Gov. Deal is in a bitter power struggle with Georgia’s schools chief

Gov. Nathan Deal shakes hands with Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods. AJC file.

Gov. Nathan Deal demanded Georgia’s superintendent explain what he’s doing to reverse a “downward spiral of failure” of struggling schools, as the state education chief steps up his argument that he should be in the middle of any major school turnaround effort.

In a series of letters, Deal noted that the number of “chronically failing schools” increased since state Superintendent Richard Woods’ 2014 election, while the schools chief countered that “effectively turning school performance around will take time.”

With lawmakers considering a sweeping statewide approach to so-called failing schools, Deal and Woods are at odds over whose office should oversee a new “Chief Turnaround Officer” in charge of monitoring the lowest-performing schools.

Deal considers the initiative his top priority this legislative session and supports the plan that passed the House last week requiring the turnaround chief to report to the state Board of Education that he appoints. Woods told lawmakers in the Senate, which is now considering the measure, that his office should be in charge of the new structure.

In a Feb. 28 letter obtained through a public records request, Deal noted that “some are contending that you and the Department of Education already possess sufficient authority to turn around chronically failing schools.”

“Considering that the number of chronically failing schools increased from 127 in school year 2014-2015 to 153 in school year 2015-2016,” he wrote to Woods, “I would like to know what actions DOE took during those two school years to reverse this downward spiral of failure.”

In a response sent days later, Woods wrote that he took office in January 2015 just as the concept of Opportunity School District – Deal’s plan to give the state new powers to take control of struggling schools – was taking shape. That constitutional amendment was scuttled by voters in November.

“Candidly, I did not want to take drastic actions or make public announcements that could have been viewed by you, lawmakers, or the voters as attempting to influence the outcome of the vote,” Woods responded. “I wanted to honor the process.”

He said many of the state’s school districts are under new academic performance contracts or recently-hired superintendents. And Woods argued that he would work with the chief turnaround officer to “pinpoint the needs of underperforming schools” if given control of the process.

“Let me assure you that bold actions have been taken within the Department to address the needs of our schools and I am committed to taking bold action to work directly with our underperforming schools and hold them accountable,” he wrote.

Deal’s office has not yet responded to Woods’ letter, which included reams of documents such as magazine articles and white papers. But the governor this week praised House lawmakers who worked closely with him and his staff to craft the proposal.

“They’ve talked with our office and we’ve tried to work with them and have worked with them,” said Deal, adding: “I personally believe it’s a good piece of legislation. My staff has had a great deal of input.”

Reader Comments 1

19 comments
Ben Bryant
Ben Bryant

I'll put my money on Deal, keeping in mind Roy Barnes losing battle with the teachers.

Mildred Tice
Mildred Tice

Maybe we need to have the present management of public schools in another position and try a new person in his present slot......or just hang loose....that new Sec of Ed is going provide schools for the wealthy and forget about the poor folks.....

Kathy Thompson
Kathy Thompson

Deals family has a vested interest in this ... He has to get this passed before he leaves office....

Frank Mutz
Frank Mutz

Money does not, has not, and will not solve the problems of Georgia public schools. Gov Deal know this. He is just trying to do something about Georgia's decades old position at being near the worst states in the union in education.

Cassie Thomason Brown
Cassie Thomason Brown

The State School Superintendent needs to handle schools. Deal needs to stay in his dome.

Ronni Heard
Ronni Heard

So how many in his posse that carefully crafted the legislation are actually experienced educators?

Harry Abrams
Harry Abrams

Deal is just wrong.............stand strong Richard Woods.

Trevor Stricklin
Trevor Stricklin

If our school system didn't suck so bad there might not be a power struggle.

Lynn Bollinger
Lynn Bollinger

If the money that was supposed to have gone to public schools had done so and if charter schools didn't drain the public schols and if there were not so many unnecessary interfering mandates that reduce performance, then the public schools would be better! You cannot underfund and derail a system that already has so many variables and demand it to improve. Teachers are not puppets and students are not robots Only they are far more important to our society.

Liz Bracey
Liz Bracey

Hey Deal? You caused that "downward spiral of failure" with your constant budget cuts.

Delane Cunningham
Delane Cunningham

Public schools need MORE money not less... Do not do not do not cooperate with Deal.

Frank Mutz
Frank Mutz

Georgia taxpayers had to pay $223,000,000 to subsidize teacher pensions last year. Think of what that money could have meant to public education if reallocated.

Delane Cunningham
Delane Cunningham

Frank Mutz Considering the amount my husband paid in, it is not an unreasonable amount, Frank..

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  1. […] and elected state schools chief Richard Woods are at odds over who should take the lead on school reform, with Deal accusing Woods of letting schools deteriorate during his two years at Superintendent, […]

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