In the last legislative session, Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) figured his chances were slim of getting HR 4 passed, which would have allowed cities in Georgia to form independent school systems, something that has been prohibited by the state Constitution since 1945.
In Dunwoody, the plan has won strong support, especially among parents who are critical of the DeKalb County schools. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the district’s accrediting agency, has put the school system on probation.
As a constitutional amendment, Taylor’s bill requires not just a majority, but a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and then passage on a statewide ballot referendum.
More lobbying time was needed, said Erika Harris, co-chair for Georgians for Local Area School Systems, or GLASS. There were 23 new members of the House last session and they were unknowns as far as how they would vote.
Before next session, members of GLASS and other lobbyist organizations want to talk with the new members and explain the benefits of smaller school systems.
So HR 4 was held from a debate on the floor of the House this past session and will be brought up again in 2016, Harris said.
The gist is this … by allowing cities such as Dunwoody to form their own school systems, there would be more focused local control of education dollars and management of personnel and curriculum.
There are pitfalls however for those opponents who think bigger is better, and that large systems offer more opportunities for students.
Taylor has said he doesn’t think the delay will hurt the bill’s chances, but improve them. The issue cannot even go on the ballot before November 2016.
Taylor revised his plan this session–he’s brought it up before – to extend to the entire state the possibility of creating new city school systems. His original bill called for starting new systems only in cities created since 2005, or adjacent cities.
Taylor said in 2014 he thought that a limited bill had a better chance of winning legislative approval, but has said in recent public meetings that other cities didn’t want to be left out.
The proposal must also win 38 votes in the Georgia Senate before it can be placed on a ballot.
During the Dunwoody City Council meeting Jan. 12, Councilman Denny Shortal recommended a vote showing council support for the bill remain its own item so members could voice their support publicly, rather than moving it to the consent agenda.
“It’s just that important,” Shortal said.