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The Myth of Local Control

By Nancy Jester

Let’s set the record straight about who controls education in Georgia.   Superintendents and their administrators do.  Local boards of education do hire the Superintendent but once in place, these educrats are in the driver’s seat.  The legal framework in our state reinforces the supremacy of the superintendent’s position relative to a board.

School system administrations choose who works in the system and what they do.  We often hear that the board and administration are a “governance team”.   Sadly, “the team” is dominated by board members with “Stockholm Syndrome” or they are accomplices in the abduction of local control.  All of this power comes with a hefty contract that insulates superintendents and gives them a golden parachute at taxpayer’s expense even if their tenure is marked by failure.  Make no mistake about it.  Local control is superintendent control.  If you agree with the superintendent and they are making good decisions for your particular community, you’re probably content.  But, if they are not, you are in a constant struggle with little to no redress.

The charter school amendment is perceived as an existential threat to the gravy train for educrats throughout the state.  That is what the fight is about.  The “local control” that is hailed by the current purveyors of the fine educational products in Georgia, is “educrat control”.  They push the buttons and pull the levers and try to make you believe that “stakeholders” have a say in it all.  Despite state legislation on school councils, parents don’t get a seat at the table when selecting a principal for their school.  In the struggle for power and control, the educrats have failed you and your children; all the while collecting fat paychecks and doling out six-figure jobs and lucrative contracts to more educrats.  If you realize that your voice as a citizen is so diminished within the current power structure of education, you will know that voting for the charter amendment is one of the solutions.

Parents deserve more choices.  Communities deserve more input into how their schoolhouses are run.  Charter schools are innovation incubators and are governed by a volunteer group of parents, teachers and community members.  That’s local control.  They get to choose the companies that provide services to their school.  If they do a bad job, they will lose their charter and parents will leave their school for a better product.  If they are responsible and create a valuable product for their community they will thrive and our children will get the education they deserve.  This responsiveness is completely missing in education today.  In fact, in DeKalb we have some schools that have been labeled “failing” for as long as a decade, yet remain open with no replacement of staff. All of the “turn around” plans, accountability measures and excuses brought to us courtesy of the “local control” we have today do nothing to rid our system of failure or make it more efficient, helpful and valuable for the students and community.  Please join me in supporting real local control.  Please join me in advocating for kids and taxpayers in DeKalb County and throughout our state.  Please join me by voting YES on the charter school amendment.

(37) comments
  1. I say this each time I read what you post. Thank you for your courage in speaking the truth about what’s going on in public education. I hope we can repair the damage and revive our public education system. Charters are one way to start that process of renewed accountability to the parents and taxpayers.

  2. Please explain the difference in Charter Schools and Public Schools as it relates to children’s education.
    I live in Gwinnett County and my twin granddaughters attend a public school in this county. The girls are in Kindergarten and I am concerned about their education in the public school system. Thank you in advance for any comments.

    Brenda Osborne

  3. Hi Brenda
    Charter schools are public schools governed by nonprofit boards. Instead of the county telling you which school to attend, charter schools give parents additional educational options for their children.

    Children are better served when the parent decides which school is best for them.

  4. Great post! In Clayton County we have seen the entire county decimated by these “educrats” and their power struggles.

    Do you have a source for stats? Do those stats take into consideration parent education and involvement (if there is such a way)? I wonder if charter schools perform better because the parents that enroll their children there are more involved in their child’s education. In other words, would those children be more likely to succeed even if they were in failing public schools?

  5. Good Afternoon Jon.
    For which stats are you looking for a source?

  6. Jon Morris –

    You ask a good, and fair question. Carolyn Hoxby, researcher at Stanford University did something interesting – she compared students who entered a charter school lottery and compared those who got into the charter versus those who didn’t. She found that students exceeded the traditional district schools in math and reading, and the results got even more favorable the longer the charter was open.

