Gov. Bob McDonnell wants a series of changes to legislation creating a statewide school division to take over academically struggling schools and an extra $450,000 to get it off the ground.
In place of suggesting amendments tweaking the measure, McDonnell proposed an entire substitute bill that delves deeper into the mechanics of how the division would work.
Julia Ciarlo Hammond, a policy adviser to McDonnell, said the administration said it would continue fine-tuning the legislation. “This is part of trying to address concerns,” she said.
Many of the changes attempt to put meat on the bones of the bill that passed. It remains to be seen if changes win over any of the bill’s detractors.
“We still believe that the legislation is unconstitutional, and we believe that the substitute bill actually makes an ill-advised bill even worse than the one passed by the General Assembly,” said Pat Lacy of the Virginia School Boards Association.
“When coupled with the budget amendment, it’s really terrible policy.”
The state’s association of public school teachers, along with other groups, objects to McDonnell’s proposed changes. Their concerns include what they call a “total lack of accountability measures” for the schools under the statewide division.
McDonnell wants $450,000 more in seed money for the new division, as well as changes to the legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, R-Hanover. McDonnell had sought a $600,000 appropriation, but lawmakers included $150,000 in the budget.
The so-called Opportunity Education Institution, which would be run by a board of state lawmakers and gubernatorial appointees, would take over local public schools that have been denied accreditation — generally meaning schools that have not met basic academic benchmarks for at least four years in a row.
Currently, that includes at least four schools, including Petersburg’s sole middle school.
The bill would not take effect until after the 2014-15 school year, and it’s unknown how many schools could face seizure at that time.
As the bill passed the legislature, the statewide board also could have taken over any school in its third year of accreditation with warning. The substitute would require the local school board request that those schools be taken over.
Once under the statewide board’s purview, a school could be turned into a charter school run by a company, a college laboratory school or the board could run the school itself. It’s even possible that the statewide board could make changes but agree to have the local school division operate the school.
It does not have to be a “complete turnover,” Hammond said, adding that they envision an ongoing dialogue between the statewide board and local school officials.
The governor’s substitute also would have the statewide division hold onto schools for at least five years.
The division would keep the school until it reaches full accreditation for five consecutive years, unless the parents of at least 60 percent of the students at the school sign a petition asking the school to stay in the division.
The substitute also delves deeper into the mechanics of funding, and stipulates that the statewide board could require the local school division to continue busing students, serving meals or offering alternative schooling.
The board would reimburse the local division for the cost of the services.
If the board takes over a school, it would be able to use the associated school building and facilities if it chooses. It would be responsible for routine maintenance, but “extensive repairs” considered to be capital expenses would fall to the local school division.
Joseph Melvin, superintendent of Petersburg schools, said in a statement Thursday that he maintains his opposition to the measure.
“There are too many unanswered questions regarding the bill — plus it appears to be unconstitutional,” he said.
Last week, McDonnell was scheduled to tour Petersburg’s Peabody Middle School, one of the schools currently denied accreditation, but the event was canceled due to weather.
The General Assembly returns to Richmond on Wednesday to consider McDonnell’s proposed amendments to bills that passed the legislature.