August 4, 2008

Barrow Considers Running Schools As a Charter System

By Ryan Blackburn, Athens Banner-Herald, Ga.

Aug. 2--WINDER -- The Barrow County Board of Education is considering whether to run the entire system like a charter school, but board members want to know more before they decide.

By 2013, all Georgia school systems must either decide to set up their own performance standards through a contract with the state, revamp their district like a charter school or continue to face the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Law.

A school charter system may be the best plan because it would give local school administrators more freedom to spend money without worrying about state restrictions, a consultant told school board members at a meeting this week.

With the other two options, Barrow County could wind up with less control over its own school district, said Patricia Stokes, a consultant from the Northeast Georgia Regional Education Service Agency.

And with about $725,000 available in state and federal grants to help run a charter system, board members should consider applying soon before more school districts decide to compete against them, Stokes said.

Under a charter, the local school district would have greater control over how it spends its funding and configures classes.

But schools also would have to meet the performance standards laid out in the charter and approved by the state Board of Education.

Board members said they want school principals in the next two months to make an argument laying out the benefits and problems of setting up a charter system.

If the board decides to proceed with a charter application, drafts of the plan would come before several public hearings, said Barrow County School District Superintendent Ron Saunders.

"We think the timing is right if we get out early -- ahead of the onslaught that may very well come for charter school systems -- to take advantage of some planning money that's out there," Saunders said.


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