    One assumes that every charter requires parental involvement. The KIPP schools do not. They serve the most at-risk urban youth, and they are highly successful nationwide. How do they do this with the population of kids from gang neighborhoods with single parents, etc.? It is the culture they set at the school and the high expectations.

  7. Charters teach to the children, each child has individual lesson plan. They get the extra help where it is needed so the child will succeed. The environment is different in charter, if the school fails it closes, teachers are kept based on their performance. Charter schools are cheaper to run. Cherokee charter, per student is 3000.00 a year less to run and get a better education. In Cherokee charter anyone can apply and get in with the lottery or waiting list. Our children take Spanish from kindergarten. Charter community is a community like no other. Every child is gifted at charter, no matter the disabilities. Parents are required to do volunteer hours for charter. All parents are able since there is work that can be done at home for hours as well. Custer has a more diverse environment.

  8. Well stated! My child attended a Cherokee county school for 3 weeks in 2011 before her lottery number came up on the waiting list. I cannot even begin to tell you what a blessing this school has been to my child and to our family. My other children graduated from Cherokee County schools but I was never, ever involved in their education as I am with my youngest. My child is on her 2nd year at Cherokee Charter and she is THRIVING!!! Within the 1st week of my child’s entrance from public to charter we immediately noticed much more respectable behavior at home, a love for school and others, and academics immediately began to excel. I pray and will continue to pray that the right decision is made on November 6th that allows our children and future children to stay and graduate from CCA and many other charter schools!

  9. I started reading your email with interest until I got to the first pejorative term, followed by another and another and another. It would be helpful if you could state your position without denigrating the people you disagree with. Your use of the terms “Stockholm Syndrome”, “gravy train”, and “educrat” say a lot more about you than the people you describe. I would like to read some solid, logical reasons to be for or against the charter amendment. I don’t get that in your posting.

  10. Hi Anne
    I thought “Stockholm Syndrome”, “gravy train”, and “educrat” were the logical reasons for expressing concern with traditional public schools.

    Stockholm Syndrome – DeKalb is held hostage by DCSD and the tyranny of the majority that is South DeKalb. The board’s affection for the DCSD administration over the last 10 years has fogged up their vision and allowed DCSD to perpetrate numerous crimes. This scenario is mirrored in many counties across the state.

    Gravy Train – Let me know if you need me to explain that one.

    Educrat – School administrators, GSBA, and all these other education entities are more politician than educator. If you ever listen to them, they talk more about jobs and money than what is good for the kids.

    Do you disagree with any of my take-aways from this post?

  11. Perhaps a question to ask is “how many options should parents be offered”? Today there are the incumbent public schools (regular and charter), private schools (secular and religious), and home-schooling. Private schools require money, often quite a lot and home-schooling requires significant time and money, leaving many parents with what increasingly appears to be one option. So the real question becomes “should taxpayers directly fund more than one option” for parents?

    As a voting taxpayer my goal is to maximize the objectively measured results for a given amount of money, or if results cannot or will not be measured objectively, then to minimize the cost. Does the existing educational mono-culture make best use of our dollars? Will the alternative truly provide targeted application of resources such that student potential is not sacrificed to ensure lesser students are not “left behind” and thereby increase overall performance? Will alternatives somehow reduce infrastructure and other operational costs reducing taxpayer outlay?

    This is a judgment call but I suspect most will vote with their hearts not their heads. They did with eSPLOST.

  12. Yeah, most of us have just 1 option. AND let’s not pretend magnet schools are an option either, because a majority of kids are not picked out of the lottery.

    If a Public Charter School does not provide a superior service then it will fail and go away. I wish we could say the same for a traditional public school.

    The average per student funding (full time equivalent or FTE) in Georgia is just short of $8600.00 Some systems spend more per FTE, some less. FTE funding for State approved charter schools is the low $6000 range.

  13. I thank you Ms. Jester for your post, which I find to be one the most honest assessments of the state of public education goverance I’ve seen from “an Insider” in quite some time.

    I hope those who read your post give thoughtful consideration to reality of the picture you’ve painted as they contemplate their choice at the ballot box in Nov.

