Sometimes, I’ll be sitting in one of those meetings and after the second hour of listening to sewer issues or contract renewals, my imagination starts to float around the room. I see someone speaking at the podium, but somewhere in the back of my mind all I can hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice…you know?
“Wah, wahwahhh, wahwahh wah.” It’s terrible.
If you’re the same way, just bear with me. I’m going to talk about some political junk, but I have a really good reason and I’ll try to make it quick and painless and a little entertaining.
A few weeks ago, during a local school board meeting, I got so sucked into the whole charter school amendment debate I was just plain mad by the time I left. Denia Reese, the superintendent, and chairman Don Dycus spent a good half-hour with me after the meeting, patiently answering every question I fired at them.
I googled and researched for days, trying to get a feel for both sides so I could be objective, but all the while, I kept getting that “déjà vu” sensation. I finally came to the conclusion that this whole situation is just “T-SPLOST” all over again. Same concept. Different avenue. Mega wealthy companies and politicians with personal agendas.
When you get to the polls, you're going to read an unassuming little “proposed amendment” on the ballot, containing an even more grossly unassuming little five letter word, so please... PAY ATTENTION. The ballot question reads like this:
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
Read it again. Seem vague, yet positive? Feel familiar? If you're slowly nodding in a puzzled daze, then I rest my case.
Somewhere down in Atlanta, there are some slippery little legislators hoping you'll casually glance at their generic little harmless “correction” and pull the “yes” lever. Please use caution. This is the Constitution of the state of Georgia you’re changing, friends, not your Facebook status.
Charter schools are often innovative, “off the public beaten path” types of educational institutions that just need a little “wiggle room” to accommodate their needs. If your students are blind or deaf, you clearly have different needs than a typical public school. If a business wants to open a technical school and train local students to more quickly and efficiently enter their workforce, they need to make adjustments. A “virtual” school can host 100 students per session, rather than the typical classroom limit of 30 or 35. These are all wonderful ideas and a complete asset to the community.
More importantly, our local school board has ample intelligence and insight to determine which charter applicants would well serve Catoosa County and which ones might not be such a great idea. They live here. They serve here. They want the community to grow and have “educational options.” They know when to make exceptions and when to restrain.
As it stands, if an applicant approaches the local school board about establishing a charter school and they are denied, they can appeal to the state board of education. The state has the authority to override the decision of the local board if no agreement can be made. So WHY do we need to amend by adding the word STATE? Why are they trying to fix something that isn’t broken? Makes no sense. Makes you wonder what they’re up to…
When I'm trying to get to the bottom of puzzles like this, I play a little game I like to call “Follow the money.”
In 2008, some lawmakers down in Atlanta exposed a small “commissioned” group of people who were approving the start-up of charter schools all over Georgia, who had been denied establishment by their local school board. When the matter worked its way up to the top legal rank, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the whistle-blowers and deemed the group's existence and actions as “unconstitutional.” The issue was with the “commission,” not with the state board’s right to override a local board’s decision. There was no need for a separate entity such as a “charter commission.”
Stay with me. We’re still following the money....
There’s an international movement among giant for-profit businesses nowadays. They make a fortune by building charter schools in communities all over the place. Unfortunately, there’s always that sticky issue of convincing the local school board that their school is necessary and beneficial to that particular community.
If only there was a way to sidestep the local board...
Here’s a thought…dump a bunch of money into a political campaign. When the right foks are in office, they’ll push really hard for a vague little amendment to get passed that will legalize the formation of a pet group of state people called a “charter commission.”
Still following the money?
Did I mention the seven people on the “charter commission” are all nominated by elected officials? The Governor submits three names, the Lt. Governor and the House speaker would control two seats each. I’m not pointing fingers. I have no proof of anything. Just sharing an interesting little tidbit…
The way I see it, as soon as your yes vote passes, that word “STATE” will finally give that unconstitutional “commission” the legal right to scoot their chairs right back up to the state education table and pick up where they left off.
If you vote yes, you take the decision-making power out of the hands of your local school board members — the ones who actually KNOW what would be best for this community and our schools — and place it into the hands of seven complete strangers whose pockets are bulging with taxpayer dollars but have most likely never set foot in this county and don’t even know your name.
Speaking of money, there's only one big pot labeled “education money” in the general assembly fund and every public school is scraping the bottom of that pathetic barrel to maintain our schools. I’ve been sitting in local budget meetings for two years, and I can tell you, it’s an impossible and thankless task, but your local board members do their level best to pinch every penny they can to keep the coffers balanced. And they do it with a positive attitude. And they do it for you and your families.
The state can say all day long they aren't funneling money away from local schools when they build a charter school, and that's partially true. State charters don't depend on local property and sales taxes that support existing public schools. BUT.. rest assured, there will be a shiny new line item on next year's state budget entitled “STATE CHARTER SCHOOLS” with it's grubby little hand out. I still fed all my children after the fourth baby was born too, but we ate a lot more peanut butter than steak.
I can’t tell you how to vote. Neither can the Catoosa County school board. I’m not some political analyst with an unbiased overview. I can’t even stay awake during a 6 o’clock meeting sometimes, but please educate yourself before you vote. That's all we're asking. And if you start to waver at the polls, let me encourage you to stop and ponder the following questions….
Who picked her way through tornado rubble and wore a hard hat for a solid year to ensure YOUR child's educational facilities were not only restored, but updated and brought up to 21st century standards in a swift and efficient manner? Who knows your city and councilmen on a first name basis, and what they stand for, and how best to work in conjunction with them to improve public education? Whose faces do you see at Friday night football games, even though their children are no longer even in the school system?
Voting “yes” would be an emphatic insult to some of the finest people we have serving this community.
Voting “no” will send a unified “Thank you.”
Sherry Dee Allen is a staff writer for The Catoosa County News. She can be reached at email@example.com.