Jul 29, 2014
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The Charter School Amendment: Money and Power

In a letter to the editor, a former charter school founder weighs in on the charter school amendment.

The Charter School Amendment: Money and Power

 

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 Nov. 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 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 to vote for or against the amendment:

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 one individual on the district board, every four years, only three times in the course of a child’s educational career, actually influence what happens in their school district. 

That’s nonsense. The setup, 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 unelected superintendents who actually run the show, aided by the Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association, both organizations training 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 that 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 three 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 on central office. 77 out of our 180 districts serve less than 3000 students, have FULL central offices and account for $67 MILLION 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 in for a quality public education.

 

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.

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