    Bottom line the “Russian Bread Line approach” to public school assignment and governance doesn’t meet the needs of the evolving socio-economic reality in which many parents live.

  14. We have 17 grandchildren – four home schooled, four in religious private schools, four in non- religious private schools, four in regular public schools, one in a charter school. The one consistent thread that runs through each educational experience appears to be parental (and grandparent!) involvement. The challenge is to get beyond partisan sound bites and work together to educate our community’s children.

  15. Work together …
    Speaking for the teachers that were riffed and furloughed, can you pass that message along to the DCSD administration and the 4 top school administrators that just got raises a few days ago. To quote Dr Walker, “I thought we were in austerity mode.”

  16. Bravo Nancy! A school board member who “won’t back down”. We need you more than ever in DeKalb right now. Keep fighting the good fight.

  17. Maybe, I do not know, the school superintendents in the Atlanta area are ” all powerful “, but that is not the case in smaller school districts. Local elected board members are held accountable at the ballet box, and their choice of school leaders can change votes. Just as the municipalities in all states do, local Atlanta politics have a one size fits all mentality. If this amendment passes, then more funds will be diverted away from public schools in rural Georgia systems. The state budget only has a certain amount of funding for education, and the passage of this bill will drain more away from systems that are already suffering.Our local school system of 3700 students has had over 10 million in funds slashed over the last 10 years, and 2 million has been cut this year alone. I applaud the school systems in Georgia for just managing to operate, with over eight Billion in school funding cuts in eight years. Maybe, just maybe, the local school boards would approve more charter schools if they quit having their funds slashed.

  18. Mark,

    I hear you, but let me give you another perspective to consider. And please note that I am also not living in an urban area – I have a small town board I’m dealing with in our charter that has been very difficult and obstructive in nature, so I’m not coming to you from the urban perspective.

    The fact of the matter is that QBE has NEVER been fully funded – not since the 80s when it was put into law, so this has not been an anomaly over the last 10 years. Have there been cuts? Yes, just like there have been to every other private business and every other government agency. What that means is that the board and central administration have to be smarter about how they spend their dollars. Has that happened? Based on the research I have done on spending across districts, the answer to that is NO. Why?

    * We have 87 superintendents who have taken raises during these tough austerity times – all the while furloughing their teachers and cutting school days. I encourage you to go to http://www.open.georgia.gov and look over the last few years at the superintendent salaries for your district, which I surmise to be either Franklin or Monroe County based on the size of your district. Look broader than just your own district – check the districts around you.

    * We have districts earning between $6500 all the way up to $15,000 per pupil across Georgia. How much money is enough to educate? Do you know that our state charters that were originally authorized by the Commission ALL operated under $6000 per pupil – and many under $5000 per pupil. If charters, without economy of scale, having to do the same responsibilities as school districts, can operate on this, why can’t the districts? The answer is that charters are lean and accountable to the parents and communities their individual school serves. These stakeholders won’t tolerate waste, and the board is governed by these stakeholders…unlike district boards who are, regardless of being “locally elected” are pretty far removed from the classroom and even the school level.

    * Districts have expenditures to places like Callaway Gardens and the Ritz Carlton up in Greene County for retreats – funds spent in the tens of thousands of dollars. Know where our charter school does our retreats? The library – and we all bring in a dish to share for lunch. Tons of money is spent on travel and other non-essential expenses that have NOTHING TO DO WITH EDUCATING KIDS. Please, go to http://www.open.georgia.gov and look at the EXPENDITURES for your district and districts around you. Do a search for expenses for travel, conferences, and association memberships (i.e., to GSBA – Georgia School Boards Association and GSSA – Georgia School Superintendents Associations, both lobbying organizations. How much money is wasted in your district and across the state that doesn’t get to the classrooms?

