Response to charter amendment ruling: Wrong decision. “There is a cost.”

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.”

Alexander disagrees.

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

97 comments Add your comment

Michael Moore

October 11th, 2012
11:34 am

Any website that has the actual amendment (http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20112012/HR/1162) especially lines 50-54 would be helpful to voters. Interestingly, it was Shoob who originally ruled in favor of the charter group and establishing a state board over the suing school districts before it went to the state supreme court.

Huh?

October 11th, 2012
11:35 am

But it’s ok for the Gov to advocate on the taxpayer’s nickel? Or for a charter school to takes bus-loads of children to press conferences? Or host a reception for the Gov. and certain legislators? Double, double standard. State government expansion at its most blatant, paid for by taxpayer money.

Mortimer Collins

October 11th, 2012
11:37 am

Yet another Storm in a Teacup.

Ed Advocate

October 11th, 2012
11:43 am

Shoob got it right yesterday. I appreciate her fairness and professionalism. Delk was unprepared, made illogical arguments, and seemed to forgot (or didn’t care?) that Judge Shoob has jurisdiction only in Fulton Co. Ironic that Delk accuses school systems of abusing public funds while he uses the court system frivolously and forces school systems to spend taxpayer dollars fighting ridiculous claims.

Maureen Downey

October 11th, 2012
11:44 am

@Huh, I did find it peculiar that Brian Robinson, the governor’s spokesman and my former colleague, maintained that it cost nothing for the governor to post press releases touting the charter school amendment on his web site. Either Brian or one of his staffers wrote those releases, and I don’t think he works for free.
But Brian, if they are not paying you at the Capitol, come back to the AJC.

From the AJC story this week:

The Democrats’ letter cites several instances of Deal using his official website to urge voters to support the amendment, which, if approved by voters in November, would guarantee the state’s ability to authorize charter schools and establish a commission to consider applications for them.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said voters expect the governor to speak out on matters of public importance and no taxpayer resources were used.

glennrobert

October 11th, 2012
11:58 am

The purpose of schools is to educate. That takes money. So!

Hillbilly D

October 11th, 2012
12:06 pm

It’s all about money, like most everything else.

Ronin

October 11th, 2012
12:35 pm

I’ll be glad when it’s over. Then, maybe, the people/teachers (both district and Charter) can focus on improving ways to motivate and educate kids.

You’ve got to offer more vocational training in grades 8-12 if you want to improve graduation rates.

scrappy

October 11th, 2012
12:36 pm

And we should care about Doug Alexander’s opinion why?

If a “Q & A page” or “answers to parents questions” are intrpretted by supports as “anti-amendment” – perhaps that is because your amendment is horrible and actual facts provided to people will make them want to vote no!

cris

October 11th, 2012
12:42 pm

what about the taxpayer funds used to pay the judge and other court costs for this flimsy lawsuit?

catlady

October 11th, 2012
12:46 pm

Sour grapes.

Prof

October 11th, 2012
12:55 pm

@ scrappy. Who’s Doug Alexander? From 1994-2002 he was an at-large councilman of the Atlanta City Council, the only white member of an otherwise all-black Council. In 2006 he ran unsuccessfully for City Council President. Given the changed city demographics from those days, I would not be at all surprised if he has ambitions to run for Council again… from a Charter School-loving district, I would guess.

Kris

October 11th, 2012
1:00 pm

As for money to post things on a WEB site The site is there and has something on or not. There might in some cases there might be a small (very small charge for excessive amounts of date) but a page of Questions and answers does not take a lot of space.. For this shady deal pocket lining boondoggle What is the Governor (dirty DEAL ) and his cronies afraid of the TRUTH..Be honest tell people what there voting on..
Change the wording on the Ballot to make it clear in stead of the deceitful way the wording is now .Or file a state wide lawsuit to have the whole thing removed from the ballot .

After all you can put lipstick in a Pig but at the end of the day its still a pig..BE Honest Nattie.if you can.

If there is a question on the Ballot Vote NO.

Hall Native

October 11th, 2012
1:07 pm

Just more Deal thuggery. You go against him and you pay for it. Would love to know how many school boards and superintendents have been ‘talked to’ by the Governor or one of his representatives about being on the wrong side of this debate.

Ron F.

October 11th, 2012
1:37 pm

““An abundance of caution” is a wonderful phrase that should be used more often by those who are spending dollars that we taxpayers provide.”

