The Hall County School District is hoping to become a charter system next year, but it’s a decision that hinges on the Georgia Department of Education’s interpretation of just what a charter system is.
All school districts in the state have until June 30 to decide whether they will be a traditional system, a charter system or an Investing in Educational Excellence system, commonly referred to as IE2.
School district officials including the Hall County Board of Education and Superintendent Will Schofield were previously leaning toward IE2 because the department’s definition of a charter system did not allow for district-level budgetary control, but officials now say that definition could change.
“We’ve had some feedback indicating that they are aware that these models are giving us some problems,” said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent in charge of teaching and learning for the district. “We have been told that possibly some of what they said about charter systems might be changed.”
Schofield said it’s possible the district will be able to craft its charter in a way that allows district-level decision making to continue on issues including the budget and the hiring process.
“Ultimately, the constitution’s pretty clear that that authority needs to lie with the local board of education,” he said.
The earlier concern over the charter system was that individual school governance boards would make all financial and hiring decisions for schools.
“At the end of the day, we need to continue to act like a school district and not 33 independent entities,” Schofield said.
Nath Morris, chairman of the school board, said that in “talking with the lieutenant governor, the clarification should come in the charter contract that allows governance to stay with the board.”
Morris said the district would have the option to pass those decisions on to individual schools, “but I can see a problem with that with a system our size.”
Barron said the district, which already includes individual charter schools but is not a charter system, has narrowed the choice down to either charter or IE2.
“We’ve all said status quo is out,” she said, “and also, the very few systems that have IE2, I don’t think they would recommend it, so we’re leaning toward charter system.”
Barron said the the primary factors driving the preference for the charter system model are that the district already has some charter schools and that IE2 is largely untested.
According to state Department of Education materials, IE2 systems have some flexibility, but must seek waivers for rules concerning class size, expenditure control, certification and salary schedule.
Charter systems have broad flexibility and must provide examples of how that flexibility improves student achievement. Traditional schools are the least flexible and are only granted waivers in extraordinary circumstances.
Barron said there has been no indication for when the district will find out whether the requirements for charter systems will change, but they expect to know before the June 30 deadline.