As the Georgia General Assembly gathers for its 2012 session, it is important to remember two gifts that the elected body has provided to public education in the state. Twelve years separate these two initiatives that have positioned Gwinnett County Public Schools to lead Georgia and states beyond in student achievement excellence and in physical plant development.
The first gift was made in 1996 when, after 15 years of deliberation, the General Assembly passed enabling legislation for the 180 school systems in Georgia to bring a referendum to voters. The referendum asked voters to vote for or against a penny sales tax on every dollar spent within the school district to be used by school systems for new construction, bond repayment, and other capital expenditures
The initiative became known as SPLOST – the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for education. The initiative, passed by the voters in Gwinnett County in 1997, has allowed the school system to build new facilities and renovate older buildings. The result is that we have almost been able to keep pace with the unprecedented growth our county has experienced since the SPLOST was first authorized more than a decade ago.
Voters in Gwinnett County have approved four consecutive SPLOST initiatives since 1997, providing classrooms and physical facilities second to none as the student body increased from 84,500 in 1996-97 to the 163,000 in 2011-2012.
The Georgia General Assembly’s second gift came at the end of the 2008 legislative session when members approved the Flexibility and Accountability legislation resulting from former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s IE2 (Investing in Educational Excellence) Partnership Contract.
This initiative allowed the 180 school systems in Georgia to enter into a five-year contract with the State of Georgia — to be reviewed, approved, and monitored by the Georgia Department of Education — for the purpose of raising student achievement.
Under the law, HB 1209, and the subsequent State Board of Education rules as a guide, Gwinnett County Public Schools developed its contract, which includes a District Strategic Plan and a School Plan for each school. The plans identify areas of flexibility, accountability, and consequences if Gwinnett County does not meet its goals over a five-year period.
The partnership contract allows the District and local schools to improve teaching and learning by providing the flexibility for them to determine how best to use available resources (financial, human, and physical) to improve student achievement.
Decisions on how to implement flexibility have been based on what is in the best interest of students at an individual school. Principals in Gwinnett County have been instrumental in the process of determining the areas of accountability as well as flexibility that they feel will best benefit Gwinnett schools.
Each Gwinnett County Public school must still meet requirements for Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) and other measures of the Single Statewide Accountability System. GCPS will provide support to ensure that all school initiatives are in compliance with State and Federal rules.
Members of the Georgia General Assembly are to be congratulated on the courage and insight they displayed in passing these two pieces of legislation 12 years apart — one for the significant development of physical facilities and the other for the continuous improvement of student achievement for ALL students in public education in Georgia.
Thanks to members of the Georgia General Assembly, especially those in the Gwinnett County delegation, and the two governors who approved the SPLOST and IE2 legislation, for the gift of partnership with Gwinnett County Public Schools.
We are a far richer and greater community than we might have been without the bounty of these locally approved initiatives.