By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

A state senator is pushing for more local control of schools in DeKalb County.

Senator Dan Weber, a Republican who represents Brookhaven as a part of District 40, told the Ashford Alliance Community Association Sept. 15 about his proposal to create charter school clusters in DeKalb.

“Neighbors should have more control over schools in their neighborhood,” said Weber, who has served in the state Senate for the past six years but will not seek re-election in November.

Charter school clusters, he explained, would join high schools with the elementary and middle schools that send students to them. The new structure would give the schools more independence from state and federal mandates, placing more power in the hands of local school officials and parents.

A “cluster council” — a governing body made up of elected local administrators, teachers and parents — could manage the schools’ budgets, make personnel decisions, set curriculums and allocate resources such as books.

DeKalb County School System would continue to provide transportation and food service, and would hold charter school clusters accountable to set standards.

“It gives you more of a voice in your schools and community,” Weber said. “You make the decisions.”

The current school structure, Weber said, is a “top-down, one-size-fits-all” model where federal and state agencies make the decisions about how to spend money and allocate resources.

“Where has it gotten us?” Weber said.

Weber proposed two cluster models. “High Resource Clusters” would incorporate schools with financial resources such as Chamblee Charter High School, Weber said. In that cluster structure, money would be allocated to charter clusters with less financial resources, called “High Needs Clusters.”

As a senator, Weber passed legislation that makes charter school clusters legal in Georgia. He must now convince DeKalb County school board members to use the model. There currently are no charter school clusters in the state.

If the DeKalb school board approves the idea, parents of school-aged children would be asked to vote to become part of a charter school cluster. If 60 percent of parents vote yes to the idea, the charter petition application would be sent to the state Board of Education for approval.

“If we get enough parents excited about this, it will be hard for the school board to say no,” Weber said.

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