    * We have scores of the school districts in this state spending excess of 10% on their budget for central administration. Every dime that goes to a bloated central administration is money coming out of classrooms. Go to this state resource: http://app3.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/fin_pack_revenue.display_proc and calculate how much of your district’s per pupil is spent on General Administration versus instruction. Are all of the district positions essential for educating kids and running the district? We have 118 out of 180 districts (66%) with less than $5000 students…and districts with as many as $162,000 students. If you want to talk about duplicative efforts and bureaucratic waste – why in the world can’t the rural districts consolidate central office and governance functions instead of duplicating efforts and wasting dollars?

    Charters are trying very hard to be authorized locally and to make a difference in their districts; however, they are being stonewalled. The districts are comfortable with their current structures and are fighting tooth and nail to keep the status quo. If you ask most parents in our state if 67.4% for a graduation rate is acceptable and if our state’s economy, largely impacted by an unqualified work force and unemployment – both factors of our education system, is acceptable, most would say no. Charters aren’t going to completely fix this problem, but what they will do is:

    1. Provide an option for students in persistently failing schools to obtain a quality public school education.

    2. PUSH the districts to re-evaluate their practices and to reform themselves and achieve better academic outcomes and better fiscal accountability to its tax payers.

    Charters can’t do this if they can’t open. They MUST have a constitutionally protected appeals process. Think about it – do a little more research, and let’s talk some more. Thanks for being involved in talking about education matters.

  19. @ Ken – I understand what you’re saying…how many options are too many?

    The fact of the matter is that we have 70 start up charter school options across the state – that is, across 180 school districts. We have thousands of kids on waiting lists wanting another option that is not available to them because the charter is capacity and/or options aren’t available in their district.

    With this kind of demand, it stands to reason that there are not enough charter options, and with the districts stonewalling the charters from opening, despite the parental demand, we MUST have an objective body to respond to parents/taxpayers.

    The goal here is not to take over the world with charter schools. The goal is:

    1. To provide quality public school options for parents and children whose needs are not being met in their traditional districts.

    2. To PUSH the traditional districts to re-evaluate how they educate kids and their investment into the classrooms (versus non-essential spending that does not impact instructional outcomes). The districts have, for decades, ignored the declining outcomes of our children. We have a 67.4% graduation rate in Georgia, which is abysmal. I don’t care how much money you throw to them – the districts earning the most funding (at almost $15,000 per pupil) in our state are performing the worst. These districts MUST be held accountable for outcomes both academically and fiscally.

    There IS a finite amount of money. But I believe that as taxpayers, before we throw more money at the districts crying poor, we need to make sure that they are spending what they get efficiently. Please do some research of your district via http://www.open.georgia.gov and http://app3.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/fin_pack_revenue.display_proc. Look at the salary and travel expenses of central administration and non-essential central office staff. Have they received increases while they’ve been furloughing teachers? Please check out the expenditures in your district – look for waste. It took me about 15 minutes to find that my district spent in excess of $20,000 on a retreat at Callaway Gardens as just ONE example. There were countless others.

    Charters are out achieving the districts they serve consistently. They are funded well below the districts. So, they are accountable both academically and fiscally – can you say the same about your district?

  20. Mark,
    If Charter Schools, Amendment 1 passes, the state money will follow the child but not the local money. For every child that goes to a state charter school, there is more money per child at the traditional public school.

  21. So you would just eliminate central administration, staff, and school board training. I looked up my district, and I see no raises except state scale increases. I guess those should be cut out. Every successful company must have great leadership, and they should be paid accordingly. I’m not saying everything in public education it great, but the taxpayers should decide who controls their local schools. It boils down the fact that many state officials do not trust the local taxpayers to decide. Also, why does virtually every educational group in Georgia want this amendment defeated? It is clear you have made up your mind, as I have. Unlike many people on both sides of the issue, I do respect and appreciate your right to share your opinion.

  22. I am very informed. The only increases in pay has come from the state pay scale. Not one penny in raises to our central staff. I agree, it is wrong for any school superintendent, school board member, or ANYONE to take a pay raise in this economy. However, I do not see how a new “state” controlled school system can help any of this. I think the local taxpayers should decide who controls the local schools. I do respect and appreciate your right to express your opinion. Only thru open honest dialogue will this country improve.

