A Power Shift, or Political Purge? Governor Shuffles Schools a New Deal

By Jones, Walter C. | The Florida Times Union, January 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Power Shift, or Political Purge? Governor Shuffles Schools a New Deal


Jones, Walter C., The Florida Times Union


ATLANTA -- Though teachers have felt threatened by some of the provisions of Gov. Roy Barnes' education-reform proposals, perhaps the most radical changes come from his shuffling of the state's education pecking order.

He's creating an Office of Education Accountability reporting to him, an Education Coordinating Council he will chair, and a governing council at each school run by parents and teachers who would even have the ability to hire the principal. It all amounts to a massive tilt in the education power structure.

This massive realignment of authority could improve education, enhance interagency cooperation and increase parental involvement as promised. Or it could create an administrative mess that leaves the occupant of the Governor's Office with ultimate authority.

Republicans have termed Barnes' idea to create an Accountability Office a political power grab designed to undercut GOP Superintendent Linda Schrenko.

And Schrenko warned local school board members meeting in Atlanta from across the state last month that he is threatening their power by creating unelected community panels to have say over the operation of individual schools.

"I believe there is a tendency to bypass the individual, elected school boards," she said.

His plan also calls for empowering the state Board of Education to take over chronically failing schools with the ability to fire staff and close the campus, a notion that goes too far for some local board members.

"It still has to be in the hands of the local board of education," said Leon Chance, member of the Camden County school board.

In a speech last week, Barnes joked about how he would be perceived.

"As with all legislation, the devil is in the details, and maybe that's fitting because some special interests will probably be calling me Prince of Darkness before it's all over," he told members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

But there may be giant hurdles as to how much power a Georgia governor can snatch. The state constitution designates autonomous local school boards to control individual schools and an independent Board of Regents -- appointed by the governor for staggered terms -- to oversee public universities.

"We know that local boards have constitutional authority to govern school systems," notes Barbara Christmas, executive vice president of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. "We can't get away from that fact that these are the people elected by the people to run those schools."

Schrenko raised the same concerns in a letter to Barnes released publicly moments before he announced the plan to the General Assembly.

But the purpose of the councils has more to do with getting parents involved with their own children's education than changing the power structure or seeking new management ideas, said Tom Upchurch, chairman of the Accountability Committee of the Governor's Education Reform Study Commission that recommended the panels.

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A Power Shift, or Political Purge? Governor Shuffles Schools a New Deal
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