The Cherokee County charter school stew

How cool are you with your school?

If you live in Cherokee County, your answer to that question on July 31 will certainly determine who is the next chairman of your local school board.

But that same answer could also shake up the leadership of the state Senate, and, just maybe, offer a hint as to whether Georgia voters – in November – will embrace one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s top education priorities.

Call it the Cherokee County charter school stew.

Here’s the stripped-down back story: Thrice did a group of Cherokee parents petition their county school board to accept the Cherokee Charter Academy into the public school system. Thrice did the school board refuse, on a 4-3 vote. System officials declared that the charter school brought nothing new to the table – and would drain a system already strapped for cash.

But the charter school movement has considerable clout in the state Capitol.

A first effort by the state to force Cherokee County – and other school systems — to support charter schools they had rejected was declared by the Georgia Supreme Court to be an unconstitutional intrusion on local government.

The Cherokee academy, like a handful of other charter schools, now exist on emergency funding.

This spring, the governor pushed through a proposed constitutional amendment to permit the state to override local school systems on the establishment of charter schools. It will be on the ballot in November.

Also this spring, state lawmakers passed, and Deal signed, new district lines for the Cherokee school board. Conveniently, two charter academy opponents were drawn out of their districts.

One of them, eight-year veteran Janet Read, is now running for chairman of the school board – a new, countywide position approved by the Legislature. Her opponent is Danny Dukes, a financial consultant who also is a member of the Cherokee Charter Academy’s governing board.

No one doubts the charter school decision will be front and center. “I am happy with the school district. We’ve been moving forward in the right direction,” Read said. To satisfy – appease may be a better word — those demanding school choice, the school board recently approved six elementary school “academies,” where parents could send their children for studies that emphasize the sciences or the arts.

Her opponent expresses more restlessness. “Reacting to change is not the appropriate way to manage change,” Dukes said. “A lot of times, I think just think that we can do better in education. It’s not that there’s anything falling apart in Cherokee County. But we’re missing the innovation in education.”

None of the above would merit more than a few hot PTA meetings in Canton or Woodstock, were it not for the fact that the argument has spilled over into at least one legislative contest.

The newly redrawn Senate District 21 spans eastern Cherokee, and dips for the first time into north Fulton. The seat is occupied by Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, the No. 2 leader of the Senate and perhaps the Capitol’s most powerful advocate of shaking up education in Georgia – whether through charter schools or vouchers.

The charter school fight in Cherokee has encouraged Brandon Beach, president of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and a member of the state transportation board, to mount a primary challenge to Rogers.

Beach, a former Alpharetta councilman who lost a 2010 Senate bid, concedes he has an uphill battle. As of March 31, Rogers had $307,000 in his campaign treasury. Beach has perhaps $3,000. “I’m clearly at a disadvantage,” he said.

But Beach sees an opening. “Chip and I have a fundamental disagreement on how to do charter schools,” he said. “It’s local control versus a top-down, Washington style.”

Again, there is that question: How well do you like your school? Beach is betting that the parents of Cherokee, like north Fulton, are relatively happy. “Why is Chip trying to dismantle Cherokee public schools? He should be trying to replicate Cherokee County schools throughout the state of Georgia,” he said in an interview.

Beach can be blunt. He also accused Rogers of losing touch with Cherokee residents, citing the fact that the state lawmaker doesn’t send his kids to public schools. Rogers acknowledged this, saying the decision was based on his religious beliefs – but declared it “disgraceful” that Beach would bring his family into the contest.

Rogers said he doesn’t see the link between the charter schools fight and his re-election bid. “I would not agree that they’re tied together,” he said. The majority leader intends to run on his 10-year record. “If I’m not the most conservative member of the state Senate, I’m one of the most conservative,” Rogers said.

And yet, Rogers was quick to point out that Beach’s position on charter schools – with its emphasis on local control – runs contrary to a unanimous vote by Senate Republicans, and a Republican governor’s signature.

The majority leader says Deal has promised his support during the primary fight. The governor’s staff confirms that this is so – even though Rogers stands in opposition to another Deal priority, the transportation sales tax.

Last week, when it came time to sign charter school legislation that would go into effect once voters give their approval in November, Deal went to Cherokee County to exercise his pen.

The venue was not a coincidence. The last thing the governor wants is for the Cherokee County charter school stew to serve as the starting point for a counter-revolution in education.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

22 comments Add your comment

GodHatesTrash, Superstar

May 16th, 2012
7:14 pm

A new idea for a TV show – “Are You Dumber Than a Georgia Legislator?”

Is there any group in the whole world as uniquely unqualified to entrust with the management of an education system than the Georgia legislature?


May 16th, 2012
7:27 pm

“The governor’s staff confirms that this is so – even though Rogers stands in opposition to another Deal priority, the transportation sales tax.”

That’s funny! Chip voted yes on the regional TSPLOST. Must have had a change of heart when the political winds in his district became clear!


May 16th, 2012
7:39 pm

“And yet, Rogers was quick to point out that Beach’s position on charter schools – with its emphasis on local control – runs contrary to a unanimous vote by Senate Republicans, and a Republican governor’s signature.” So, is Chip saying that Senate Republicans and the Gov. DON’T support local control? Freudian slip, perhaps? Because based on his actions, I would say Rogers doesn’t, despite his protestations otherwise.


May 16th, 2012
7:53 pm

why dont communities fix the public schools if they are bad rather than starting a new charter?

Kris T.

May 16th, 2012
7:55 pm

God forbid the Than a Georgia legislator’s and governor do anything for the people. Asphalt and corruption Vs ethics….Please vote all of them out.

da pope

May 16th, 2012
8:14 pm

da pope

May 16th, 2012
8:16 pm

These two factions make home-skoolin’ look like a fine option.


May 16th, 2012
8:18 pm

I can’t believe I get to vote chip rodgers out of office!!! my address was added to the district. Chip rodgers is dragging this state into a ditch!!! There is no need for an outside groups (charter school USA) from Florida to get paid with our tax dollars to run a school, in a county that is tops in the state. Chip Rodgers motto “Lets Help the Ones We Can!” He said it at a teacher town hall meeting. Rodgers also is the one who pushed for redistricting the county, so that pro-pubic school borad members would have to run against each other. What happened to local control? The Cherokee county republicants party, threated board members who did not vote for the charter school, by saying they would kick them out of the party!! Rodgers a Bully!


May 16th, 2012
9:11 pm


Do you remember a few weeks ago and our conversation about Wisconsin and the re call election of Gov. Walker and what it may be an indication of if he wins it? Take a look at the latest polling information.


May 16th, 2012
9:48 pm

Charter schools were initially progressive, but when conservatives realized their usefullness in abolishing teacher’s unions, they jumped on them with both feet. Thus, the popularity in our backward state, but it is not new. General Duff Green(1791 – 1875) began a similiar movement, the Southern Education Society, up in Dalton, in the 1850’s. He would be proud of just how far the state has progressed in 160 + years.

Will Winners

May 16th, 2012
10:18 pm

As a republican I could care less if Chip Rogers was the most conservative person on the planet – I WOULD NOT VOTE FOR HIM!!

The good news is that I am now in his district so I get to vote for Brandon Beach.

Chip is so out of touch with the people here or he just doesn’t give a darn what we think. He actually believes that he can steamroll us and get away with it.
We are angry about the path of destruction he is paving for our public schools and we will finally have a venue at the ballot box to express our feelings in a way that he might understand. Bye-Bye Chipster!

I believe he has created the perfect storm in this election with more than half of his district now new territory to him and he woke up the sleepy giant with school employees who are not normally voters in the primary elections but now they can’t wait to vote in this election.

I believe that Brandon Beach will easily beat Chip in this election, and we are all thrilled that he was willing to step up to the plate for us. We will vote, we will not let him down.

Flock of Schoolgirls

May 16th, 2012
11:01 pm

It is going to come down to a fight over our schools so Senator Rogers should be forewarned that his constituents are learning their ABCs…. Anybody But Chip.


May 16th, 2012
11:32 pm

jgalloway titles this blog as a “stew”. I agree that it will be a big issue, along with the T-SPLOST. It will be the ultimate in local control – the voters will decide instead of a 4 – 3 school board.

I don’t think the liberals here are going to like the outcome.

And yes, td, I remember that conversation about the Wisconsin Governor recall. Like the much smaller Chip Rogers – Beach election, I think liberals are going to dislike that outcome, too. For similar reasons – the people over the entrenched unions/teachers.


May 17th, 2012
12:22 am

I am a Cherokee resident, typically conservative (and then some), and have (past tense) sent my kids through the Cherokee schools. Read and Beach are right, in general. This is NOT the APS, this is a different planet. On this planet I have a sense conservatives may be at odds with each other – one camp wants what they believe is a better school for their kids than the District is providing, on someone else’s dime of course, and the other camp recognizes the short and long term implications of surrendering local contol of schools.

We just passed an S-SPLOST extension out here, and I voted for it (there is NO WAY I will vote for the T-SPLOST, for reference). If we give up any measure [more] of local control of the public schools I will NEVER ever again vote for a school tax increase or bond issue, and I’m not planning to move anywhere. My wife votes, too. Take that to the bank, I mean every word of it.

If we are going to do something in the public arena it has to provide equal access and it should not be dictated or controlled by “big brother” (therein lies my issue with HOT lanes). Public schools are a fact of life; Cherokee has schools the citizens and homeowners can be proud of and I for one want to keep it that way.

I have voted for Chip Rogers seemingly forever, but this will definitely cause me to take a closer look.


May 17th, 2012
4:51 am

Typical Republican double talk. Do as I say, not as I do. Small government. No taxes. I’m the most conservative, blah, blah, blah. Under conservative power the State of Georgia has clearly thrived. Must be Obama’s fault. Can’t wait until they take over control of each school district. My question is, at what point will they fix the trash pick up schedule here in my little city? Also, there is a pot hole within 100 ft of my driveway. Please Chip and Nathan, I need your help here!


May 17th, 2012
7:38 am

I don’t mind a little innovation when it comes to schools in Georgia, but I will not be voting for Mr. Rodgers due to the fact that he used is political connections to get a huge business loan write-off from one of the many failed Georgia banks, while his contiuents homes are losing value every year. How this is not being talked about more in the AJC is amazing to me. Please Disctrict 21 vote this bum out!


May 17th, 2012
7:54 am

If this ’startup charter’ is so all fired important to the Cherokee County parents, shouldn’t they figure out a method to fund it without leaching off the rest of the state?


May 17th, 2012
9:12 am


May 17th, 2012
7:54 am

OK, Let the parents money follow their children. If a parent wants to send their children to a Charter or private school then the money they pay in property taxes should also go to that school.


May 17th, 2012
10:28 am

@td- common argument, but in actuality, it wouldn’t come close to paying the freight. Using a (rather generous) median home value of $200,000, the parents would only generate $1,500 in local school taxes, regardless of whether that family has one child or six children enrolled in school. And what if they rent? If the Governor and Legislators were sincere, they would have created a separate funding stream for charter schools rather than chip away at the (rapidly evaporating) state funding for public schools. Maybe parents who want above and beyond what the local schools provide should be able to form a CID– like businesses who choose to tax themselves for extra road improvements or other infrastructure beyond what the tax base can provide.


May 17th, 2012
1:16 pm

MPA, I think that is td’s point (I think td knows how little that would mean folks would have to buy an education for their kids. I know my lousy ~$350 per year would never have paid for my 3 kids, but if some want to, let em at it! I think you would call it a “rude awakening.”


May 17th, 2012
6:31 pm

It is sad, the children and teachers are the ones who are suffering.

Support Public Schools

May 17th, 2012
7:04 pm

Everyone needs to read the charter school legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. This proposed constitutional amendment has nothing to do with charter schools. It has everything to do with who controls the funding for public education in Georgia. There is a strategic desire to defund the public schools in Georgia. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is behind this and much of the legislation being passed in the General Assembly. Chip Rogers is highly connected to ALEC. Your legislators are working for ALEC and not you. Do you want a group of political appointments of the Governor in Atlanta determining how your local school taxes are spent? If so, vote for the amendment. If you want to keep local control, vote no in November.