When Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal asked voters to pass a constitutional amendment creating an Opportunity School District in November, education groups such as the Georgia School Board Association opposed the idea.
So did Eddie Warren, chairman of the Bryan County School Board and a longtime member of the GSBA’s Government Operations Committee, which helps establish the organization’s legislative agenda for each school year.
And so did a lot of voters. They said no to OSD by a 20-percent margin.
"We think the GSBA’s work really played a major part in helping bring out the vote against the Opportunity School District," Warren said. "And I know the Georgia School Board Association did a lot of work at the capitol pointing out OSD’s weaknesses and that woke up a couple of legislators, I believe."
Warren was recently reappointed to that commission by the GSBA president, meaning he’ll spend another few meetings helping the association’s 180 school boards come together on priorities as a whole when it comes to dealing with state lawmakers.
According to an email from GSBA Executive Director Valerie Wilson, the committee considers "legislative positions submitted by local boards of education for recommendation to the delegate assembly. The committee will also review annually all standing legislative positions. Any revisions or deletions will also be submitted to the Delegate Assembly."
A look at some of the GSBA’s 2016 legislative positions included such things as protecting the sovereign immunity of local school systems, opposition to a voucher system and "a tax system that yields adequate funding, is fair, is stable and is transparent," according to a 2016 GSBA handbook.
The priority for Warren hasn’t changed in the six years he’s been on the GSBA’s government committee, he said. The state needs to pay what it says it will for education.
"Our committee and GSBA members vote for on it unanimously every year," he said. "And that’s that our schools be completely funded by our own state funding policy. That hasn’t happened in many years. The state has a formula, but they never fully fund it."
Known as austerity cuts since they were implemented under Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2003, the cuts have since taken more than $1.5 billion in funding from public schools in Georgia.
Another likely legislative priority for GSBA members will be "maintain the integrity of the teacher retirement system," Warren said. "That one has been targeted the last few years as the state tries to figure out how to save money. It’s always a topic."
Getting the legislature to come up with the money for such things as school nurses and counselors is also frequently listed by GSBA members as a priority when it comes to dealing with lawmakers.
"Those types of things seem to get nixed by legislators at times," Warren said. "They tend to want to put the burden for nurses or counselors back on the local school system to fund it if they want it."
There’s also Gov. Deal’s so-called "Plan B," which some see as an attempt to get OSD’s by another way. Warren said the GSBA is keeping an eye on it. What’s more, he said there are some parts of the new plan which have GSBA input, which could make it more palatable to educators statewide.
Warren said he’ll meet twice with the GSBA committee as part of his duties as a member, once in April and then at the GSBA summer conference in Savannah in June. It’ll involve a lot of homework, as the committee looks into a list that can include up to 50 priorities the state’s school 180 boards want to get on the GSBA’s priority list.
Warren, who has been on the Bryan County school board for 17 years and chairman for 12, said he serves on the GSBA committee because that’s an important part of the association’s mission, "and Bryan County Schools is a member of the GSBA. It’s also an opportunity to keep informed on what’s going on, and at the same time have a say in what’s going on."
Wilson said "we are excited that Mr. Warren has agreed to serve on this committee and look forward to all he has to offer GSBA and public education in Georgia."