Court ruling: Fulton can post info on charter amendment

A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled today that Fulton County Schools can provide information on the charter school amendment on its web site. Attorney and longtime vouchers advocate Glenn Delk maintained that the Fulton County district’s Q&A amounted to lobbying against the amendment.

But Judge Wendy Shoob disagreed, calling the Q&A simply informational.

School districts are bristling at what they consider efforts to silence them on the controversial amendment, which would give the state the power to overrule local districts and approve charter schools that local boards opposed.

“In providing information to the public regarding Amendment 1, I have done nothing wrong or improper,” said Gwinnett school chief  J. Alvin Wilbanks, whose district is facing the same legal challenge.

“These lawsuits are simply another attempt to bully, intimidate, and silence the citizens and public servants who are trying to clarify the amendment in order to counter the misleading language of the preamble and the ballot question itself. This is not a partisan issue. Educating voters on Amendment 1 is so important that people from all political parties are collaborating to ensure voters have full and accurate information about it,” said Wilbanks. “That said I fully understand and abide by what legally I can and cannot do regarding the use of public funds in this effort. I also know that as an American citizen I have freedom of speech rights that are protected by the United States Constitution. I fully intend to continue exercising those rights, regardless of the tactics employed to try to keep me quiet.”

According to the AJC:

But after a 37-minute hearing, Shoob denied the request for an injunction against Fulton County Schools. Shoob also ruled that the request for an injunction against the Gwinnett County school system should be heard in that county. The rulings threw sand in the pro-amendment machinery, but it is likely to grind on.

Victoria Sweeney, an attorney for the Gwinnett school district, said she expects the request for an injunction to be combined with another suit against the district that makes the same claims Delk made. An Oct. 24 hearing has been set in that case.

Opponents of the amendment, which would guarantee the state’s power to authorize charter schools and create a commission to consider applications for them, said legal attempts to restrict what school districts can say about it are part of a campaign to intimidate and mute them.

In 2010, Shoob had ruled in favor of the state of Georgia when it sought to protect the power of the former Georgia Charter Schools Commission to authorize charter schools. But from the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, Shoob was quizzical and at times outright skeptical of Delk’s argument that the districts could not post information about the amendment on their websites.

She asked Delk what he thought school board members were permitted to say. “Are they allowed to answer questions from parents?” she asked.

Delk said school board members should say they would offer a full answer when they are not on taxpayer time, a response that seemed unsatisfactory to Shoob. “They can take the time to respond, but they can’t answer the question?” Shoob asked.

Later, the judge said she did not agree with the contention that the information on the district websites amounted to advocacy. “They didn’t say we are for or against it,” she said. “They just posted the Q-and-A. I have a hard time seeing how that was for or against it.”

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

33 comments Add your comment

Ron F.

October 10th, 2012
7:00 pm

“Delk said school board members should say they would offer a full answer when they are not on taxpayer time”

I’d like to see them try that one on the governor. Delk wanted a publicity stunt and he got it. Now off to Gwinnett county for another round of foolishness. I wonder, will there only be the two hearings in each county or will every system have that option? I’d love to see them have the opportunity to drag Delk to every county and city court they can get him to explain this.

td

October 10th, 2012
7:28 pm

If you read this lawsuit in the way this attorney wrote it then we should not have school boards or a state school superintendent.

We live in a representative republic and as such go to the polls and elect our local school boards and a state superintendent to represent our interest when it pertains to education. It is their jobs and the reason we elect them to give up their individual as well as their collective opinions on matters of education. If they can not do this task then why do we need these positions in the first place?

Prof

October 10th, 2012
7:32 pm

Always remember that filing a lawsuit that doesn’t mean you’ll win it.

Ron F.

