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OPINION: Charter amendment doesn't add up to choice, only bureaucracy

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November 01, 2012
The Georgia Supreme Court struck down the ability of the state Department of Education to grant an appeal to a proposed charter school and override the local board of education.

In a 4-3 vote, the majority of justices agreed that the state does not have the constitutional right to interfere in local school administration of schools which the constitution reserves for the local school boards.

Since the state legislature does not like to be frustrated in those things it wishes to do, naturally the leadership put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. You know this is a top-down mandate by the way the campaign for the amendment has shaped up, and a sorry mess it has been.

First, in the legislative session in which the General Assembly has 40 days to conduct all its business, guess what the first item of business was? Yep, it was the vote to put the charter amendment on the ballot. It failed.

For a bonus of 10 points, guess what the second item of business was for a vote at the legislative session? Bingo, a second vote for the charter amendment. This time it passed. That means arms were twisted and promises made to ensure that first things got done first.

Well, that's politics. But it was a red flag all the same, showing that powerful people were playing hardball.

Then the details began to come out. Behind the mantra that the amendment was "for the children," and "to give parents choice," there was a clamp down on any discussion of the ballot initiative that did not originate with its supporters.

The Fulton County School System, the Gwinnett County Public Schools and Georgia School Boards Association were all hit with injunctive lawsuits to shut down any discussion of the amendment that might cast anything but glowing admiration of the legislation. The courts ruled that exercise of free speech is still one of our basic freedoms.

Obviously, there is a great deal of fear about discussion of what passage of this would mean. Because this not about parental choices – they already have that – and being "for the children," whatever that means. It is about money and power. The money comes from the for-profit schools that are licking their lips to get on the generous funding the amendment would release for them.

New charter schools would receive student funding at 2.5 times that of students in public schools (which includes existing charter schools). Never mind that these new charter schools will not have the investment in bricks and mortar; school buses; drivers, athletic fields and programs and administration. Nor are charter schools required to use certified teachers. The common argument for this is that it allows a retired physics professor to teach at these schools. Yet the reality is it allows people to teach English who do not have a degree in English or even a degree at all. But they work for less pay, which is what for-profit schools are all about.

It would allow the creation of a seven-member state charter commission which would be appointed – three seats by the governor, two seats by the lieutenant governor and two seats by the speaker of the House. Now you get an idea of where the push is coming from.

No less an expert on charter schools than State School Superintendent John Barge said at the rate of seven new charter schools a year – the rate at which the previous commission approved them – and factoring in the increased spending given to them, it would put an additional burden on the state school budget of $430 million annually in five years.

He also points out there are 72 public school districts operating at a deficit, in whole or in part because of increased cuts to the school budget by the legislature. With more cuts in public school funding, it would not be long before school districts begin to go bankrupt.

The proponents of the amendment say these new charter schools will help those underfunded school systems by giving the parents there a choice. What evidence is there that there will be any charter schools in poor rural areas of the state where there is little money and fewer students? Why are there no charter schools in those areas now? This amendment won't bring schools to those districts, and if they do they will put the most burden on the public schools there because they are most dependent on dwindling state support.

There has been a complete rush job to get this amendment pushed through. And once voted in, it would be the devil to get rid of it.

A maxim in government we all might want to remember goes like this: Laws made in haste may be regretted at one's leisure. This goes double for constitutional amendments.

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Managing Editor, Appen Newspapers Inc.
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  1. report print email
    Not Telling the Truth
    November 01, 2012 | 10:47 PM

    Hatcher, you are not telling the truth. I don't know why you'd do such a thing. Are you making money off of this like the superintendents and their district machines?

    History. The Commission convened in 2008. Why? Because the local boards were approving NO charter schools. Schools truly at the local level. Those fat cat districts didn't want to lose the money they pay themselves (while laying off teachers and holding back raises for those left.) Zero approved in 2007. Of the 60 that applied in GA once the Commission started, the districts approved 4. Of the 56 not approved, 16 were approved by the Commission. The Commission is an auditor to keep big government honest. Ensuring local control (parents and children.)