  23. @ Mark – I appreciate your commentary AND you checking your district. Glad to hear your central office did not follow the despicable practice of taking raises while furloughing teachers. You may also wish to review expenditures and check to see how efficient your district is with tax money.

    I’m not opposed to step raises at all. I just believe that whatever is done should be done across the board, that’s all.

    I agree with great leadership and paying accordingly, however, we have superintendents in this state working in school districts of 300, 500, 1000 kids and earning what supers supervising 100,000 kids. The salary should be commensurate with the level of responsibility. And NO superintendent should be making more than the president of the US (Gwinnett).

    What I want you to really spend some time thinking about is that with ANY charter, regardless of who authorizes them to open, they are started and controlled by their own board filled with LOCAL teachers, parents, and community members. It’s not that the state doesn’t trust the local tax payers – the state is simply providing a checks and balances to ensure the districts are doing what they should. We have appeals in almost every other area of government – consider this to be like a state appellate court that hears cases where the local courts may have flubbed or been biased. It’s due process.

    In answer to your question about why they all oppose it – it’s about control. The charters are REQUIRING the districts to shake themselves out of the status quo and to begin re-assessing how they educate, how they spend, and their accountability. That’s VERY uncomfortable, but VERY necessary if we want to ever change our academic outcomes in Georgia.

    I welcome a continue dialogue and certainly hope you will remain open minded and continue to research until the time for the vote.

  24. So let me get this straight. If some parents in my area band together and push for a charter, even if that requires an appeal to the state, then Austin Elementary will close? OR, is it more likely that the trailers will go away? If the latter, can my child go to Austin OR the charter?

    If my child does go to the charter am I no longer allowed to vote for (or against) Ms. Jester? Do I forgo the wonderfully direct and effective local control that she affords OR do I have the same local control over Austin that I have now? If I choose charter must I have a chit-chat with the Governor in order to enroll OR do I speak with someone at the neighborhood charter? If I am unhappy with the charter ( or they with me 🙂 ) must I choose from private or homeschool OR can I return my child to the locally controlled public school?

    Is this readily distinguishable from choice and competition? Is that a bad thing?

    And what about this local control? Isn’t it true that without real, meaningful control in the hands of our elected Board Members proximity is totally irrelevant? Seriously, if the Governor appointed all school board members in DeKalb do you really think any more taxpayer/voters would have control or that the average taxpayer/voter would have more control than they do now?

    And to one of the original points, “activist boards” are strictly forbidden under the “no micromanagement prohibition”. And we don’t vote for the superintendent whose golden parachutes prevent cycling thru them at the rate we determine they’re just the same bag of incompetence with a different name and different cronies.

    As a taxpayer I don’t really see what I lose if the amendment passes. I do see the chance to call a few educators’ bluffs–that they would be paid much more in the private sector. Seems like a charter would offer them the opportunity to prove their point. And isn’t education all about opportunity?

  25. @ Ken –

    Austin wouldn’t close – depending on how many students left, there could be less overcrowding. Charters typically pull from across a whole district though and not just one area (Museum School is more of an exception than the rule, as they wanted an actual neighborhood school).

    Yes, you could choose either Austin or the charter. Charter has open enrollment and a public lottery if interest exceeds space.

    You can still vote for Ms. Jester, and, you would have some voice in the board members serving on the charter board as well.

    Governor doesn’t get involved with individual charter matters like enrollment. That’s handled by the charter administration or board.

    You can return to your home school or any other option you choose. For charters not working – parents and staff have a voice in keeping them open or closing them. The charter is accountable to the state AND the parents and staff.

    I think there is competition in our traditional schools – everybody knows the top schools, and they work hard to stay on top. Charters just up the bar for all. Nothing wrong with everybody holding one another accountable.