October 10th, 2012
7:35 pm

“It is their jobs and the reason we elect them to give up their individual as well as their collective opinions on matters of education”

Beg your pardon? Should they just be robots and utter the programmed collective mantra? We elect them to represent us and we have opinions. We ask for theirs as well. Is it possible that some voters don’t want the amendment? Yes, so who is allowed to express their opinions if not their duly elected officials?

td

October 10th, 2012
7:38 pm

Ron F.

October 10th, 2012
7:35 pm

I think what you said is the point I was attempting to make. We want to here our education elected officials opinions on educational issues so that we can better make an informed opinion.

DeKalbParent

October 10th, 2012
7:48 pm

Don’t know about you….I don’t need an elected official to tell ME how to vote

td

October 10th, 2012
7:50 pm

DeKalbParent

October 10th, 2012
7:48 pm

Don’t know about you….I don’t need an elected official to tell ME how to vote

Then why do we elect them to represent us when it comes to education? They are not going to tell you how to vote but they should be giving us the details on what the real issues are on the vote.

DeKalbParent

October 10th, 2012
8:05 pm

I would agree if they could be trusted to give us ACCURATE information. I don’t believe that they do.

Ron F.

October 10th, 2012
8:13 pm

“They are not going to tell you how to vote but they should be giving us the details on what the real issues are on the vote.”

Oh but they are, td. And the information you get depends on who you ask. You know as well as I do that the governor and his buddies are in favor and will only tell you what they want you to know. The opponents have pointed out interesting facts and asked questions they don’t want to answer…so voila! A lawsuit seeking an injunction to gag them is filed.

3schoolkids

October 10th, 2012
8:16 pm

The purpose of the lawsuit was to illustrate what the other side perceives as the need for an appointed charter commission free from influence and political maneuvering. One would expect the charter commission board to be knowledgeable and experienced ane well connected in education, just like our elected school boards should be. Where is the line drawn between knowledge and influence? Is it enough just to require a conflict of interest statement be filed?

It used to be a clearer line, as appointees were subject to more accountability. Less so now, we are supposed to trust they will do the right thing. Was it the right thing for a former state charter commission member to be affiliated with an online charter school while it was seeking charter status with the state charter commission? See Mercury Online Academy, Inc. (CEO listed on Secretary of State’s website a former state charter commission member). He did not vote and the charter commission did not approve the charter.

Wondering what mechanism is in place for an appointee of a state commission to be removed in the event of a clear case of influence or conflict of interest? We hear this argument all the time from the pro amendment side in regards to school boards.

Kris

October 10th, 2012
8:37 pm

@ 3schoolkids “Wondering what mechanism is in place for an appointee of a state commission to be removed in the event of a clear case of influence or conflict of interest? We hear this argument all the time from the pro amendment side in regards to school boards.”

I’m pretty sure we can Impeach the Governor (loosely termed) Shady DEAL as for the others If there elected Their district can re-call them as for legal actions that will need to be looked at.

Perhaps a State wide law suit to get this crooked DEAL off the Ballot if nothing more at least changed the deceptive wording on the ballot so it is clear what people are voting on.

If there is a question on the ballot you do not understand Vote No .

FBT

October 10th, 2012
8:55 pm

I thought the question was concerning whether schools can spend money on advertising/campaign materials not about posting information. I’ve totally missed something.

P.S. 2012

October 10th, 2012
9:40 pm

For those of you in Cherokee Co., is not the following advocacy? Would this not cross the line? I do not necessarily think so, but one would hope that it is at least accurate.

http://www.cherokeega.com/HOST/HOSTPRESENTATIONFORBOC10052012final.pdf

Goodforkids

October 10th, 2012
10:32 pm

So satisfied with the decision by this judge.

LarryMajor

October 10th, 2012
10:37 pm

FBT, you didn’t miss anything and that you can’t follow Delk’s “reasoning” is a sign of good mental health.

Delk filed against not only every public school system in Georgia, but also against an entity he named the Education Empire, which he mentioned frequently in the complaint. His Education Empire consisted of not only organizations that really exist, but also (wait for it… wait for it…) Georgia teachers’ unions. It gets better.

