Here 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 amendment on its web site. Nor was it illegal for school board members to answer questions on the Nov. 6 amendment vote when asked by constituents.
Judge Wendy Shoob rejected attorney Glenn Delk’s argument that information about the amendment amounted to advocacy and thus an unlawful use of tax funds.
In Delk’s lawsuit, Fulton County Schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools were named as representatives of all 180 school districts in Georgia. The suit, filed in the Superior Court of Fulton County, alleges they and “the rest of the Education Empire are engaged in a coordinated campaign and conspiracy.”
Shoob did not consider the information on the web site 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.”
By Doug Alexander
I am disappointed in Judge Wendy Shoob’s determination that it’s okay to post “answers to questions” about the upcoming Charter School Amendment because (as reported on WABE-FM) she said that it’s not like the schools took $10,000 and hired a PR firm to print bumper stickers and yard signs, but simply posted their “answers” on the schools web sites, which “doesn’t cost anything.”
Your Honor, there is a cost, and taxpayers have to pay it. Establishing and maintaining a web site cost money – our money. It took someone – either a school employee or a consultant – time to write out these “answers” and put them up on the site. That person’s time cost money – our money.
Schools need web sites to keep students and faculty and parents informed. This is a legitimate function and a legitimate use of public funds. But for schools to put up anything – anything at all – that can be construed as being for or against a decision that the people are going to have make on a policy that may affect those schools is NOT a proper function. That it took any amount of public funds at all, no matter how minuscule, to do so, is an illegitimate use of public funds. Attorney Glenn Delk has it right – they can do and say anything they want “when they are not on taxpayer time.”
The only way around this would for there to be a line in their budgets that specify funds to be used for “advocacy” or “voter education” or “to defeat the Charter School Amendment.” At least that way it is in the open and those elected to administer the schools have to take responsibility for it (at least we can hope that they would).
“An abundance of caution” is a wonderful phrase that should be used more often by those who are spending dollars that we taxpayers provide. Those who employ that phrase before they decide to spend public funds will nearly always do the right thing. Those who instead seek to justify their actions with phrases like “it doesn’t cost anything” nearly always will not.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog