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Measure To Curb Consolidation Advances in Georgia

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The Georgia House has approved a bill that would give opponents of consolidation greater say in the fate of their small schools.

The measure would create procedures for parents and community members to protest a school beard's decision to merge small schools to create larger ones, and would set a July 1 deadline rooter which state incentive monies would no longer be available to encourage such unions.

The House's approval of the bill "sends a pretty strong message that we're changing... away from the 'bigger is better' mentality," said the bill's sponsor, Representative Charles Thomas, whose own high-school alma mater has been threatened with closure due to consolidation.

The incentives for consolidation-up to $15 million for erecting one high school--were created in 1987 to help implement school reforms outlined in the state's 1985 Quality Basic Education law. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991 .)

Mr. Thomas's bill was developed by the Joint Capital Outlay Study Committee, a legislative task force that Mr. Thomas co-chaired.

The bill, which passed the House easily, could face opposition in the Senate, according to Senator John C. Foster, chairman of the Education Committee. School-board interests have strongly criticized the measure, Mr. Foster noted, because they feel it limits their authority.

But Mr. Thomas said his bill would provide "mandatory community involvement," adding, "It gives [district residents] some vehicle to stop [the school board], stop the plan, and make the beard talk to them about it."

Under the bill, a school board that proposes to close a school or schools to create a larger school must hold at least two public hearings on the issue and publish information in the county newspaper about the plan.

A registered voter may then file a letter of opposition with the beard. If, within 60 days, 25 percent of the county's registered voters sign a petition opposing the consolidation, "that puts the plan more or less on hold," and state money cannot be allocated for the project, he said. In a district with more than 25,000 students, only 10 percent of the registered voters would have to sign.

The board then would have 60 days to meet with those opposing the measure--the majority of whom must be parents of affected students-to resolve differences.

If there is an agreement, state funds may be allocated for the project. If not, Mr. Thomas said, the process begins anew.


--M.L.

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