Delk complained that elected school officials were using taxpayers’ money to promote a political point of view. His solution was for every school system in Georgia to spend taxpayers’ money to distribute material promoting his clients’ political opinion.

Not to suggest any action, but Glenn Delk’s Georgia Bar Number is 216950, if the question should present itself.

Larken McCord

October 10th, 2012
10:41 pm

I’m really quite pleased with how FCS and Avossa have handled this whole issue. (Full disclosure: That’s my school system.)

There is a legitimate need for clarification about the amendment since its language is, ahem, difficult to follow. Fulton stakeholders have had a lot to digest in the past year as we’ve moved to become a charter system, and the Q&A provides understandable, relevant info about how the proposed legislation would, and would not, affect the school system.

Ron F.

October 10th, 2012
10:53 pm

“the Q&A provides understandable, relevant info”

And Larken, that’s exactly what some proponents of the amendment (those with political motives especially) DON’T want getting out there. There are notable contributors on this blog who are charter supporters and leaders who have made a good case for the need for charter schools, and they’ve done a lot to convince me. But careful study has shown me how political this has become, and that’s dangerous for any type of school in this state. What Delk proved with this suit is that some in this debate will go to any length to keep all the facts from being presented and discussed, especially if those facts point out the nefarious reasons this amendment is being pushed by so many. I hate the way this has affected charter schools and the battle they’ll have to maintain a good public image after Delk gets through with his rant.

CharterStarter, Too

October 10th, 2012
11:07 pm

@ Ron F.

First, if a board adopts a resolution against the amendment and one or more board members dissent, can they, after the vote, sit on a pro charter only panel in their official capacity? The answer to that is no, because they must speak as a whole board. But then, they are denied their first amendment rights, based on the districts’ and your argument. You just can’t use that argument because it doesn’t go both ways. That is why boards must stay neutral, otherwise, you are violating SOMEBODY’S first amendment rights.

Honestly, I don’t mind Q and A info IF it is accurate. The problem is that it is NOT accurate on Fulton’s site because it moves into the realm of interpretation rather than straight fact (plus, some basic facts are wrong, too). If they stayed out of question answering altogether and just sent the parent to BOTH sides’ websites, that would be the right thing to do. But Fulton (and other districts) don’t WANT to give the public the chance to decide for themselves, instead, they want to “help” them decide by interpreting FOR the public. This is just blatantly patronizing for one thing, and again, REMOVES true local control, as the voters are not making truly informed decisions on their own viewing both sides. Avossa is smart and quite conniving taking this method. Voter beware. You are not stupid – you can discern truth and what is right for your family (either yea or nay) without his “help.”

Alvin Wilbanks and his board are even worse, and have been MUCH more egregious in their violations. I pray the Gwinnett County courts will put a stop to his abuse of power and expenditure of tax payer funds to campaign. Stopping use of tax payer funds is NOT silencing them – it’s holding them (and us, too) within the constraints of the law.

We will never, ever improve education in Georgia with such an entrenched bureaucracy so willing to dupe their stakeholders and put their own political agendas ahead of what is good for kids and parents. This is exemplar of how we end up with messes like we have in APS, DeKalb, Sumter, etc.

bootney farnsworth

October 10th, 2012
11:30 pm

it’s past time for a RICO investigation of education of in Georgia

Sandy Springs Parent

October 10th, 2012
11:59 pm

Maureen, anything about Fulton County’s big rollout at the Fox. As parents they only e-mail us a few photo’s of the event. It looked like they were e-mailing us the whole 5 year plan. I am interested to see.

It looks like those of us North of Wieca Rd. may feel our property values go up after the outragous performance last night. We already know that Riverwood will be getting an influx from Woodward with their new drug test policy. Whether it be from parental objections or from failure and your out.

Ron F.

