Community News Walker County Schools will have to be more strategic with waivers

Community News Walker County Schools will have to be more strategic with waivers

August 17th, 2016 by Shane Foley in Community Walker

Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines says the strategic waivers system his district will now operate under was the simplest and most fiscally responsible option for the schools.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Following austerity cuts from the state, Walker County Schools decided to implement a strategic waivers system, which Superintendent Damon Raines said was the most focused and straightforward option for the district.

Remaining "status quo" wasn't financially feasible, he said, and the charter system Catoosa opted for requires a lot of buy-in from teachers, parents and community members to help each school reach its state-determined student achievement levels.

Under the stategic waivers system, things shouldn't look different in Walker County classrooms, though that will require a lot of planning at the district level.

The system enables Walker County Schools to request specific waivers from state standards that would otherwise create a financial burden. Creating flexibility for things such as class size and teacher funding requirements will allow the school system to get through financially rougher times without compromising the quality of the education offered, said Raines.

In 2008, Georgia legislation was created allowing school systems to enter into a performance-based contract with the Georgia Department of Education for flexibility concerning the state's Title 20 education laws. The legislation allows school districts to apply for waivers of certain state requirements: namely class size, number of instruction days, expenditure controls and level of staff certification.

Being granted such waivers means cost savings for the school district, helping it make the most out of the dwindling funding received from the state.

"This will enable us to maintain our budget through austerity cuts," said Raines.

He said the school system is in a better spot this year than in previous years, and will most likely only have to utilize the class size waiver in a few classrooms across the district. However, the school system still has to include in its annual plans any waiver any of its schools might possibly need for the next seven years, along with a detailed plan for what it would be like if each of those waivers had to be used.

Going over class size limits without using the waiver or spending less than 65 percent of the overall budget on instruction, for example, results in penalties for a school, and it's not possible to request waivers in the midst of a school year.

"Trying to predict economic situations is like looking into a crystal ball," said Raines. "We're seeing revenues increase across the state, but the legislative session could impact our funding level."

If the financial situation for education in the state takes another downturn, he said, Walker County Schools could see class sizes go up across the board to accommodate a lack of funds for additional teachers, but Raines said he isn't too concerned.

"We saw our graduation rate increase throughout the recession 5 to 8 percent each year," he said. "We're prepared."