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Op-ED: Charter School Amendment - Money and Control

An Op-ED by Kelly Cadman, the Vice President of School Services at The Georgia Charter Schools Association, and a former founder of a charter school/

 

By Kelly Cadman

There has been an awful lot of energy expended by opponents of the Charter Amendment. The opposition to the Amendment claim that the state can “already” act as an appeals body for charter schools. Those supporting the Amendment wonder, if the state can already approve charters, why is the Education Establishment fighting THIS hard against affirming that on the ballot on November 6? 

Most of the arguments posed against the Amendment are related to the enabling legislation, which establishes a Commission. The ballot question, however, ONLY reaffirms the state’s role in K-12 general education, so why the nasty battle against the Amendment?

At the heart of the argument employed by the school districts and affiliate associations who earn their bread and butter from dues and fees from the Education Establishment are two primary arguments:  CONTROL and MONEY.  And the Establishment doesn’t even deny it.

For those on the fence about voting on the Amendment, here are some facts to consider as you make your decision about how to vote:

LOCAL CONTROL is currently vested in elected board members in each of 180 school districts. The public is led to believe that it can, through its vote for 1 individual on the district board, every 4 years, only 3 times in the course of a child’s educational career, actually influence what happens in their school district.

That’s nonsense. 

The set up, although through an election process, does not allow for a community to easily overhaul a district board that is failing its children and not meeting its fiduciary obligations. Moreover, you have an unelected superintendents that actually run the show – aided by the Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association, both who train up weak and passive board members to follow the superintendents’ bidding.

It’s a recipe for disaster without recourse. Just look at the number of districts who have lost SACS accreditation or who are on probation. Even in these very serious situations, the local boards cannot easily be voted out by its community, and those living in APS, DeKalb, Clayton, and Sumter Counties can attest to this. They are trapped and so are their children.  But goodness knows, let’s protect “local control.” 

Interestingly enough, we have recently had a charter go before Clayton County that was denied. Denied. What absolute arrogance to deny the rights of parents and community members trying to get out from under failure to give their kids something better and to be denied by the very district who failed the whole community. But it is this district Establishment the opposition to the amendment wants you to “protect” by voting no.  Forget what’s better for kids.

FOLLOW THE MONEY is the mantra of the opposition, but to be fair, let’s turn it around and follow the money on the other side to see how protecting the money (which isn’t in danger to begin with) ties with protecting the fiefdoms of the districts. Without doubt, the districts have had austerity reductions over the last 3 years due to the state of our economy. There is another side to the equation to consider, and that is with spending. Without getting too deeply engaged in the rampant waste on travel and unnecessary expenses not tied to instruction, let’s look at spending just at the heart of “local control” – the boards and central offices - to see why they are fighting so hard to protect it.

  • Every single one of our school boards are paid for their “public service.”  This accounts for $4.1 MILLION dollars in salary.  With the austerity cuts, are board members donating their salaries back to put into classrooms?  Nope.  Just as an aside, charter board members receive $0 in compensation. Ever.
  • Nearly one third of the superintendents in this state make in excess of $150,000 yearly.  Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, of Gwinnett County, makes $410,000 annually, followed closely by superintendents from Clayton, Atlanta Public Schools, Savannah-Chatham, Fulton, and Cobb (3 of which are in danger of loss of accreditation, by the way). 47 superintendents took a raise last year while furloughing educators.
  • Our state spent $686 MILLION dollars on central office.  77 out of our 180 districts serve less than 3000 students and have FULL central offices and account for $67 MILLION dollars of the total spent.  In these tough economic times, are districts in rural areas combining central offices to reduce duplicative costs?  Are large districts cutting central offices to keep money in classrooms?  No, and in fact, according to a recent study by Dr. Benjamin Scafidi of Georgia College and State University, central office growth has nearly doubled the growth of students. 

This is all very important in the context of this fight for money and control against the Charter Amendment.   The Education Establishment is not fighting for your children.  They aren’t fighting for quality education. They aren’t fighting to protect the voice of parents or teachers. They aren’t fighting for kids to become work or college ready. 

Don’t be fooled by the Education Establishment.  This amendment is about giving public school students a chance and parents a choice for a quality public education.