As a former Atlanta councilman, one would think he’d know that it goes both ways. If the governor can post press releases and make statements on the job, then the rest can also. You can’t have it both ways. Delk’s suit sought not only an injunction but an order to have the opposition disseminate materials approved by the plaintiffs. This isn’t just about stopping any opposition, it’s about stacking the deck in every way possible for support. Much like the t-splost issue, you can’t automatically get everyone involved to go along with you. That’s just the way it is, and the voters ultimately will decide.

bootney farnsworth

October 11th, 2012
1:43 pm

so what did Alexander want? for Deal & co to be able to advocate for this and compel the opposition to be silent if someone asks?

actually, that does sound about right for the legislature & Deal

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
1:51 pm

ABC,
State funding follows the student, but local money stays with the school district. That means for every child that goes to a charter school, the local school district has more money per student.

Eddie Hall

October 11th, 2012
1:53 pm

Free speech lives!

JT

October 11th, 2012
2:11 pm

“more money per student”.. but it’s still LESS MONEY. You can take 2 or 3 or 5 students out of a school and it doesn’t change the expenses one bit, but there is that much less money available.

Just Sayin.....

October 11th, 2012
2:20 pm

The fact that school administrators hate this so much makes me want to vote for it.

Lynn43

October 11th, 2012
2:45 pm

Dekalb, Every time you comment, you prove that you know very little about school finance.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
2:59 pm

And you, Lynn43, have a keen since for the obvious.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
3:00 pm

keen sense … I guess my keen sense for spelling is out the door.

xxx

October 11th, 2012
3:08 pm

DeKalb Inside Out

It’s sense, not since, .

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
3:16 pm

JT,
I hear ya. Since the school system isn’t serving as many students, they should be able to find some places to trim. Cut out a bus route or some administrators … whatever.

Nevertheless, Lynn43
The school district still has More Money Per Child !!

xxx, thanks :-)

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
3:24 pm

JT, Lynn, et al.
You’ve picked a fine time to go into the finer details of More Money Per Child. I know it’s frustrating when I say less total money is better for the district.

Allow me to refer you to Nancy Jester, who is no doubt much smarter than I am. She does a much better job explaining it than I ever could …

http://whatsupwiththat.nancyjester.com/2012/10/11/its-called-a-balance-sheet/

Earnestly

October 11th, 2012
3:36 pm

Its like taking candy from a baby. They’ve distracted us from the real issue: The state constitution mandates an adequate education for every child in the state. Since many state schools are failing and charter schools will only benefit a relatively small number of students, why are state leaders so desperate to get control of charter schools? While we argue over the merit of schools that will not really change the state’s education dilemma, someone is planning to profit.

MannyT

October 11th, 2012
3:42 pm

How much of the councilman’s resources were used to address this Fulton County Schools question/? Doesn’t he represent people whose families attend APS? Should he reimburse his constituents for the time he used to address a county issue when he represents the city?

jarvis

October 11th, 2012
3:44 pm

” 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.”

What a stupid statement, and I’m less than surprised to see this come from a politicians mouth.

In regards to the person that spent the time updating the website…..the first obvious question does Fulton County pay the site maintainer hourly or salaried? Let’s assume they are hourly. If they hadn’t been updating the website, they would have been doing what? Was something not being done that should have done while the site was being updated? Ultimately would the county have saved money by this person not doing this? Would they have sent home an hourly employee because they had nothing to fill the remainder of the day? Did this website work require OT for an hourly employee? Did this work on the website prevent them from doing something else that in turn required the employee to work more hours?

The answer to all of the questions in all liklihood is NO. This is the type of dumb argument that business people try to use when they talk about “efficiency projects”. Don’t use someone’s hourly rate as a justification for the project unless you are going to 1. Have the employee do something no one at the company is doing today or 2. You are going to reduce the employees salary or let them go all together.

Moron

Truth in Moderation

October 11th, 2012
3:47 pm

I plan to vote “no” on the amendment, because I ALWAYS vote “no” to amend the Constitution…..unless it is an amendment to restore it to its original wording and overturn the added compulsory education law. THAT amendment would eliminate all conflict between public and charter schools. But I digress. Doug Alexander is correct. If the public school did it, there was a cost involved. The clue is SELECTIVITY. We have MANY school related, confusingly worded, proposed pieces of legislation year after year. What if public school leadership put up a Q&A for each and every one? They would then need to hire someone full time for the job. Actually, using their line of reasoning, the schools should do this for EVERY PIECE OF CONFUSINGLY WORDED PROPOSED LEGISLATION. To NOT do so is discriminatory, and has the negative proof of promoting legislation with tax dollars.

