure of state education dollars, as recommended by the Education Reform Commission.

We have given local school systems large increases in funding for the past three years and given them the flexibility to decide how to spend it. Based on a survey by the State Department of Education, 94 percent of school systems used those funds to reduce or eliminate furlough days. With the additional funding this year, furloughs should be a thing of the past and teachers should receive that three percent pay raise.

In the end,not all the school districts used the money to fund the 3% raises. The AJC reports the results of a survey by the Department of Education that show only 40% of the state’s school districts passed that money along in the form of raises. Some used the money for one-time bonuses, others eliminated remaining furlough days, and still others used the funds to cover operating expenses. Governor Deal’s spokeswoman had a quick reaction to the news:

Governor Deal has given local school systems large increases in funding for the past three years and given them the flexibility to decide how to spend it. These additional resources, totaling $894 million, were sent to local school systems to restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries.

“Last year, 94 percent of school systems reported eliminating furlough days. With the additional spending this year, furloughs should have been a thing of the past and teachers should have received that 3 percent pay raise,” she added. “Since so many did not, Governor Deal is left with no other option; silo the pay raise, which will mandate teachers receive it.

In light of the austerity cuts to K-12 education brought on by the recession, the administration had given local school boards more flexibility in how to spend state funds. That flexibility may now be ending. How much flexibility the boards have left could depend on the results of the vote on Amendment 1, the Opportunity School District.

Intended to allow the state to bring chronically underperforming schools temporarily under state control in order to improve student outcomes, the OSD proposal has been opposed not only by Democrats and groups such as the American Federation of Teachers, but also by many of the state’s school boards, including some that have no schools in danger of being under the control of the OSD. And as reported by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein, the governor will step up the pressure on local school boards if the measure fails to bass:

I want to see that they would be doing something other than say, ‘We’re protecting our monopoly,’” Deal said. “And that’s what they have – a monopoly. And monopolies, as a general rule, have no competition and see no reason to change. I would expect them to show some evidence that they’re willing to change.

Recent polling shows that the Opportunity School District is opposed by many voters, who fear loss of local control if the measure passes.

Gwinnett County has the state’s largest school district. Its superintendent, J. Alvin Wilbanks, is a member of the governor’s Education Reform Commission. Over the past year, the district has been working on a new compensation model for teachers that is based on performance that is expected to be used as the model for statewide changes. At a recent work session, Wilbanks told the school board to expect details by the end of the year on the new package, which is expected go into effect for the 2017-18 school year. The district is waiting on more information from the Reform Commission. One wonders what changes might be made to the compensation model based on the OSD vote and the lack of follow through on the 3% raises proposed by the governor this year.


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