Char­ter amend­ment ad­vo­cates present their case

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Rep. Ed­ward Lind­sey, R-At­lanta, ma­jor­ity whip of the Ge­or­gia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives asked me if I would talk to the pro­po­nents of the up­com­ing con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment on char­ter schools and get their side of the story. This was af­ter Mr. Lind­sey and I had pub­licly crossed swords over the is­sue.

So I met with Tony Roberts, pres­i­dent of the Ge­or­gia Char­ter School As­so­ci­a­tion and Bert Brant­ley, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions point man for the pro-amend­ment group, armed with the ques­tions you have asked. Space won’t al­low me to cover all the points of our con­ver­sa­tion, but I’ll give you the high­lights:

Their cen­tral mes­sage seems to be this: The Ge­or­gia Supreme Court in strik­ing down the Ge­or­gia Char­ter School Com­mis­sion was not asked and did not rule on the author­ity of the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s abil­ity to ap­prove char­ter schools. Roberts and Brant­ley — and mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture with whom I have talked — con­tend that if the amend­ment is de­feated in Novem­ber, the lit­i­gants will be back in court and at­tempt to re­move that author­ity from the state to­tally. This means, they con­tend, no char­ter school could be ap­proved ex­cept at the lo­cal level and that lo­cal school sys­tems would be dis­in­clined to cre­ate char­ter schools be­cause that would di­min­ish their author­ity.

I asked Alvin Wil­banks, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Gwin­nett County school sys­tem and one of the plain­tiffs in the orig­i­nal suit for his re­sponse. In a state­ment, he said, “They are re­ally grasp­ing at straws. I don’t know of any­one who has dis­cussed, much less threat­ened, to do such a thing. In fact, school dis­tricts could have pressed this is­sue when they chal­lenged the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Char­ter Schools Com­mis­sion, but chose not to. If we did not do so then, on what ba­sis are the char­ter pro­po­nents al­leg­ing that we would do so now?”

Would the Char­ter School Com­mis­sion be du­plica­tive to the cur­rent or­ga­ni­za­tion within the State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion that deals with char­ter schools? Brant­ley said the po­si­tions in the DOE could eas­ily be trans­ferred to the com­mis­sion, ac­tu­ally re­sult­ing in bud­get sav­ings since the com­mis­sion funds will come out of the char­ter school bud­get.

As for the con­cern about for-profit man­age­ment com­pa­nies, or EMOs (Ed­u­ca­tional Man­age­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tions) and their deep pock­ets, Brant­ley re­minded me that House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Al­pharetta, who led the fight for the char­ter amend­ment in the House did re­ceive $1,000 for her cam­paign cof­fers from Florida-based Char­ter Schools USA. How­ever, the Ge­or­gia As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors, one of the lead­ing op­po­nents of the amend­ment gave her $2,500. Re­mem­ber, it was Jones who claimed Ge­or­gia’s pub­lic school teach­ers are the most highly-com­pen­sated in the na­tion (which turned out to be un­true.) What is go­ing on here?

Tracey Nel­son, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs for GAE, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion must work with Rep. Jones in a va­ri­ety of is­sues be­yond this amend­ment. Maybe so, but if I was a mem­ber of the GAE, I might have a ques­tion about that par­tic­u­lar con­tri­bu­tion.

Roberts and Brant­ley say while there is a lot of talk about for-profit com­pa­nies in char­ter schools, pub­lic schools spent a lot of money on for-profit man­age­ment com­pa­nies, too, and showed me the list from a com­pany called Om­buds­man, that charged pub­lic school sys­tems in Ge­or­gia more than $15 mil­lion for ev­ery­thing from grad­u­a­tion coach­ing to work­ing with at-risk students.

Tony Roberts makes an im­pas­sioned case for char­ter schools. He said his or­ga­ni­za­tion has learned a lot about the is­sue of char­ter school man­age­ment from watch­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence in other states (not al­ways good) and be­lieves there are “tight con­trols” in place to pre­vent for-profit man­age­ment com­pa­nies from abus­ing the sys­tem. Roberts said his or­ga­ni­za­tion will ac­tu­ally train par­ents on how to hire and fire EMOs.

I sug­gested to Roberts and Brant­ley that if they hope to see this amend­ment passed, they had bet­ter tell leg­is­la­tors to shut their yaps about “fail­ing pub­lic schools” since those same leg­is­la­tors are the ones pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for that per­cep­tion and don’t seem to be do­ing much to try and change it. I have no pa­tience with that ar­gu­ment and I’m tired of hear­ing it. If an in­trepid pub­lic ser­vant would like to de­bate the is­sue with me, you know how to get hold of me.

While I still have reser­va­tions about the amend­ment, I thank Rep. Lind­sey for reach­ing out to me and to Tony Roberts and Bert Brant­ley for not shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger. I hope those who op­pose the amend­ment will do the same.

You can reach Dick Yar­brough at yarb2400@ bel­lsouth.net or P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, GA Last Sun­day was about as per­fect as it gets. The tem­per­a­ture, the beauty of the sky, the fresh air and the smil­ing faces were a tes­ta­ment to the good life we en­joy here in New­ton County.

This early fall weather beck­ons us all to open the door and head out for a stroll down the lane or, might we sug­gest, our pic­turesque town square.

If you make the trek, you’ll prob­a­bly see some neigh­bors who are happy to es­cape the air-con­di­tioned houses they’ve been cooped up in and trade that in for the beauty of the out­doors.

Head over to the square around lunch, and you’ll be in for an ex­tra treat.

Ev­ery Thurs­day in Septem­ber, the Arts As­so­ci­a­tion in New­ton County, Main Street Cov­ing­ton and The Cov­ing­ton News spon­sor a spe­cial concert on the square start­ing at noon. The con­certs pro­vide a great ex­cuse to break out the pic­nic bas­kets or to stop and pick up lunch from a nearby mer­chant and en­joy a true lunch break.

Also, for those more in­clined to come out af­ter the work week ends, be sure to check out an­other concert Fri­day at 7 p.m. on the square, again hosted by the Arts As­so­ci­a­tion and Main Street. The Up­town En­ter­tain­ment Band will be bring­ing its Mo­town-in­spired At­lanta sound to Cov­ing­ton.

Yes, fall is a great time. So, don’t let it pass you by; come out and join us down­town for some fun. If you watch closely, you might even see a vam­pire or two en­joy­ing the great out­doors along with you.

DICK YAR­BROUGH

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