I remember public schools being used to promote SPLOST amendments as well. And it wasn’t just a “factual” Q&A either. The citizens weren’t wealthy enough to hire a lawyer to try to stop this misuse of tax dollars. If the public school educated citizens are too ignorant to figure out the best way to vote, then so be it; we were on our way down the drain already.

yuzeyurbrane

October 11th, 2012
3:56 pm

I should say that I can’t believe that the pro-Amendment bunch claim the moral high ground while employing Gestapo-like tactics to stifle any voice that dares disagree with them! Actually, knowing the past history of many of their leaders, I can believe it. A dictatorial, bullying bunch whose opinions should not be seriously considered re shaping the education system, the one place where we are supposed to be taught critical thinking.

alpharetta mom

October 11th, 2012
4:08 pm

Preview of coming attractions – charter operators (like Charter Schools USA), backed by EB5 millions (think Charter Schools USA), plopping high-quality (says who), replicable schools anywhere (think Alpharetta) and no one will be able to say anything to anyone about it without being sued by Mr. Delk – or perhaps they would have a better attorney. Regardless, the students who need help the most lose and the money men, lawyers and legislators they back win. Rotten.

williebkind

October 11th, 2012
4:20 pm

Since when does the democrats care about spending money? Did the lawyer in the lawsuit work for free or does the taxpayer have to pay for his services? Just think if a soldier dies to give Maureen the right to express her opinion in today’s media then Maureen’s opinion was paid by the taxpayer…I mean he/she really paid. Democrats are such joke! They are educated beyound their intelligenc.

williebkind

October 11th, 2012
4:21 pm

Since when do the….

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
4:35 pm

Earnestly,
State leaders don’t control charters. A state commission would commission state charter schools, but control and administration would be left to the local charter board of the community.

Many advocates of charter schools believe that the existence of charter schools or even the mere threat of charter schools will coerce traditional public school systems to pay more attention to the communities they serve.

The same people who profit from traditional public schools are going to profit from public charter schools.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 11th, 2012
4:48 pm

Alpharetta Mom,
Charter Schools USA can’t open a charter school.

Students and families win if they decide that a charter school is better for them than the traditional public school? They also win if they decide that the traditional public school is better for them than a charter school.

Each family knows what is best for their own children.

obvious

October 11th, 2012
4:53 pm

If you are a voter and want info about an amendment that is about schools, you should be able to get info about that from your elected school leaders. They explicitly say they are neutral. Go to the Fulton Schools website and type in Charter Amendment…you get the entire powerpoint that was leaked from the PRO side!

http://portal.fultonschools.org/_layouts/OSSSearchResults.aspx?k=charter%20amendment

HS Public Teacher

October 11th, 2012
4:56 pm

@ DeKalb Inside Out

You are wrong. The corporations that set up charter schools and run them will profit heavily from our education tax dollars. They do not profit from public schools.

Here is an analogy…

Prior to 1992 (I think that was the year), private colleges could not take public money of any kind. This included but not limited to Stafford Loans, Federal Grants, etc. Then the federal government shifted the law and said, “sure, private colleges can take this money.” Their reasoning was that the public universities were not graduating enough of the vocational education types and the private schools would step in and fill that void.

The result was the creation of the tons of these small (and not so small) private for profit colleges such as DeVry, University of Phoenix, and others.

A couple of things to note:

First, one of the major national politicans that pushed for this change in law was a major stake-holder in the University of Phoenix. I won’t mention the name, but you can do minimal research to find the answer.

Second, notice that these SAME private for-profit universities are the very ones that TODAY have a high percentage of students that default on their government loans. Coincidence?

Now, back to Georgia and our public schools. If you simply think a little bit you can realize that the real push behind this effort is simply that the corporations want to profit from the education tax dollars. And, the politicans in Georgia pushing for this are being courted by their lobbiest and are being paid handsomely to do so.

VOTE NO!!!

HS Public Teacher

October 11th, 2012
5:08 pm

@Inside DeKalb Out,

Schools are given a “per student” fee to operate. It is based on the number of students. That amount is the same for every school in the entire State.

If a corporation comes in and opens tons of charter schools in DeKalb County and draws a lot of business, the number of students enrolled in any public school will drop. The school must still provide for the remaining few students. The school must still pay the water bill and the electric bill. However, they will have to magically do this on a ridiculously low budget!

Kris

October 11th, 2012
5:16 pm

@ bootney farnsworth 1:43 pm

so what did Alexander want? for Deal & co to be able to advocate for this and compel the opposition to be silent if someone asks?

actually, that does sound about right for the legislature & Deal/

That was worth repeating…..

