Readers of this blog will be familiar with the tensions in Cherokee between the school system and the legislative delegation and the board redistricting legislation that resulted. You can find quite a few posts on the issues if you search Cherokee.
It will be interesting to see whether the school system’s opposition to the state charter school amendment will have any impact on voters in November.
For 10 months a battle has raged in Cherokee County over charter schools. A bill passed by the legislature putting a charter school amendment on the ballot November has done little to clear the smoke or diffuse the heat.
It has just ignited new opposition in the county and given rise to the prospect that the debate and battle could expand across the state, say opponents of the amendment that would give Georgia the power to create charter schools without local school board approval.
Over the last year the north metro county has become ground zero for state fight over charter schools. The six-member Cherokee County legislative delegation, led by George State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, pushed the bill to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Two weeks ago the Cherokee County Board of Education struck back, voting 4-2 against the amendment. The board and Cherokee County Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo said the bill threatens funding of public schools in the county and across the state because it’s unclear where the state will get the money to start the charter schools.
Two other school boards in the state, in Columbia County and Spalding County, have passed similar resolutions against the proposed amendment which the Georgia School Boards Association last month called “damaging legislation” that “gives legal authority to the state to strip local citizens of their rights on taxation and representation.”
“We think this is going to become a bigger issue statewide by November,” said Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the Georgia School Boards Association. In Cherokee, it was just the latest confrontation between the board and the local Republican Party.
Last summer the Cherokee Republican Party demanded four board members who rejected, for the third time, a plan to build Cherokee Charter Academy, resign from Republican the party. The state stepped in and funded Cherokee Charter Academy, which laid the groundwork for the Cherokee legislative delegation to author its bill.
Danny Dukes, head of the Charter School Committee of the Cherokee Republican Party said this week the dispute has grown more volatile since the amendment got on the November ballot. He blamed the school board and Petruzielo for misrepresenting it. “They’ve made it a money issue, and it shouldn’t be about money,” said Dukes. “It should be about educating our kids.”
Petruzielo said the dispute isn’t about education, it’s about obfuscation. “If the majority of Cherokee voters learned what the constitutional amendment will do to further erode the quality of existing public schools, they would run to the polls to vote it down,” he said.
Board members claim the dispute spilled into the Cherokee legislative delegation’s redrawing of school board’s districts and governance model, which they said did not follow federal and state reapportionment guidelines.Under the redrawn map the two most outspoken opponents of the legislative delegation, board chairman Mike Chapman, and Vice-Chair Janet Read, are redistricted out of their posts.
“They’re clearly not happy with the school board, and this was just a get even deal,” said Chapman.
Dukes said that the map the board suggested was even more politicized than the one the delegation finally settled on and passed through the legislature. “You talk about gerrymandering?” said Dukes. “You should have seen that map and the twists and turns it made. That was some gerrymandering.”
One of the most outspoken critics of the board and supporter of charter schools, Kelly Marlow, who headed the pro-charter group, Cherokee Parents For Choice, said she plans to run for the board. On the other side of the issue, two groups have formed since last summer supporting the school board and opposing the November amendment.
Elizabeth Crook, community liaison for Cherokee Parents For The Kids, said her group isn’t opposed to charter schools. It’s in favor of supporting one of the best public school systems in the state. “It all comes down to fiscal responsibility,” she said. “Right now the state is not fully funding public education, how can they fund newly created charter schools? They can’t answer that.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog