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Thursday, May 17, 2007

State House Update

Friends and Neighbors-

Few education-related bills pass the Georgia General Assembly each year. Since they affect 1.5 million public school students, it's good to be thoughtful and deliberate when it comes to structural change.

Nine education bills passed the House and Senate this session and await the Governor's signature. To be accurate, fewer than nine individual bills passed after several were grouped together during the final days of session.

I'd like to share information on HB 208 regarding local school councils, which I authored. The bill was merged with several bills and passed as Senate Bill 72. Next update, I'll also write about other education bills that passed.

I wrote the following comments as background for the Senate Majority Leader, Tommie Williams. He carried the bill in the Senate and amended it onto his bill, SB 72.

What does HB 208 do?

It changes the make-up of local school councils to make them parent-majority with a parent chair. Presently, all 2083 Georgia public schools are required to have a local school council.

What is the role of local school councils by state law?

They are advisory-only bodies and charged to "act as a link between the school and the community, and encourage the participation of parents." By law, they provide advice and make recommendations to the principal, local board of education and superintendent. They may provide advice on any matter related to student achievement and school improvement, including the school's budget, school board policies, facilities and how to involve parents.
The local school board is charged with considering councils' recommendations and responding to its written recommendations.

Who supported or objected to the bill in the House and what was the House vote?

- The bill passed the House 147-14 and passed the Senate 42 - 3.
- The state PTA spoke in favor of the bill because it encourages parental involvement. The School Board Assn. did not comment.
- The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Metro Chamber supported the bill.

Why change local school councils again?

The bill recognizes parents and their children have the greatest stake in public education. It gives parents an increased, although measured, voice, which I believe will lead to improved customer satisfaction. The bill honors the education partnership among parents, principals and teachers by retaining all three on councils.

The bill gives councils a more independent role in their advisory capacity to allow for more meaningful feedback. It assures a majority are non-employees of the school board. A degree of independence matters because councils are charged with providing input to schools, superintendents and school boards.

HB 208 creates the only local parent-majority organization in state law authorized to provide input to schools, school boards and superintendents. (The PTA serves a separate, although, important role in schools. Schools, superintendents and school boards are not required to consider PTA recommendations. Additionally, the PTA's mission is distinctly different from local school councils as determined by its national board.)

Principals and teachers already have a significant role/voice in public schools by virtue of their positions. Principals manage individual schools and make numerous decisions regarding them. Principals and teacher representatives serve on other local education advisory councils that provide input to their respective schools and school board. Most school systems have principal advisory councils, teacher grade level chairs and teacher advisory councils.

In Closing

I'll send out another update on the recently-ended session shortly with a summary of key legislation that passed, including a bill I authored requiring disclosure and itemization of city franchise taxes on customer bills. If you're interested, more background on local school councils follows below.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve your family and House District 46. It is my privilege.

Best-

Jan Jones
State Representative - District 46
(Serving northwest Fulton, including Milton, Roswell, Alpharetta and Mountain Park)

History and makeup of Local School Councils:

2000 - HB 1187 passed creating local school councils (LSCs) as part of Gov. Roy Barnes education package.
2001 - Each school system was required to assure implementation of a LSC in one high school, one middle school and one elementary school
2002 - Half of all schools within a system required to have councils in place
2003 - All schools required to have a LSC
2000 - Guidelines for councils in HB 1187 - Seven members comprised of 2 parents, 2 teachers, one principal and 2 school business partners (one selected by the school board and one selected by other council members). Councils were required to meet 12 times per year. Principal designated as chair.
2004 - HB 1190 (Governor Perdue's omnibus education bill) changed local school councils in numerous ways. Agreed to by Democrat-majority House and Republican-majority Senate.

- Changed membership from 7 members to a minimum of 7 members. The required 7 members included 2 parents, 2 teachers, one principal and 2 school business partners (both selected by the council). The school board no longer selected a business partner. Additional members could be added through by-law changes as long as the number of parents and teachers was equal. The number of times councils were required to meet dropped to a minimum of four times per year. The principal no longer was designated to serve as chair.

- Governor Perdue's original education bill called for parent-majority councils (same wording as in HB 208), but the provision was eliminated in the House Education Committee.
2007 - HB 208 (Amended to Senate Bill 72) - Keeps the 7-member minimum, but changes the council composition to 4 parents, 2 teachers and one principal. Other council members may be added through by-laws changes, but parents must remain the majority. A parent designated as chair.

- Two of the parent members will be business persons. The term "business persons" is left undefined because of the wide disparity among Georgia's 2083 public schools. The schools differ in demographic diversity, system wealth, average household wealth, and in student population size. For example, public schools vary in student population from 32 to 3466 students. If an individual council chooses, it may further refine the definition of business persons as it applies to parent members or other council members added from the local community.

- The bill removes a conflicting sentence in current law that requires business members (of local school councils) to be school business partners. By removing the sentence, councils may add members from the local business community through bylaw changes, including from the chamber, retired business persons and others. Some schools have few school business partners and have found it difficult to find individuals willing to serve in this capacity (five large north Fulton high schools share the same Publix regional manager as one of their school business partners).

- Finally, the bill gives local school councils direction on how to implement the changes in membership, including a timeframe. As positions currently held by school business partners come up for election, they will be replaced with parent members.

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