Augusta area lawmakers support school turnaround bill that follows OSD, opponents dissatisfied

Students could be impacted if another school improvement bill passes in Georgia.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – After much debate about how government can tackle the improvement of education last election season, voters rejected the Opportunity School District bill. Now, Georgia state lawmakers have a similar school improvement bill to consider.

Members of the House of Representatives took another shot at a comprehensive plan to fix public education across the Peach State.  This time it’s House Bill 33, which is legislation that mirrors the Opportunity School District Bill without the need for voters to have a say.

Harold Jones, District 22 State Senator, spoke with NewsChannel 6 about the bill being a possible follow-up to what voters already rejected.

“Of course that’s the bigger issue is that the citizens of Georgia voted down something similar to this just in November.  The citizens of Richmond County of course by 55 percent they voted it down.”

Richmond County School System is one of many schools HB 338, which empowers the State Board of Education to appoint a Chief Turnaround Officer, would aim to help.

“That Chief Turnaround Officer then is responsible for trying to turn around those schools in need,” Jones explained.

Nearly all local lawmakers supported the bill.

District 127 State Rep. Brian Prince said since it’s not a constitutional amendment like OSD, legislators have more power.

“Next year if we find out that there is something crazy in there that we didn’t perceive coming up, we can always change it.”

The bill creates turnaround coaches for each school in need.  Low-performing students will be assessed individually, screening students the first 60 instructional days.  That assessment is a big change that helped District 126 State Representative Gloria Frazier vote yes.

“Each child needs to be assessed to determine if there is some type of learning problem, if there is some type of possibility that the child might need glasses or there might be a hearing problem,” Rep. Frazier said.

The on-site evaluations promise led Rep.Sheila Nelson to vote yes, pointing to the bill’s plan “to provide for the development of an intensive school improvement plan; and to provide For a two-year period to implement the intensive school improvement plan.”

She added, “I believe that it is a step in the right direction to improving our schools. I voted for this bill as it is intended to be  a comprehensive ‘On-site evaluation and recommendations.’  It is my prayer that the resources that will be provided be given to the under performing schools to help the students and staff.”

The turnaround bill also states it would offer academic support and enrichment activities for identified low-performing kids, giving schools a chance to obtain grants.

“It’s a step in the right direction. Richmond County is improving every day.  The leadership with Dr. Pringle and the changes that she has made with this flexibility plan and having the ability to do flexible things it’s coming into fruition. It won’t change overnight,” Rep. Prince added

But not all local educators understand the support of HB 338.

Barbara Pulliam, retired educator and member of the Richmond County Board of Education, said, “Every elected official who is representing the people, they know what the people want, they should also say no.  That’s what a democratic government is all about, the people said no.  This should’ve been an easy vote.”

It’s pretty simple for Pulliam.  If voters say yes to you being their leader, you say no when they do.

“So why you coming up with a bill where the end results will be the same?”

Jones also said he feels lawmakers must vote based on what their constituents voice at the polls.

“If you are on the side of saying that OSD was not correct and then immediately turned around and go against the wishes of your constituents that is a little bit of an issue.”

He’s not the only one who feels the turnaround bill is simply a Plan B to Governor Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District plan. Pulliam said there is very little that’s different between OSD and the new turnaround bill.

“It’s all about the failing schools and being able to go in and rectify and improve these so called failing schools. Another problem I have with that is of you got the magic bullet, heck you should have shot it a long time ago,” she said.

But lawmakers NewsChannel 6 spoke with who voted in favor of this bill said there are changes.

OSD called for a constitutional amendment.  HB 338 does not, so lawmakers can make changes to legislation.

OSD called for just a State Superintendent.  HB 338 appoints Chief Turnaround Officer. The difference is that office must have an education background.

OSD aimed to take over a school and it had to “change” from its current operation.

HB 338 keeps the same operation and appoints turnaround coaches to work with the school and its students.

OSD was up to 10 year plan.  HB 338 offers annual assessments of students.

But Pulliam said it’s not about helping kids at all.

“Privatizing that’s what it’s about.  Money, money, money, money.”

Senator Jones said he expects to see the bill in his chamber this week and for him it’s a no because he feels the turnaround officer and coaches are too bureaucratic.

“It has become like a combination of different groups coming together to almost get something out of it and I’m not sure if it’s benefiting the kids.”

Senator Jones adds he believes the bill will also pass the senate.


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