Sources of data:

Open Georgia:  www.doe.k12.ga.usGa DOE: http://app3.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/fin_pack_revenue.display_proc

Kelly Cadman is the Vice President of School Services at The Georgia Charter Schools Association, a former founder of a charter school, and a dedicated charter school mother and public education supporter.

Elizabeth Hooper October 30, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Kelly, You certainly are busy today! Exactly who do expect the voters to think you're with - the children? How about the Walmart heiress, Alice Walton, who has dumped $600k into this amendment campaign and who's foundation, The Walton Family Foundation pays the majority of your salary. Not exactly grassroots. Why don't you tell people this simple fact; local school boards can and have been authorizing charter school petitions and the State Board of Education has the legal authority and is quite capable of reviewing petitions that have been denied at the local level. Why do we need a THIRD appointed commission, unaccountable to the taxpayers, to do what two are already doing. Not approving state charter schools fast enough for Alice Walton? Is she going to be paying for all of them? NO. How many does she have in mind? No one's talking. The taxpayers will be paying whether we need them or not. Please tell her to conduct her experiments in a state where she at least has one home, like Texas or Arkansas. Or- why doesn't she buy several failing schools outright, conduct her experiment, and we'll check back 5 years from now. Don't let the billionaires buy your vote and your voice. I'll be voting NO on Amendment 1.
Rae Harkness October 30, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Maybe Alice likes to open stores where there are educated people earning good salaries that are able to spend money. Why can't you understand that when the economic situation in Georgia improves, everyone will benefit? Local school boards are not always willing to approve good charters. THAT is the problem. Our charter schools operate with far less tax dollars than other schools, including district-approved charters and charter "system" schools. And don't think we haven't noticed all of the "articles" by elected officials, GSBA, GAPTA and GSSA leaders telling everyone why they should "Vote NO". I guess this shouldn't apply to them?
GA citizen & taxpayer October 31, 2012 at 07:07 AM
Enough is enough!!!! I am thoroughly disgusted by & tired of the lies and propaganda that have been foisted upon Georgians by the GCSA. And I'm not an education professional nor employed by any education-related company...just so you know. But I do value public education--especially for its role in developing an informed citizenry--now more than ever. Late this summer I attended a meeting in which a GCSA staffer--with other GCSA representatives in attendance--convincingly declared to an audience that there is "no appeals process" currently in place for a charter school when its application is not approved by a local school board. When questioned by attendees, the staffer finally admitted that there IS an appeals process in place (via the State BOE). Apparently the GCSA wants the Charter School Commission so badly that it condones lying. Now to the present writing: it is highly disingenuous to claim that "The ballot question, however, ONLY reaffirms the state’s role in K-12 general education." Really...I mean REALLY??? A constitutional amendment and an expensive campaign funded primarily by out-of-state individuals and corporations to simply SAY SOMETHING AGAIN??? Cadman then claims that the GSBA & GSSA "train weak and passive board members to follow the superintendents’ bidding". This is simply untrue and I resent even having to read that blatant lie. Every board member I have known has been assertive and strong, while open to differing viewpoints.
GA citizen & taxpayer October 31, 2012 at 07:08 AM
Cadman talks about "absolute arrogance" because a charter school application was denied. The height of arrogance is to assume that charter school applications must always be approved; that's what is being intimated here. In recent months, I have been struck by the sense of entitlement with which many charter-school supporters seem to be imbued. It's THEIR opinion which is all that matters...THEIR children...THEIR charter schools...THEIR money. But it's not their money...it's OURS, the Georgia taxpayers'. And it's not their schools...they are OURS. In the end, it's OUR responsibility to consider and determine what's best for ALL the children in Georgia. Charter schools are already thriving in this state and will continue to do so after November 6, no matter what the proponents say. Our legislators who support this amendment--especially Nathan Deal, Jan Jones, Edward Lindsey and Chip Rogers--should be ashamed of themselves but I know they are not. To craft such a deceptive and misleading ballot question plus preamble is truly despicable. It was a deliberate and calculated action, showing a total lack of respect for Georgia voters. Democracy depends on an informed electorate. Read HR 1162 and HB 797. Then you'll see for yourself that this amendment--if ratified--will go far, far beyond a simplistic "reaffirmation". And in the end, it will be taxation without representation. A nasty battle, indeed. Vote "NO" on Amendment 1.

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