The Bulloch County school board is poised to make an official pronouncement against the proposed state charter schools measure.
At its work session Thursday evening, the board voted unanimously to grant preliminary approval to a resolution “in support of quality public education” and against a constitutional amendment allowing for state approval of charter schools. Board members David Ball and Vernon Littles were absent.
It will come up for final approval at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 11.
The general election ballot includes a measure that, if approved, would amend Georgia’s constitution to allow for the creation of a state-level charter schools commission. That body, which existed previously but was struck down as unconstitutional last year by the Georgia Supreme Court, would allow charter schools not approved by local school boards to seek approval from the state level.
“This (resolution) is not so much stating that the Board of Education is against the concept of charter schools. We can even do that ourselves,” Superintendent Charles Wilson said before the board’s vote. “This has to do with the constitutional amendment itself, which not only says local approval, but state approval, of charter schools.
“The problem with that is, it could easily become, well, if the local board denies it, the state has the authority to approve it, and we’re back to fighting the same situation we got into before, where we lose local control,” he continued. “The state’s going to intercept funds. And what’s gonna end up happening with this is loss of local control and accountability as well as the fact that you’re gonna have a state bureaucracy and, I hate to say it, another state-level agency being created that’s going to duplicate the cost of education in Georgia.”
That is a position expressed by several school districts across Georgia, as well as State School Superintendent John Barge. And that position puts Barge, a Republican, at odds with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who strongly advocated for the amendment, as well as the GOP-controlled Legislature, which approved placing the measure on the ballot.
The resolution cites continuing sluggish economy as a major factor for the Bulloch County school board’s opposition to the measure.
“The state of Georgia’s economic condition has resulted in a significant decline in state funding for public schools that serve the educational needs of over ninety percent of Georgia’s children,” the resolution says. “This severe funding challenge has caused Bulloch County Public Schools to experience ongoing increases in class sizes, fewer instructional resources, reduced compensation for teachers due to four consecutive years of employee furloughs, and decreased district-level support for the schools’ core business of teaching and learning.”
It adds that, if approved, the state charter schools commission would establish “a funding formula that takes critically needed funds from local public school districts and redirects them to state-controlled charter schools.”
Bulloch County joined Gwinnett County in 2009 in the lawsuit that eventually led to the Supreme Court striking down the charter schools commission. The Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology was granted its charter in 2001 by the state after the local school board denied it, meaning the school did not receive full local funding. It did receive that money in 2008 after the charter schools commission was created and granted CCAT full charter status, along with $367,464 in 2009-10 and $280,960 in 2010-11 in additional local funding.
To support that charter school funding, and to offset losses in state and local revenue, the Bulloch County school board raised the millage rate by a half-mill in 2010 to 9.95 mills, an increase of 5.29 percent, to maintain operations. The effect of this increase on property owners was $20 per $100,000 in property value.
Troy Brown, the Bulloch County school system’s chief financial officer, said the district is still owed $648,424 for the payments that should not have been made to CCAT based on the Supreme Court decision.
Board member Edwin Hill asked about the status of that money. Brown responded that when former Superintendent Lewis Holloway checked with legal counsel in April he was told it was going to be “some time,” perhaps a year, before any decision on that money would be made. Brown added that it’s probably time to check again.