Charter school lawsuit unravels in Fulton County court

A first report from Bill Barrow and the Associated Press:

A lawsuit alleging illegal campaigning by public education officials opposed to a constitutional amendment on charter schools unraveled Wednesday in a Fulton County courtroom.

Five plaintiffs brought the suit against all of Georgia’s 180 local school districts over some officials’ actions regarding a Nov. 6 referendum that would grant the state more power to select private operators for independent public schools. But in an initial hearing, Atlanta attorney Glenn Delk rolled back his arguments to Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob declined to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the Fulton County system from publishing an online Q&A about the referendum. She declined to rule on anything concerning Gwinnett County, telling the plaintiffs to take up their complaint in a Gwinnett court, where a second lawsuit has already been filed by different plaintiffs.

The Fulton case still could go to trial, and the Gwinnett case has yet to be heard. But Shoob’s decision on an injunction, and her aggressive questioning of Delk before she ruled, suggests a high bar for proving that public officials have acted inappropriately. Preliminary injuctions are granted when a judge determines that plaintiffs have a reasonable chance of prevailing in the case.

Voters, meanwhile, will settle the actual amendment in less than four weeks.

The ballot measure would allow the state to create a new commission that could grant charters to independent school operators. That power now rests with local school boards, with appeals to the state Board of Education. The proposed system essentially would let local applicants who are denied choose which of the two state panels hears an appeal. Applicants for a charter school with no local attendance boundaries, meanwhile, could apply directly to the new board, bypassing local authorities.

Proponents of the ballot measure, including Gov. Nathan Deal, say establishing another avenue for charter schools would expand educational options for Georgia families and their children. Opponents, led by state Superintendent John Barge, contend that it duplicates the state school board’s existing power and could siphon money away from local schools that already face tight budgets.

Delk alleged in his original complaint a sweeping “conspiracy” by state and local education officials to convince voters to reject the proposed charter school amendment.

Georgia law generally restricts public officials and employees from using taxpayer money for blatant campaign activities, including on referenda. A 1981 Georgia Supreme Court ruling says the “expenditure by a political subdivision of public money to influence the citizens and voters of the entity contains within it the possibility of the corrupt use of influence to perpetuate a local administration’s power.”

Delk cited officials giving public speeches opposing the amendment, several local school boards adopting resolutions against the measure and school systems posting varying documents on their official websites. He also included those documents that don’t actually take an explicit position on the vote and that the systems describe as neutral information.

Shoob suggested that the prohibitions Delk cited are intended to limit overt campaigning with public money, such as “hiring a public relations firm” and “printing bumper stickers and yard signs.” A website is already paid for, she said, as is the salary of any public official or employee who might express a public opinion on the matter.

Delk argued that both instances “still involve an official government resource.”

The judge also told Delk that his argument effectively would block any public official from expressing an opinion. “So they can’t speak if they have a title?” she asked him.

Delk called the Q&As “thinly veiled propaganda,” noting that the documents state the proposed system would divert from traditional public schools.

“Isn’t that the truth?” the judge replied.

Shoob has been involved in the charter school debate already. The state previously had a charter commission like the one contemplated under the November amendment. A group of plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Georgia Constitution limits the state’s power to grant independent charters. Shoob sided with the state, ruling that the General Assembly was within its powers to create the body. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed Shoob in a 4-3 ruling.

That led Deal and others to push for the amendment that voters will settle next month.

Before filing the suit, Delk directed his complaints directly at Barge. The superintendent, after consulting with state Attorney General Sam Olens, took down from the Department of Education website a lengthy document about the amendment and later published a statement saying his agency is neutral on the referendum.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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28 comments Add your comment

Ostrich Racer

October 10th, 2012
4:18 pm

Publicity stunt, meet Judge Shoob . . . .

DJ Sniper

October 10th, 2012
4:26 pm

This is great news. Somebody tell Glenn Delk to go have a seat in the corner somewhere.

GaBlue

October 10th, 2012
4:37 pm

Again (for anyone who missed it, not that anyone cares): The pro-amending-our-Constitution-to-suit-private-interests crowd is paying a professional telemarketing firm to call homes, conduct a cleverly worded “survey” leading the respondents to praise charter schools, followed by an impassioned push to vote YES on November 6th. This isn’t cheap. Where is this money coming from, and who stands to gain from the investment?

Anyone who thinks the GOP-led Georgia General Assembly that’s done nothing but cut funds for education for ten years has suddenly had an attack of interest in what’s best for the not-their-rich-friends’ children of this state, needs to put down the delusion pipe they’re smoking and drag themselves back to reality land.

If this were really about education, there would not be such an impressive profit motive pushing for it, or lawsuits filed to suppress opposition. You don’t need to be a Georgia Tech grad to put this two bits plus too slimy together and get for-profit.

Get the Cell Out - ATL

October 10th, 2012
4:41 pm

Illegal campaigning against the bill? How did they get this ALEC bill on the ballot in the first place? The fact that this is all about online education and yet no one is telling us that is the real scam here, not the folks speaking their opinions on the subject.

alpharetta mom

October 10th, 2012
4:43 pm

Yep – Alice Walton must have written another big fat check so Mr Delk can tie everyone up with legal gag orders until Nov. 7th. We certainly are educating our kids – if you don’t like what someone else is doing – sue them!

Becca

October 10th, 2012
4:57 pm

Glenn Delk and Deal’s co-horts are the ones wasting taxpayer money by having the Court waste time and money on this frivilous, politically-motivated lawsuit.

WAW

October 10th, 2012
4:58 pm

REsegragation – Sons are loving it. Enrollment declined at public universities because HOPE money going to private schools. This is what Georgians keeps voting for and what they get.

HUH?????

October 10th, 2012
4:59 pm

GaBlue

Explain how Fulton Co teachers were caught cheating. Explain why we should want to give public schools more money. Explain how Clayton Co almost lost its accreditation. Explain why we they should get more money.

jd

October 10th, 2012
5:02 pm

Why do we want our tax money going to pay for teachers from Turkey to teach our students? Why should we let for-profit mgt build capital projects on the public credit card without going through proper procedure ? A Fulton charter school did all this.. and more

GaBlue

October 10th, 2012
5:08 pm

Huh????

I’m not sure I understand your question, but is it your logic that if teachers in Georgia only received minimum wage, then we’d somehow have better teachers? Maybe I’m weird, but I think if we actually treated the profession and the people in it with respect, instead of beating them down all the time, blaming them for parental failures, and asking them to do more and more with less and less, that we’d probably attract and keep a more dedicated, talented group of folks teaching our future workforce.

East Cobb RINO, Inc. (LLC)

October 10th, 2012
5:08 pm

“telling the plaintiffs to take up their complaint in a Gwinnett Court”

And in every other county in Georgia while he is at it. And this idiot professes to be a lawyer. Even I knew Dekalb courts do not have jurisdiction over other counties. And I did not sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

HUH?????

October 10th, 2012
5:12 pm

GaBlue

I didn’t ask you a question. I asked you to explain why the public education system should get more and more taxpayer dollars when they show time and time again that they are corrupt.

HUH?????

October 10th, 2012
5:13 pm

” instead of beating them down all the time”

You’re hilarious. You overlook the fact that the problem with public education is political correctness and race issues.

DJ Sniper

October 10th, 2012
5:18 pm

Huh, your question was answered, but you just don’t want to accept the answer. There are good and bad elements in public schools, but you seem to only want to focus on the bad. Make teaching an attractive profession again, and you get better results. Of course, a lot depends on the parents as well.

Second, let me school you on something: Charter schools themselves are not the major issue with Amendment 1. The issue is that the amendment will take power away from voters and transfer it to a state board with no oversight. Also, it’s quite disturbing how the proponents of this amendment are trying to bully the opposition into silence.

GaBlue

October 10th, 2012
5:20 pm

Huh????

Thanks for the clarification, I think. If corruption is your concern, let’s back up a bit and get the bigger picture. This is Georgia. The whole dang state is rife with it. The fish rots from the head down, starting with our Governor. The same can be said for counties and municipalities. People are so worked up by their favorite cable tv entertainers about national politics, most of them can’t even tells you which corrupt, pocket-lining crooks represent them under the Gold Dome, or who gets rich from their sneaky little schemes every year. Corruption, thy name is Georgia!

Does that excuse us from our obligation to educate the children of this state to ensure a prosperous future (or in our case, basic survival)?

HUH?????

October 10th, 2012
5:25 pm

“Huh, your question was answered, but you just don’t want to accept the answer.”

Then again, I NEVER ASKED A QUESTION.

“Make teaching an attractive profession again, and you get better results.”

In Chicago, teachers make an average of 80 grand. They get every holiday off. They get summers off. They get 2 week breaks.

What’s not to love?

HUH?????

October 10th, 2012
5:26 pm

“Second, let me school you on something: Charter schools themselves are not the major issue with Amendment 1.”

LOL. You’re a hoot!

HUH?????

October 10th, 2012
5:27 pm

“This is Georgia. The whole dang state is rife with it. The fish rots from the head down, starting with our Governor.”

You must not have lived in GA very long.

“thy name is Georgia!”

Ever been to Illinois? California? Michigan? Very very corrupt school systems.

GaBlue

October 10th, 2012
5:36 pm

Huh????

Nice try, but I am a native.

sneak peak into education

October 10th, 2012
6:05 pm

@HUH-In Chicago, teachers make an average of 80 grand. They get every holiday off. They get summers off. They get 2 week breaks.

The teachers don’t make this amount of money-this is the average when you add in the salaries for administration. The average teacher’s salary is somewhere around $57 – $58,000. When you consider that they live in an expensive city and are expected to live within the city boundaries (thus costing them more in living expenses), it really isn’t that much. I am sick of teachers being lambasted for their “high” wages. Why not campaign against the huge compensation package for those who work in Wall Street and then I’ll listen. After all, they are the ones who caused the biggest financial mess this country has ever witnessed-not the teachers.

honested

October 10th, 2012
6:55 pm

Now it’s time for a taxpayer’s suit to force the General Assembly to fund the Small Class Sizes that were promised and never funded a decade ago.
That plan works, and the money doesn’t go to out-of-state, for-profit entities!

td

October 10th, 2012
7:34 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?

Shar

October 10th, 2012
8:39 pm

@HUH?? – DJ Sniper is correct. This proposed amendment is NOT about whether Georgia can or will have charter schools. We already do, to the tune of 100+ and growing. It is Chip Rogers’ and Nathan Deal’s attempt to circumvent the Georgia Constitution’s reservation of the right to make decisions about K12 education – including curricular, facilities, management and budget – to the local entities and the explicit prohibition of the State making local education decisions.

Chip and Nate would replace the present system, in which parents and/or local education professionals generate ideas for charters in their own districts and petition their local Boards and Superintendents to issue permits and funding, with an unelected committee, appointed by the Legislature (no education background required for either the appointees or the appointers) which can solicit charters from anywhere (and with 94% of the pro-side funding coming from out of state education management companies and/or the Koch brothers, you can bet where the majority of those charter applications are already sitting, filled out and preapproved) and plant charter schools in local districts against the wishes of the local parents and taxpayers. Unlike Boards and superintendents, the committee will be accountable to NO local influences, will not have either children or employment within the system and will have full access to local tax dollars through the Legislature.

This is one of the rare issues on which the regular contributors to this blog are in near-total agreement, regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal. The overwhelming feeling is that school decisions, and school tax dollars, should remain in the hands of those most affected by them, namely the local taxpayers, parents, teachers and Boards.

Deal is responsible for the manifestly false wording of both the ballot preamble and the ballot summary. He, Rogers and the other legislators who are reaching as hard as they can to get their sticky fingers on that tempting pot of local money have been campaigning hard in favor of this proposal, and they are behind the blatant effort to intimidate and silence opposition. With the loss of the graft opportunities manifest in the failed TSPLOST, they are even more desperate to have another new mound of tax money to sell off to their corporate sponsors and to skim for themselves.

Another thing that most posters agree on is that public schools in Georgia are in a sad way. However, selling them to for-profit educorporations, to real estate developers, to single-issue prostyltizers who want to recast Georgia’s curriculum to raise up our children in the lens of their particular set of beliefs will only drive education farther behind.

Vote this unconstitutional power-grab down.

The real goal

October 10th, 2012
11:19 pm

1st step = severely cut public school funding (check). 2nd step = set up public schools to fail by unfunded start mandates ( working on it, but underestimated public teachers resolve). 3rd step = force board of educations to raise millage to make up for state cuts, there by diminishing the board in the eyes of voters (check) 4th = start a charter school commission (check/ court unchecked / arm twist to get on ballet…pending) 5th and final step= set amount needed to get a student thru each grade, get the state out of the education business, and turn it over to private schools, send funds directly to parents. Tell parents to chose where to send their kids ( possibly starts in this direction November 6 ) SOUNDS CRAZY. STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED

honested

October 10th, 2012
11:42 pm

The real goal,
I just don’t understand how it has been happening under our nose and how most of those responsible made it through a primary.

Have we become so concerned with silliness like sports and reality tv that we have abdicated responsibility to CONTROL our elected officials?

Mary Elizabeth

October 11th, 2012
12:06 am

Vote NO in NOvember to Amendment 1. Cast your vote for the education of school children in Georgia being free of political influence and power.

[...] schools still the topic du jour: Charter school lawsuit unravels in Fulton County court.  Lawsuit launched against [...]

Teacher

October 11th, 2012
9:16 am

As a public school educator, and the spouse of an educator the bill has nothing to do with Charter schools. It has to do with the funding! Cherokee County has amazing teachers, we were #1 in the state on SAT scores, and well above the national average. Our citizens voted against a charter academy, yet Chip decided the voters were wrong. My classroom size was raised from 28-32 because of this charter school in our county. I am getting 8 furlough days, 16 if you add my spouses in there. Tell me why allowing the Gold Dome to approve a charter school when my county denied it is better for our students?