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Newton BOE lists legislative priorities

COVINGTON – Local control is the overriding goal of the Newton County Board of Education’s legislative priorities agenda for 2014.

The BOE approved its 2014 legislative priorities at its regular monthly meeting on Jan. 21.

“Our main thrust is to have as much local control as possible,” said BOE member Jeff Meadors.

The BOE expressed that it supports the authority of local boards of education to manage the operations of local public schools, as opposed to state or federal regulation.

BOE Chairwoman Shakila Henderson-Baker said that although the Newton County School System does not have lobbyists to help enact these priorities, NCSS is a member of the Georgia School Boards Association, which advocates for local control of public education and offers programs and assistance to local education boards and school systems.

NCSS is one of 180 school districts in Georgia that are members of GSBA, and paid $16,000 this year for a membership fee.

Even though the state will always have a significant amount of control over district school boards, Meadors said students and the community would benefit from fewer restrictions on local school boards from the state because a local school board tends to be more familiar with what the residents in their district want from a school system, he said.

The BOE’s legislative agenda states that “the board supports legislation to provide local educational agencies options to implement flexibility in order to increase student achievement and operations effectiveness.”

Henderson-Baker, who was recently named as the Newton BOE chairwoman, said, “Research is always coming up with new curriculum methods, so we want to keep our options open.”

This means if the board comes across a new teaching method this year and wants to implement it in the system for the 2014-15 school year, it would have the flexibility to do so. Abigail Coggin, chairwoman at the time that the legislative agenda was written, said at the meeting that she wanted to make sure not to be too specific in stating what options the board wants to implement, thus giving the board more flexibility for future options.

Additionally, the BOE is urging Congress to eliminate what it deems as unnecessary mandates and regulations on schools, and supports requiring a clear and complete description of potential impacts of education legislation on the fiscal budget, operations and local school and school district programs.

Meadors said that he feels there is too much state regulation in classroom curriculum, and there is a lot of intrusion on what and how teachers are allowed to teach. Standardized tests such as CRCTs and EOCTs are two tests that Meadors would like to see done away with.

“CRCT is a state test and is not nationally normed. In other words we are comparing Georgia to Georgia — not helpful. Not only is this intrusive to classroom instruction and not necessarily meaningful data, it is costly,” said Meadors.

He also said he would also like to see schools have more internship opportunities and integrated programs that give students more options to their chosen career path.

According to other the priorities published with the meeting agenda, the Newton BOE supports ceasing state austerity reductions and restoring full public education funding.

The state of Georgia has decreased the amount of funds available for public pre-k through 12th grade education for several years, causing the Newton County School System to lose more than $86 million in state funding since 2003, according to the board’s meeting agenda.

The board also supports funding the state’s employee health benefits program in order to provide state employees with flexible plan options, according to the legislative priorities.

Henderson-Baker added that state employee health benefits have changed within the past year. All state entities have only Blue Cross-Blue Shield as the health care provider that state employees can choose from. Although state employees will have a few health care options to choose from, the only provider that they will be able to choose is BCBS.

“This is the first year that they have only had the choice of Blue Cross-Blue Shield for state employees,” said Henderson-Baker.

Henderson-Baker said she will present these legislative priorities to GSBA at the capitol either Feb. 11 or 18.