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4 Hall County schools may lose charter status
Interpretation of law may make institutions become programs of choice
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Four Hall County charter schools may not have their charters renewed due to confusion over state law governing control of charter school budgets.

If the charters are not renewed, the schools are likely to become schools of choice.

According to the Georgia Department of Education’s current interpretation of the law, decisions about personnel and budget at schools that renew their charters will have to be made at the school level by local governance councils rather than at the school system level, Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said Wednesday. Schofield said the school system is not likely to renew the charters if that interpretation stands, but that the law is not clear and it is possible the state’s interpretation will change.

Currently, the county’s 11 charter schools have flexibility in decisions such as class size and types of certification, and have “autonomy in the delivery of educational services,” Schofield said, while the school system oversees decisions about budget and personnel.

McEver Arts Academy, Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy, Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science and Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development are beginning the charter renewal process, but Schofield said if renewing the charters means handing over the reins to the budget, “that probably doesn’t fit into our strategic plan.” At a school board meeting Monday, the board agreed it does not intend to give budgetary and personnel control to local school governance councils.

“I expect what will happen (if the state does not change its interpretation of the law) is we will slowly see our charter conversion schools move back to schools of choice,” Schofield said.

This means schools will continue to accept students from outside the individual school district and specialize in specific areas such as arts or math and science, but will no longer operate under a charter.

“I think we’ve got to get some of this confusion cleared up with the state,” Schofield said. “We’re just working through that with them and once we figure out the interpretation, we’ll decide where to go from there.”

Along with all school districts in the state, the county must also meet the Georgia DOE’s June 2015 deadline to choose a flexibility option. All school districts in the state must choose whether they will be a traditional status quo system, an Investing in Education Execellence system, or a charter system. According to Gainesville City School System Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, the state incentivizes IE2 and charter systems, both of which are granted flexibility from the state laws governing schools.

Dyer said the deadline is not likely to have a noticeable effect on Gainesville City Schools because it is already a charter system and does not have plans to change.

Hall County, however, will have to decide.

Schofield said status quo, which would increase the school system’s financial burden, has been ruled out. He said the district will not be hasty in its decision between charter and IE2.

“We’re not rushing to make a decision until the dust has settled in terms of state law,” he said.

Either way, Schofield said the district will continue to focus on providing education that is tailored to student needs and interests.

“The key ingredient that’s been missing for the last 40 years is student engagement,” he said, “so we will continue to move toward schools of choice whether they are charter or whether they are not.”