I tell ya this is a SMOKESCREEN Under qualified YES Girl/Man for the lottery, casino gambling in Gwinnett, last but not least the charter (line my pockets deal) school where control will be totally taken away from the parents and given to corrupt company’s and politicians to profit…

Vote NO o the Charter school Scam.

Private Citizen

October 11th, 2012
5:31 pm

Vote “yes” because working in a Georgia government school is like being chained over a barrel and beaten with a chain. You’re taken off the barrel every once in a while so you can attend the 20 meetings where the uneducated tell the educated what to do. It is really terrible and I am not overdoing it. Really, anything would be better than these busybody school boards infighting, making ambushes on workers, and supporting and perpetuating career criminals with administrative positions. I do not mean they were criminals before working in education, I mean you could line up Greyhound buses from here to Anchorage and fill all the seats with Georgia K-12 government school administrators who have funny job titles, do not teach in the classroom, avoid teaching in the classroom and then are paid in multiples of what the teachers are paid. It is so completely top heavy with these bozos and initiatives and data and schemes. Even looking around Mr. Barge’s DOE website, there’s 20 different gradients and interlocking initiatives, it’ll make your head spin and God only knows how that man can front all of it and look relaxed. There is so much payout and payola going out the door while teachers are being scapegoated, you could make a Georgia constitutional amendment to bring in Winnie the Pooh and I’d vote for it if it did anything to provide an alternative to this bloated mess. Have you ever been in an education meeting and gotten that creepy feeling” ….. This is like… organized crime or something….” Teachers have no voice, none, zero, and are made to sit their like potatoes and go along with everything. There is no bottom up decision making, none, nothing, and even a positive or relevant suggestion is met with The Hammer from these authority freaks running the show. And it is so numerous, I don’t think anyone would believe it. And the state “re-delivers” and the county “re-delivers” and the building administrators “re-deliver” and the RESAs used to “re-deliver” before somebody depowered them. And someone at the director level of this hierarchy is make a buck off of tell you what to do and using a funny name for it. Even Obama’s education car is the most two-faced man to ever walk the face of planet earth, on the one hand directing this foul named “Race to The Top” with its expensive 360 degree teacher harassment, and then on the other hand being supportive of the charter school amendment. The public school administration and direction is just rotten as rotten can be. The only saving grace for Georgia, if you want to look for quality government schools K12, find the counties that rejected “Race to the Top.” Otherwise, it is Race to the Top of the Propaganda Empire where Children Are Treated as Objects of Profit.

Seriously, I do not think even charter schools could more fully exploit and malign education than what is occurring today. And one thing is certain, along with home schooling, it gives citizens choice. It might even give a few entrepreneurs a chance, which is unthinkable in the county systems.

Does anyone remember when the telephone greeting answer for the APS was a recording of a lady that sounded like they were trying to imitate Britsh royalty? Does anyone recall the specifics of it? It was the craziest thing I’d ever heard in my life anywhere. It sounded like a Saturday Night Live skit or something. Please tell me I’m confabulating and making this up but I think it was real. i don’t think I’ve called the number since. It really has a force field effect, building the “Avoidance Zone.”

Vote “Yes” for charter schools because the present system is just too weird for Mars.

CharterStarter, Too

October 11th, 2012
5:36 pm

Vote YES.

Kids having a fair shot in life is much more important than a single one of the arguments used by the opposition.

Cactus

October 11th, 2012
5:38 pm

There is one thing you can always say for Republican backers of the charter school amendment; they are consistently masters of the little picture. Reading this ridiculous response to Judge Shoob’s common sense ruling makes me think Alexander is penny wise and pound foolish. Where was his voice of protest when almost $5 billion was stripped from the coffers of Georgia public schools? I don’t recall hearing him raise any sort of public protest over what has clearly been an effort by the GOP to deliberately so bankrupt our schools that public opinion would favor market-based alternatives. The political and business “leaders” backing the charter school amendment are counting on public ignorance and the deliberately misleading language of the amendment to obtain voter approval, and as school officials try to explain what the amendment would actually do to the majority of young people in this state, efforts are underway to squelch their opinions and information they have to offer. Not coincidentally, you don’t see GOP “leaders” or their agents (a.k.a. Doug Alexander) offering any criticism of Governor Deal or other tax-fed employees on the pro-amendment side for the time, travel and public utterances they have invested to get this self-serving amendment passed. Georgians are waking up to this scam as they did the TSPLOST debacle, and those who thought to test the gullibility of Georgia citizens may find – again – that voters can think for themselves and can see through the deception that is the charter school amendment. Thanks, Doug, for showcasing the small mindedness of many charter school amendment advocates; just for a change of pace why don’t you spend some time thinking about the future of our state and how it will be determined by the majority of our young people…..you know, the ones who would be harmed by the amendment and the funds it would siphon away from our already near bankrupt public schools.