    Gwinnett led a lawsuit though to get rid of that pesky Commission. The superintendents didn't want ANYONE challenging their huge salaries (not to mention the overhead of their bloated administrations.) That's why the state has this on the ballot, to get the Commission back in gear. To ensure local control.

    You just flat out are not telling the trust on Funding.

    Truth. Charter schools that will be funded by the state upon Commission approval will only get, per student, in total, the average rate of the lowest 5 funded districts in Georgia. You are not telling the trust (and you know it.) You say they don't have to worry about overhead. LIE. The get funding the same way (well, less) and have the same overhead, except the big government bureacracy

    The next "fib". That standards are relaxed. NOT TRUE. Charter schools have THE EXACT SAME HIRING and EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS as legacy public school. BUT, you know that. You tell a "lie" to trick the reader.

    You lie about the overall funds. The funds, per child, are the funds, per child. Georgia will not increase students in Georgia because charter schools increase. Georgia will increase its number of students, period. They will have to be funded at a public school (which charters are). It's a zero sum game. But, you know that. You are misleading the reader.

    You say it's all about money. Well, true. For the bloated existing bureaucracy that pays superintendents gigantic salaries, for one of the lowest ranks in the country with bloated ranks of staff. Those guys want the students and their associated money. To heck with education. They are profit mongers of the personal kind.

    "For profit" schools? That's another lie. Charter schools are non-profit. They are public schools. They do hire "for profit" providers of services and products. You know, Pearson, Rand McNalley, I think I saw a Yamaha piano in a school. Yamaha is "for profit" aren't they? I guess then all public schools in Georgia are "for profit". That's just poor arguing for your fat cat superintendent buddies.

    On districts going bankrupt, how about these stats:
    In Georgia, the number of school personnel increased 80 percent compared to student growth of 41 percent from 1992 to 2009. WHOA. Did you know that all school board members are paid for their "public service". $4.1MM!! 1/3 of the superintendents make in excess of $150K/year. Gwinnett's makes $410K. 47% of superintendents took pay raises last year while furloughing teachers. 77 of our 180 districts serve less than 3000 students and have full central offices. Hmmmm. The rate of growth in central offices is double the rate of growth of the student population.

    The commission members truly run as volunteers. And a staff of 5 or 6 people. Efficient. Putting kids and parents first. Making it all easier to bring better schools, with the same standards, to all parts of Georgia, particularly where they are needed most, the inner city and the rural areas.

    Alpharetta Resident
  2. report print email
    Fact Checking Yields Other Information
    November 02, 2012 | 08:10 AM

    Mr. Hurd,

    I believe you have fallen hook, line and sinker for the rhetoric employed by the education establishment on this issue and or off point on a number of facts.

    First, let me address the "arm twisting" during the legislative session. That's not exactly how it happened. As a bi-partisan effort, passage of the legislation on this matter required NEGOTIATING... those crafting the legislation went back to the drawing board a number of times to make sure it was acceptable to all parties. I know that's rather unheard of in the legislature, but believe it or not, lots of people under the Gold Dome realized that the schools in existence needed to be protected AND that the future improvement of public education was resting on the catalyst of the charter sector. We WANT our legislature to be bi-partisan, but when it finally is, all they get is accused of "arm twisting." How very sad that is, indeed.

    This idea of costing $430 million is fraught with fallacy. First of all, Barge assumed that 7 times per year the districts would not be fair and schools would have to go to the state for approval - it seems to me that he doesn't even trust his own school districts to do what's right, which speaks to the need for an appeals process. Secondly, what he does not account for is that the districts KEEP all their local funds, lose the full expense of the students (which they claim is more than the state gives them anyway), and that these students cost less to educate. And finally, while he in one breath says we "already" have an appeals process, in the next, he fails to tell you that even without a Commission, the same amount of money would have to be spent if we truly "already have" a process with the state. Some may call that a lie of omission.

    Let's discuss bureaucracy. It is difficult to believe that anyone could accuse the Georgia Charter Schools Commission of being a bureaucracy. This is a 7 member commission filled with volunteers willing to lend their expertise to ensure we have quality schools. Moreover, the staff is 5 people operating on a $650,000 budget that is paid for by the school's themselves from their operational funds. Let's just put this into perspective so you can understand where the REAL bureaucracy is...

    Commission - 5 people, $650,000, will oversee 15,000 students.

    We have 157 districts administrations and boards in the state of Georgia who oversee LESS than 15,0000. The AVERAGE cost of the general administration of these districts is $1,444,908 and the average number of students in these districts is 3964. The Charter Schools Commission is less than half the cost serving more than 5 times the kids.

    Looking at it yet another way, all told, the smaller districts, each with its very own full general administration (bureaucracy) costs more than $11 million dollars to serve and oversee the same number of kids as the Commission will do for $650,000.

    Dr. Benjamin Scafidy in his recent op-ed and report made clear that Georgia's spending on school district bureaucracies have more than doubled the growth of students.

    We have an efficient and effective Commission that has the potential to REDUCE bureaucracy - serving more and costing less.

    Mr. Hurd, rather than beat up on the scores of parents and community members trying to make a positive change in our education establishment, why don't you study the rampant waste and bloated bureaucracy in public education and try to influence changes where they really matter.... so that more dollars can make it into classrooms and to support the hard work of all public school teachers.

    You're certainly barking up the wrong tree with "bureaucracy" with the charter sector.

    Melanie Plame
  3. report print email
    Amendment #1
    November 02, 2012 | 12:00 PM

    Thank you for this article, which points out the fallacy of the proponents on this measure. Let me point out a couple more.

    Charter school applications are not accepted by a local school board because they do not include a sustainable business plan. Running schools requires resources, and when the charter applicant cannot predict cash flows or does not have a site and its costs identified, local boards of education tend to back away.

    Non acceptance can include other reasons such as the proposal contains unreliable curriculum, does not include or violates state or federal requirements, duplicates what is already available in the current schools and therefore is not 'special', deadlines were not met, etc. Running a school is complicated, and if the applicant cannot or will not read the policies and rules applicable to charter applications and abide thereby, applicants will not be approved at the local level or at the state board of education level.

    I was particularly interested in your explanation of teachers in charter schools. A charter school teacher can be any adult. No degree or diploma is required. Could even be a high school dropout. This information was shared by a director of the Professional Standards Commission which certifies teachers and knows what all the requirements are.

    Dr. Scafidi's assertion that school district bureaucracies are blotted is not held up by facts. Most school systems are small, and everyone in the central office wears multiple hats. For larger school systems, which have larger property taxes bases, they have the ability to offload some duties from local schools to the district budget, so that local schools can operate less expensively. Also, such things as health benefits an required to be coded in the Central Office budgets. If a charter school does not offer health benefits to its employees, of course they would have no such expense. Local schools don't have that option, and the rates are set by the state health plan.

    Most of these state chartered schools are run by out of state for-profit companies. Where do the profits come from? The services offered to the students, of course. Cheaper services, like teacher salaries and few benefits, allow these firms to pay dividends to their shareholders and contribute to legislators reelection campaigns. Every major sponsor of this legislation has received such contributions. Check the web site.

    And this issue is not about parent choice. Parents already have choice -- public, private, or home schooling, any public school serving the students needs within the district. The real issue is Who Pays for a parent's choice. When the parent pays, the student can go wherever he wants. When the taxpayers pay, there are rules, period.

    Know ALL the facts before you vote.

    Sally FitzGereald
    Sandy Springs
  4. report print email
    Amendment #1
    November 02, 2012 | 12:03 PM

    In the paragraph beginning "Dr. Scafadi's ..... ", the word should be 'bloated', not 'blotted'.