  26. Sarah, I agree, my heart breaks for our chlreidn. Just take the time to go to the back of the school, while our chlreidn practice football, little girls practicing cheering and listen to the parents. This is what this community is faced with. Very unhappy parents, most are tax payers. I have even heard chlreidn saying how much they hate Wilkovich. When I was in school our superintendent was like the saying, BE SEEN AND NOT HEARD he stayed in his office and did the duties of a superintendent. He was not out in the halls and in everyone’s office, in everyone’s business, he did his own.This renovation is a slap in the face to a community struggling to pay their own bills and to keep food on the table, all the while the district does a renovation to the tune of 8 million, and YES we will get stuck paying for this. TRUST ME ! The superintendent has an office with all the bells and whistles, a 55 inch tv a sofa, air and heat to her liking and most of all A LOCKED NO ENTER DOOR! She fails to understand what an open door policy is, yes Carolyn Old Girl, we the taxpayers OWN THAT OFFICE. Until you pay tax in Rochester you are nothing more than a paid employee DO YOU GET IT? You work for US. You do not work for Evelyn, Johnny Boy or any other group of idiots that are nothing more than unpaid elected officials that think sitting on rinky dink school district makes them God. I can’t wait to see you get the boot out of Rochester, it is just 14 years to late. YOU HAVE BEEN THE DOWN FALL OF THIS DISTRICT SINCE YOUR PATHETIC ARRIVAL. THAT WAS THANKS TO JOHNNY, PETE AND MASTALSKI. One is dead and the two others are senile !Well-loved.

  27. Where is all this money coming from. The only way to fund the state charter schools is to cut state money to traditional schools. The Ga. Congress has already appropriated the funding, and cut additional funding to local schools. It has already happened.

  28. The state’s total FY2012 appropriations: $15.9 billion.
    Appropriations part for Education: $9.97 billion
    Amount of money spent on charters commissioned by the state: $56.1 million

    So, 62% of state appropriates goes to education.
    0.35% (less than half of 1%) of state appropriates goes to funding state charters.

    State chartered school funding is 1/3 of a drop in the barrel 🙂

  29. Mark,

    The law PROHIBITS money from coming from the K-12 side of the budget. The non K-12 side will re-prioritize its spending and put the small amount needed for state charter supplements.

    And by the way, lest you worry districts might be harmed, look at this study by Georgia Tech economist and professor: http://www.georgiapolicy.org/do-charter-schools-hurt-students-in-traditional-schools/

  30. Before you get carried away with Dr. Ries’ “objective” paper, check her affiliations. impossible to follow the money trail.

  31. @ Anne,

    Why don’t you follow her methodology and find any errors she’s made then?

    If you think about it even logically, you will see that it is impossible for the majority of districts NOT to make money from this. Think through it this way:

    1. They all complain that kids cost more to educate than the state sends.
    2. Kids going to state charters will take the WHOLE expense away
    3. Districts keep somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3 of their total funding (local funds) – and they have less kids to share that amongst

    The only districts who wouldn’t benefit would be the teensy tiny districts who should not be funding central offices anyway – they should be combining these expenses with other very tiny districts around them to get economy of scale. Their issue has little to do with charters and more to do with a ridiculously foolish business model.

  32. Anne,
    I don’t understand your reference to Dr. Ries. Who is Dr. Ries?

  33. Dr. Christine Ries is an economist and professor at Georgia Tech that studied the effects of the amendment on school districts.


  34. Thanks MP !! I read it yesterday when CS2 pointed it out, but the name didn’t stick with me.

    OK Dr Reis and Ms Jester are both economists. Otherwise, I don’t see any similarities between this post and Dr Reis’ charter school financial impact analysis.

    What does “Dr. Ries’ “objective” paper” refer to?

  35. Ries actually studied the direct impacts of the amendment. It was added here because there has been discussion throughout the thread about the funding. Hope it is helpful for consideration.

  36. Ah … I see it … thanks.

  37. You’re most welcome.

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