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School districts face flexibility decision
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In just under two years from now, Rockdale County Public Schools can choose to become a charter school system as the deadline approaches for mandates under a 2008 state law. 

RCPS, along with all other Georgia school systems, will have to decide on operating its district under one of five options that offer varying degrees of flexibility with the state education law found in Title 20. The Georgia Department of Education will require school systems to make a decision by June 30, 2015.

Under the plan, school systems will either become a strategic school system, a system of charter schools, a charter school system, a status quo school system, or an investing in educational excellence school system, also known as IE2 .

A charter school system offers districts the most flexibility with nearly all of the state laws. Under the IE2 school system, the law loosens some of its reigns to allow district-level innovation. However, IE2 requires more accountability to the state education department. In a strategic school system, districts enter a performance contract with the state BOE. A system of charter schools means that there all the schools in the district become a charter school. There is no flexibility with the status quo system, where a school districts chooses not to change anything.

Superintendent Richard Autry discussed the mandate during the board’s November work session. He said two GDOE representatives have been invited to December’s work session in order to better explain the options.

“I want to have the folks who are closest to this come present to us directly and we can ask some of those poignant questions,” Autry said.

Of those poignant questions were those from board member Wales Barksdale during November’s meeting. He asked if funding was being used as an incentive to drive districts to choose one option over another.

“Based on my research and conversation, it looks like there’s a pretty concerted effort to move toward a charter district,” Autry said of RCPS. “And I’m not saying that’s good or bad, at this point.”

GDOE spokesperson Matt Cardoza told the News the purpose of the new mandate.

“The whole idea is to free up our districts from some Georgia Education laws, rules and guidelines, in exchange for higher academic performance,” Cardoza said.

Barksdale asked Superintendent Autry at November’s meeting which option is closest to the current state of RCPS. But Autry said he did not want to say for certain.

“I think, certainly, with the direction we’re moving with school choice and some of the different options we provide, I would say probably more toward a district of charter schools or a charter district,” Autry said, mentioning the difference between the two.

Currently, 19 school districts have become charter school systems. That list includes metro-Atlanta neighbors Fulton County Schools, City Schools of Decatur, and Marietta City Schools.

Autry was concerned with the amount of local governance under each of the flexibility options.

“I am committed and I think this board is committed to making sure that this locally elected group is the ultimate people who decide and govern how our school system runs,” Autry said.

Barksdale added that he specifically wanted to see how special education and economically disadvantaged students would be affected under the charter system. 

“I think, right now, research and information gathering is what we need to do as a board and as a governance team and then we’ll go from there,” Autry said. “But there are a lot of caveats here with whatever we decide.”

The presentation from state DOE representatives is estimated to last an hour.

The board’s next work session is 7 p.m. Dec. 12. All meetings are held in the board room located at 954 N. Main Street.