    Sally FitzGerald
    Sandy Springs
  5. report print email
    Amendment One - Thanks, Hatcher Hurd.
    November 02, 2012 | 02:38 PM

    With all due respect to "Not Telling the Truth," Mr. Hurd is correct. (Thank you, Mr. Hurd.) I refer you to the associated legislation, HB 797 which has some real "gotchas." Mr. "not telling the truth" need only refer to lines 187-191 of HB 797 to find that these new charter schools, enabled by this legislation, do NOT have to have certified teachers (just their version of "highly trained,") nor do they have to be US citizens. Also, there is no spending cap on this legislation. As a taxpayer, I am voting NO and encourage you to do the same. I don't plan to give this unelected duplicate board a blank check.

    187 (1) Seek highly qualified, properly trained teachers and other qualified personnel for
    188 such schools; provided, however, that such schools shall give preference to hiring an
    189 individual who is a citizen or national of the United States over another individual who
    190 is not a citizen or national of the United States if the two individuals are equally qualified,
    191 unless a teacher is a foreign exchange teacher..."

    Jan Barton
    Marietta, GA
  6. report print email
    Sally Fitzgerald - Why Won't You Speak Truth
    November 03, 2012 | 12:25 PM

    Ms. Fitzgerald,

    It is quite disappointing to see the head of policy for PTA to completely mislead the public.

    1. Charter schools have been denied for many, many reasons that have nothing to do with a sustainable business plan. Indeed, we have 3 schools that were locally denied, approved by the Commission, and later "adopted" or approved by the district. Same petition. Further, Clayton County was asked to produce, via Open Records, the rubric for review of a charter recently. There was only 1 of several rubrics even completed (and it recommended approval) - the others were BLANK.

    2. You know full well that charter school teachers must meet the same definitions for highly qualified status as any other teacher. And although charter law does not require certification, the HQ requirement and Georgia's 3 year validity to remain highly qualified without a certificate makes the law moot. Charters and traditional school teachers have to meet the same bar.

    3. Regarding district bloat, you do realize, I am sure, that state charter schools are their own LEAs, and thus, retain all of the responsibility a traditional district has (without some of the benefits). These charters do not have central offices. They wear many hats as well, but they do not pay bureaucrats to do what they can manage.

    Case in point.... Pataula Charter Academy serves around 300 students in 1 school. Baker County serves around 350 students in 1 school. Pataula spends $0 on central administration. Baker spent $581,907 last year on their central office. Comparable student populations. Same responsibilities as LEAs. Baker County could have put that half million back into classrooms. And let me be crystal clear - I believe that central offices can and do serve a function - perhaps not for 350 kids - but they have a purpose for economy of scale; however, the data shows that our state has more than doubled student growth with its bureaucracy.

    And by the way, your argument about benefits also doesn't hold water, as proportionately this should be the same across districts - what changes that amount is the number of staff you have in central administration taking those benefits. ALL benefits are NOT coded there, just central office staff.

    Please explain to me how an education management company who has performed at higher levels and been able to run their schools at significantly less than the traditional districts is worse than paying millions and millions and millions to central offices that have duplicative services all over this state? You do realize that we have 77 out of 180 districts serving less than 3000 kids - and every one of those have full central offices and spend multiple millions that could be reduced by combining functions with other small districts. Every dime going to duplicative efforts comes out of classrooms.

    As for "already have choice." Well, let's go through that. We have public charter schools in about 9 school districts around the state. We have 5000 students currently sitting on wait lists. How many parents can homeschool or send their children to private school, particularly given this economy? With districts who have magnet programs, children who don't "qualify" don't get that choice, even if they want it. Exactly how much choice do parents really have?

    Kelly Cadman
    Villa Rica
  7. report print email
    Amendment 1 - Thanks to Hatcher is Incorrect
    November 03, 2012 | 12:29 PM

    Dear Amendment 1,

    The Professional Standards Commission sets requirements for highly qualified status (demonstrating competency, etc.), and charters must follow the same requirements as traditional teachers. If it would help you to see the PSC rules, I am happy to dig them up for you.

    Kelly Cadman
    Villa Rica
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