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Charter School Amendment Supporter Speaks Out

A Letter to the Editor in favor of the Nov. 6 ballot issue claims the education establishment "is not fighting for your children."

Editor's Note: Last weekend East Cobb Patch published a blog post from a parent who supports charter schools but opposes HR 1162, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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

By Kelly Cadman

There has been an awful lot of energy expended by opponents of the Charter School 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 one 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 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). Forty-seven superintendents took a raise last year while furloughing educators.
  • Our state spent $686 MILLION dollars on central office. Seventy-seven 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.us

Ga DOE: http://app3.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/fin_pack_revenue.display_proc

A Fact Checker October 30, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Some things said here are not true. For example, my board elected a majority of its members two years ago. This November the other members are up for relection. So every two years the community elects school board members. In Clayton county, the board will elect five members, a majority. This letter is almost a carbon copy of one I have seen before. I think they are passing it around hoping readers will see it enough to believe it is true.
Elizabeth Hooper October 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Here are some other facts voters may want to consider before voting on this Amendment to our State Constitution. The State Board of Education and local school boards ALREADY have the legal authority to authorize charter schools. This amendment will give the General Assembly - you know, those folks under the Gold Dome who have apparently been purchased by Ms. Cadman's employer, Alice Walton, among other billionaires, the authority to make education policy. If you vote "yes" you will essentially be voting against your own elected rights. Doesn't sound like such a great deal now does it. If you vote "yes" you are also voting for HB 797 which gives the authority to approve state charter schools to a 7 person appointed commission which is not accountable to you or your local school board. How many schools will there be? Where will they be? What will be taught? Who will determine if the local community actually needs the school? How many state dollars are we talking about? Where is the state money coming from ? There is no language in HB 797 which answers any of those questions. This is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It is an insult to Georgia voters who deserve a fair ballot question and answers to these questions before amending their State Constitution. I will be voting NO.
Charles Kent October 30, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Why keep arguing about the "Unelected commission board and why we shouldn’t allow an unelected state panel to make decisions about opening schools and allocating school funding because those decisions should be in the hands of a locally elected school board. Who do you think sets state curriculum standards, provides federal funding to public schools, writes special education guidelines, implements school facilities regulations, approves transportation plans, and controls hundreds of decisions that directly impact local schools? The state Board of Education. An unelected body, appointed by the governor. No one seems to be especially worried about that unelected board! The commission will provide autonomy to schools while holding them strictly accountable.When and where is that done locally?
Kids First October 30, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Thanks Kelly. Ms. Hooper's mantra of this can already be done is starting to break down. People are beginning to understand that this cannot be done if the amendment fails. Her hero, Sally Fitzgerald, state PTA lobbyist, said in a public forum the lawsuit was a certainty if the amendment fails. This group for some reason care more to protect the existing system which traps some children, not all, but many, than to open the state to more choices in public education. If the families like the traditional school better, how can those evil profiteers make any money? I learned the other night that the average years of service the Gwinnett County Board of Education has served is over 20 years. Turning over four of those seats during the 13years of one child's education wouldn't be possible. And really....this whole thing about Alice Walker. Geez, she's a bazillionnaire who actually believes in school reform. You've mentioned her before Ms. Hooper. I'm not sure how having money and using it for a cause you believe in, in this case school reform, gets so far under your skin. A yes vote moves Georgia forward
MP October 30, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Elizabeth is a blow hard. Blah, blah, blah. Same argument, cut and pasted, different blog. Boards in this state are generally 4 year terms. There may be an outlier or two. You missed the point se was making. Kids First, I think you're right. Wilbanks didn't seem I have a problem with accepting funds from Broad Foundation. Wonder what Broad got out of it? The answer is nothing - they are in it as philanthropists, just as Ms. Walton, who already has more money than she or her family could ever spend in a lifetime, is in it for the betterment of public education.. Arguments made by those who are opposed rarely make any sense.
Frank October 30, 2012 at 07:38 PM
It is incredibly disingenuous for the writer to suggest that the passage "ONLY reaffirms the state’s role in K-12 general education." The amendment, if passed, grants the state the authority to create charter schools. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the state currently lacks the authority to do so, and that that authority legally rests with local boards of education. She cites Control as an issue - Amendment opponents don't believe that un-elected, unaccountable appointees should have a say about a school in neighborhoods. In other words - an appointee from Columbus deciding the fate about a charter school in Kennesaw.
GA citizen & taxpayer October 31, 2012 at 06:56 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 06:59 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.
Kids First October 31, 2012 at 11:44 AM
@Frank, Cobb County would get the first shot to approve or deny the example school in Kennesaw. As a matter of fact, I think they did deny one or two that went to the commission. The commission agreed with the decision and chose to also deny them. But we do have boards that will deny for no good reason and the petitioners need a place to appeal. Like I said earlier the process in place today will be challenged the first time the state approves a petition denied by the local board of education.
George Busche November 05, 2012 at 07:30 AM
If you truly care for the future of our youth's education, vote no.
Kids First November 05, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Yep, if you care to make sure your children are stuck in a building that may or may not be serving their needs, vote no (where can you go after all). If you have any trouble with your school circling the wagons from the classroom up to protect their own, vote no (where can you go after all). Vote yes if you want to see all of Georgia's families have other options. I believe the non-charter public school systems will improve if they know a family can leave for another public school option. If a waiting list is twice the size of the charter school, how can the administrators not sit back and analyze the will of their parents and hopefully improve. I voted yes. I truly care for the future of our youth's education.
The Children Matter November 05, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I have personally known the writer of this article for years, and I can honestly say that "Charter School Opposition" is all about money; the money in her and her organization's pocket. We are taking away state funding that could be used to better our public school system, but as Ms. Cadman would rather most kids be left in the dust, while teaching over privileged kids while making her own pockets fatter. Vote NO, and Ms. Cadman will be working for the county once again. Maybe that's not such a good thing, but vote No regardless for the future of Georgia's education; for Georgia's youth.
Kids First November 05, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Vote yes, if you've ever wished your family had just one other public school option. Vote yes, if you think the school systems can build a wall from classroom to board room making sure you, your kid or your idea is stifled. Vote yes, if you believe a traditional public school and it's system will treat you more fairly if they know they're competing with another school down the road. Vote yes, if you're just plain tired of school systems holding a monopoly in education. I don't want to be told I have to shop at Kroger because it's the one closest to me and I'll receive 'adequate' types of food. If I want to go to Publix or Whole Foods, let me. Same with education.

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