Ronin

October 11th, 2012
5:59 pm

@Private Citizen, yep, that pretty much nails it.

@H S School teacher, I’ve seen numerous bloggers post about “for profit” schools and how they are to viewed as the hand maiden of Satan. People that use the catch phrase “for profit schools” and their corporate agenda just don’t understand basic economics. ALL schools are for profit. At district schools, teachers and administrators profit from their labor. Vendors that provide services and products profit by selling items to the district school. These purchases may be made locally or by a national company that pays the salary of their employees and CEO as well as a dividend to shareholders, if publicly traded.

A Charter school would have the same expenditures listed above. If they are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, they would pay the stockholder a dividend.

The real difference is, if the district school does a poor job educating kids, they simply go on the naughty list and a principal or asst. principal get transferred to another school, life goes on and they keep the doors open. However, if the Charter doesn’t attract students or does a poor job educating them, their customers leave and the doors to the school close. They are out of business. So, there is a real motivation to excel in delivery of your product.

Who cares if someone profits at a corporation if they deliver a good product.

Private Citizen

October 11th, 2012
6:01 pm

Cactus, I’d rather see the wheel turn and get on with it and go from there. In Belgium, kids have a value attached to them and the kids / families choose where they want to go to school, be it government, prep, tech, arts, or religious based including Moslem schools, and the funding travels with the student, per student. That sounds like freedom and choice to me. And if a kid wants to be a problem and mess over a school, they can be told to leave and go pick an environment where they want to be. Here is the U. S., this is objected to by the assumption that special needs students would somehow be deprived. Well, I do not see it that way. It’s frightening, isn’t it, the idea of freedom and choice instead of expecting other people to carry you around like a backpack? Maybe after charter schools, the public can decide where they want to go to school and the door be open for all. It makes no sense for people to be paying property tax for schooling and then paying again for the choice of where to send their kid to school. If you want your kid to attend chapel and pray in school, or if you want your kid to be sophisticated urban, or if you want your kid to memorize the Koran all day (what is done in Moslem schools in Britain), or you want your kid to learn welding and applied trade, you should be able to do so. Make addendum per your preference and education environment you support.

3schoolkids

October 11th, 2012
6:33 pm

@Private Citizen:

We already have freedom and choice and you don’t have to move to Belgium to get it! Here in Georgia we have private school SSO’s (front door and back door tax money going to private schools, religious or not), the Special Needs Scholarship which can be used at any private school on the DOE list-again includes religious schools and without regards to whether that school actually offers any special needs services, then we have brick and mortar Charter schools (even state ones not locally approved!), online Charter schools and then there is the dizzying array of homeschooling options (accredited and non-accredited, online or correspondence or just plain Mom or Dad or any other learning coach that has a high school diploma teaching their own curriculum). You could even lower the cost of private/homeschooling by splitting the cost of teaching and tutoring with friends, neighbors or educational coops. Choice is not the problem. The problem is the “how much money can I make off this” mindset of some of the amendments proponents and detractors. I will vote NO because I believe the referendum will do little to broaden choice and much to broaden the coffers of others. Not that we don’t need to stop the gravy train for those misusing local and state funds or those who keep their funding even when they cannot comply with local, state and federal education laws.

William Casey

October 11th, 2012
6:38 pm

Charter schools created by an unelected commission appointed by state level politicians. What could go wrong? VOTE NO.

Were Out!

October 11th, 2012
6:41 pm

If we just provided vouchers for every student.. we might get something that works in this state. Our public schools are dismal and my family’s experience was so horrendous I am absolutely ready to “dismantle” the current system. Charter’s are not the answer… vouchers for all are!

bootney farnsworth

October 11th, 2012
7:22 pm

to state this is a fair process without intimidation is a lie from the pit of hell

bootney farnsworth

October 11th, 2012
7:26 pm

myself, I actually favor doing a one time give the charter fanatics what they want. with a single provision: they agree to opt out of public education for the duration

if charters as being pushed are everything they claim to be, good on them. if not, you chartered your bed, live in it.