The Bulloch County school system is taking steps toward a way of doing business that will give individual schools more say in how each spends its allotted money.
During the Board of Education’s 6 ½-hour strategy session Saturday, Bulloch County Schools officials presented a boiled-down version of the strategic plan developed for the schools two years ago. The revised plan will be formally presented at the board’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. today and for adoption Feb. 12.
It will become part of the district’s application to become an Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2, school system.
Speaking to the board, Superintendent Charles Wilson described the proposed new approach as one with layers of accountability for results rather than top-down control of methods.
“That’s a process that’s built so that, in my holding the principals accountable — which I have to do in this process — and their holding themselves accountable, y’all are holding me accountable,” he said.
However, Wilson said he has told the principals “you can’t guarantee results” and that, if schools follow their improvement plans carefully but do not meet their goals, the assumption will be that “we chose the wrong path, together.”
Closing the gap
When approved by the State Board of Education, Bulloch County’s IE2 proposal will become a five-year contract. Each of the 15 schools will be required to close the gaps between its performance on the state’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index and the 100 percent level by 3 percent annually.
That means 3 percent of the gap, which will require smaller increases in terms of overall CCRPI scores, explained Monica Lanier, assistant superintendent for organizational effectiveness.
Also, the schools need only make this “3 percent growth” three out of five years to avoid consequences, which could include a state takeover, among other options.
The CCRPI puts the greatest weight on student achievement measured by standardized tests, such as the new Georgia Milestones. But the index also incorporates graduation rates, attendance, parent involvement, teacher effectiveness and the percentage of students who complete certain courses.
Schools to choose waivers
In exchange for adopting the IE2 system of governance as a “flexibility option,” the school system will be able to apply for waivers from state regulations. Among these, the system will ask to continue the waivers it has used for the past five years to exceed limits on the number of students per class.
But many other state regulations can be waived, Lanier noted. The “big four” areas for waivers are class size, expenditure control, faculty and staff certification and salary schedules.
The waivers will create exceptions to funding formulas that assign teachers and other staff members to each school based on its number of students. The elected Board of Education will retain final approval on funding, but the waivers will give principals more of a role in how the money is used, central staff members said Saturday.
Principals and their leadership teams, with input from the school councils, draft annual improvement plans for each school. The school-level leaders also will decide which waivers they use, Lanier confirmed.
“In our district application, we will be applying for flexibility for all of those waivers that we possibly can, and then each school will have the flexibility to determine if they want to use any of those individual waivers and then how they will put those in place in their school improvement plans,” she said.
Giving an example, Wilson said that a certification waiver might allow a high school to hire an engineer from the community, part-time, to teach an engineering-related class.
The IE2 approach is slated to be in place next school year. However, 2015–16 school performance will provide only a baseline for improvement over the following years, Lanier said.
She also said that schools are unlikely to use many of the waivers the first year.
“I think, given our timeline right now, they probably will not be able to utilize as many of the waivers as they might eventually, during this upcoming year, just because it’s going to take more time for them to be able to plan for that,” Lanier said.
With the anticipated changes, Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown plans to present the board a 2015–16 budget for approval in April, at least two months earlier than in previous years. This means the board will be acting without final knowledge of state funding or a completed county tax digest.
“We’re going to use more internal estimates and historical trends,” Brown said.
The strategic plan being presented tonight is a shortened version of the 2013 plan. Where that plan devoted nine pages to strategic goals and objectives, the proposed revision totals three pages. It lists closing the CCRPI gap by 3 percent annually first among nine strategic objectives and mentions the IE2 flexibility option.
The school system’s timeline for IE2 adoption calls for submitting the application to the state March 27.
This year’s Speak Up for Education event, 6–8 p.m. Feb. 26 at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School, will serve as a public hearing on the IE2 proposal. It also will be a joint meeting of the Board of Education and school councils.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.