Local education leaders are bristling at the latest attempt by state legislators to reform school boards and give the governor power to remove underperforming board members.
Gov. Sonny Perdue is leading the charge on Senate Bill 84, his second attempt in as many sessions to crack down on school boards on probation or in danger of losing their accreditation. Last session, a similar bill was put forward after the Clayton County school system became one of two in the U.S. to lose accreditation in the last four decades.
"I think it’s unfortunate when the actions of a handful of people start to require the level of specificity that you find in Senate Bill 84," Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said Friday.
The bill addresses board ethics, requiring members to undergo extensive training before serving and limiting the size of boards to seven members.
Gainesville Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said some school boards have not been as proactive as they should be to prevent losing accreditation.
"If the individual board would self-assess themselves and monitor themselves and keep that ongoing focus on improving boardsmanship, then Senate Bill 84 never would have come about," Dyer said.
Amid such criticism, committee members spent time Thursday revising the bill, adding more checks on the governor’s power by giving suspended board members the chance to petition for their reinstatement and defend themselves in a hearing held by the State Board of Education.
Another point of controversy surrounds the bill’s ban on nepotism in school boards. The bill would bar members from serving in the same district as immediate family members who work as a local superintendent, principal, assistant principal or administrative staff.
Former Gainesville school board member Kelvin Simmons recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging a similar state law that barred him from seeking re-election last year.
Simmons, who had served on the city school board since 1991, is married to Gainesville Middle School Assistant Principal Audrey Simmons.
Dyer said she approaches such legislation cautiously.
"You would not want to eliminate people that are willing to serve as a superintendent in a rural district or any school district because of their spouse being employed there," Dyer said.
Unlike Gainesville and Hall County, smaller districts offer fewer opportunities for family members to work separately and still live in close proximity, she said.
There are no Gainesville board members currently serving who would be affected by this section of the bill if passed, she said.
The committee is expected to vote on SB84 this week before it makes it way to the House and Senate floors.