October 11th, 2012
12:13 am

CS2: I agree the boards should not adopt a resolution one way or the other. Now, that said, I still think I should be able to call my board member and get an honest opinion. Can that happen if the board has stayed neutral? Is the board member allowed to offer up an opinion as my board member without running afoul of the law? Apparently the judge today thought so, and I don’t see how a judge in Gwinnett could rule any differently. Possible, I suppose if they can prove the need for it. I think after reading about today’s testimony and the language of the suit, Delk will have as hard a time in Gwinnett. We’ll see on the 24th I suppose.

And I’ve seen Q and A on charter sites that is also fairly slanted in favor of the charter schools position on this amendment. I don’t have a problem with that- I rather expect it. Yet, if we follow your point, should those sites be monitored and made more neutral? No resolutions adopted that I know of, so that issue isn’t a problem.

Also, what about the governor and state officials? Should they be allowed in their official capacity to urge voters? I think if we’re going to require school boards to be neutral, then certainly the governor and others at the state level should be also. If we’re going to push this issue, and it obviously needs to be pushed, then there are some bigger fish than the school boards who will get caught in the net.

As I said, I hate the fact that schools have been caught in the crosshairs of this god-awful political battle that has gone WAY beyond what’s best for kids. I think both sides should have been as neutral as possible as recipients of state funds. I think if perhaps our state level leaders had set a better example, then maybe so many boards wouldn’t be jumping into this so brazenly. Just my opinion, for the 1.5 cents its worth after furlough days in my system.

“If they stayed out of question answering altogether and just sent the parent to BOTH sides’ websites, that would be the right thing to do”

Question: what websites are out there against it except for the ones set up by schools/districts? I haven’t looked to be honest. What might have helped would have been for the state to put up a pro/con site where both could have equal space.

I’ll tell you truthfully that I haven’t read a lot of the sites on either side because my opposition is to the politics of this and the state level control the commission gives that bothers me to this day. I just can’t give the big three under the dome that much decision making power over schools. I honestly think if the l;egislature had, at some point in the last decade or so, rewritten the school funding formula and shown some genuine interest in making it work, I might trust them a little more. I’m dating myself here, but I remember being a young teacher under Zell Miller. He did what he said and showed an honest commitment to education in this state. Deal…not so much, and his push for this amendment just doesn’t pass the smell test with me when he and the legislature balanced clearly in his party’s favor can’t get together and fix the funding formula and let us know how they’re going to fund us into the near future. They managed to pass legislation to fund state charter schools and are ready for the amendment to pass. But they can’t seem to get together to give us any assurance that they won’t further reduce our funding as needed to fund commission granted charters.

Ron F.

October 11th, 2012
12:59 am

One last comment tonight:

As a teacher, I’m just done with this whole issue. I’m tired of feeling beaten up for defending a career as a public school teacher, a calling I’ve honestly thought about giving up in recent years because of the constant flak we’re having to dodge. I feel like a foot soldier in ‘Nam calling for air support on a radio with dead batteries. I’m tired of people like Mr. Delk with his ridiculous lawsuit naming my school system as a defendant when my board and super have done nothing, nothing to persuade voters on this issue, yet must endure such a publicity stunt aimed at making us all in public education look bad.

I’m tired of feeling like a lazy, incompetent ne’er do well for asking for some resolution to school funding from the very legislators I and my colleagues help elect as citizens. I’m tired of them asking for more power when they won’t even tell us where the bottom is to the school funding cuts while they ask for the right to create more schools they can’t afford to fund. I’m tired of the disdain our elected leaders show for us, while the heap accountability measures on us demanding more and more performance increases.

I’m tired of the fact that I have to barter and beg for simple things like paper for my printer after I’ve bought toner cartridges out of my shrinking paycheck. I’m tired of feeling like a pariah for simply doing what I love- teaching kids who have so few advocates left in this world: kids who are part of the infamous “47%” and are more amazing and loving and wonderful than a building full of wealthy, high-achieving kids. I love them enough to skip my own lunch so I can pay for one of them to eat and loan them ties I have to tie for them for career day presentations. But still I’m just part of the “failing system” that can be so outdone by “choice” and “innovation” in a different type of school.

