Butts County school board members next week are expected to decide whether to join with other area counties to start a charter high school aimed at getting students who have previously dropped out back into the classroom.
The Middle Georgia Education Charter High School would include Bibb and several other area counties, and have satellite locations where students could take accredited evening classes in order to meet the requirements of a high school diploma.
Local school officials have been exploring the proposal for more than a year, according to interim Superintendent Todd Simpson. If the Board of Education ultimately votes to join the effort, afternoon and evening classes could be hosted in a section of Jackson High School beginning as soon as next July.
School board members will be asked at their Sept. 10 meeting to approve a letter of intent to join the charter. In October they would be asked to approve an intergovernmental agreement, as well as commit funding and space to the program.
The idea for the Middle Georgia Education Charter High School is modeled on charter schools created by public school systems in other parts of the state, including Mountain Education Charter High School based in Cleveland, Ga., Coastal Plains Charter High School based in Metter, and Foothills Education Charter High School based in Danielsville. Each of those charter schools has a number of satellite centers where students are able to attend afternoon and evening classes and sit for testing.
Simpson said Mountain Education began about 25 years ago, and was used as the model for Foothills, which is assisting with the creation of Middle Georgia.
Melissa Griffin, regional director for special campuses with Foothills, said a number of other area counties are considering joining the Middle Georgia charter. She said Bibb County’s public school system will initially open one charter high location, but it could expand to a second location in that county very quickly, based on enrollment.
As a public high school, the charter program is open to any student in the state who has not aged out of public education — 21 for most students, and 22 for those with disabilities.
The program is funded by state public education dollars allotted to full-time students along with money allotted to charter schools, so after the initial startup, participating districts no longer fund the program but are reimbursed for expenses by the charter school.
Griffin said the charter high school could also serve older students who are not covered by state dollars through a nominal tuition fee system, with each class costing $150 or less.
Educators at such charter high schools are typically current local school system employees or retirees, and work part time for up to 10 hours per week so as not to interfere with the duties of their classroom day jobs.
Griffin said the charter high programs save on overhead costs because part-time employees don’t receive benefits, its campuses are properties of participant school districts and administrative duties are centralized for all campuses. The charter high school also does not provide transportation and has no food and nutrition program, further lowering costs.
She said the typical student-teacher ratio for similar schools is 15:1. Because overhead costs are lower, “it allows us to provide a lot more supportive services,” Griffin said.
Those services include career counselors, graduation coaches and mentors. “Our goal is for every student to have a mentor they speak with once a week,” Griffin said.
Simpson said in Butts County’s case, if approved, the school district would cover the cost of lights in the building, computers, custodial services and a school resource officer for security. But Middle Georgia Education would reimburse the system for those costs out of the state dollars allotted for students in the program.
The initial costs for Butts County would be $65,000 split over two budget years. Simpson said half of the money would be due next July to offset startup expenses. The Butts County system would be reimbursed about $60,000 for use of the facilities. The second half of Butts County’s startup commitment would be due in 2021, when it’s expected the system would be reimbursed at least another $60,000 in costs.
Simpson said once the startup money has been paid, the charter high school is self-funded out of state money that follows each student in a public school.
School officials expect the Butts County campus of Middle Georgia Education could serve 50 to 100 students in the first 12 months, and because it has a statewide attendance zone, students from surrounding counties including Henry, Jasper and Spalding could attend in order to earn their high school diplomas.
Simpson said the charter school would not compete with Jackson High, but would offer an alternative path for students who find the traditional route to a diploma unworkable for a variety of reasons.
“Think of the positive impact on our community if we can provide more students with a high school diploma,” Simpson said.