Voters in this state will have to decide the fate of this amendment. As one of them, and a proud, longsuffering public school educator, I cannot vote for it. Maybe when my duly elected government representatives show me a little more respect and make me believe they will do something to guarantee some reasonable, predictable level of school funding, then maybe, just maybe, I could let them have the power the amendment will give them. Until then, they’ll just have to get it to pass without me. I’m done. I can’t give up on my kids or my calling, but I won’t vote to allow the state any more authority to create schools.This foot soldier is hunkering down in the jungle and fighting for my kids with the remaining strength and power I have- my vote.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

October 11th, 2012
6:37 am

@Ron F.

I would give you a hug, if I were there. :) I am off to a 7:00 am teacher conference. I will be there till 8:00 pm offering conference times for parents who need late hours. I have been there till 5:30-6:00 all week doing the same… two of my late conferences did not show, and did not bother to call. Such is the lack of respect for me and my time from some parents. Oh well… the beat goes on.

LD

October 11th, 2012
7:53 am

@CS2 You claim some of the information on Fulton’ School’s Q&A is wrong. Which points? If you feel something is inaccurate, contact the school system with the inaccuracy and the supporting material and they will investigate. And for everyone else, here is the link to FCS’s Q&A:
http://portal.fultonschools.org/News_Room/Pages/QAaboutHR1162.aspx

PubScl Parent

October 11th, 2012
8:11 am

Ron F. and I Love Teaching – I am a parent and I want to give both of you hugs. You have a thankless job but please know that it is obvious that you care alot about teaching and there are kids and parents out there who do appreciate you but unfortunately do not show it enough. Thank you for your dedication.

DJ Sniper

October 11th, 2012
8:14 am

RonF, as the son of a now retired teacher, I would love to shake your hand and buy you a beer if I ever met you. Our education system isn’t perfect, but it’s teachers like you that the system needs more of.

sneak peak into education

October 11th, 2012
8:51 am

@Ron F- I truly enjoy reading your posts and have learned a lot from you. Please know that you are truly a wonderful person who cares about the education of ALL children. Your fight to protect our public schools is commendable. Let’s continue to fight to improve our public schools and protect them for our communities and their children.

DeKalb Teacher

October 11th, 2012
10:28 am

Ron is right. Teachers need to take back control of their profession and careers. We are getting RIF’ed and furloughed while administrators get pay raises and $1000/month for cars.

With the help and support of many colleagues, I have taken the first steps to starting a teacher centric charter school. I appreciate all the help and support I have received thus far, but there is still much to do. If you would like to take back control of teaching and right this ship, please contact me at dcsdteacher@gmail.com.

Until then, administrators give us breadcrumbs and the austerity cuts make it even worse. Millage rates and QBE funding could never be raised enough to make the breadcrumbs big enough. We’ll always get the short end of this stick.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
10:37 am

Ron,
Where did you read that the judge said individual people should stay neutral? I don’t think a citizen’s first amendment rights can be abridged by being part of a group.

Ron F.

October 11th, 2012
10:46 am

Dekalb: she didn’t- that’s just the point. She said they should be able to answer a question without having to say “I’ll have to wait until I’m off the clock to give you my personal opinion.”

[...] is a response from former Atlanta councilman Doug Alexander on the Fulton Superior Court ruling yesterday that it was not illegal for Fulton County Schools to post information on the charter school [...]

Teacher2

October 11th, 2012
11:41 am

@LarryMajor,

Good One! :)

Pride and Joy

October 11th, 2012
7:51 pm

I’m a double-taxpayer. I want charter schools and I resent anyone using a public school site to represent ONE opinion.
Many tax-paying parents WANT charter schools and I don’t want my tax dollars wasted putting and creating one-sided PR blogs on school sites.