Charter School Amendment is All About Money and Control

Kelly Cadman, the vice president of School Services at The Georgia Charter Schools Association, and a former founder of a charter school, says districts are spending big bucks in central offices.

By Kelly Cadman

There has been an awful lot of energy expended by opponents of the Charter Amendment. The opposition to the Amendment claim that the state can “already” act as an appeals body for charter schools. Those supporting the Amendment wonder, if the state can already approve charters, why is the Education Establishment fighting THIS hard against affirming that on the ballot on November 6? 

Most of the arguments posed against the Amendment are related to the enabling legislation, which establishes a Commission. The ballot question, however, ONLY reaffirms the state’s role in K-12 general education, so why the nasty battle against the Amendment?

At the heart of the argument employed by the school districts and affiliate associations who earn their bread and butter from dues and fees from the Education Establishment are two primary arguments:  CONTROL and MONEY.  And the Establishment doesn’t even deny it.

For those on the fence about voting on the Amendment, here are some facts to consider as you make your decision about how to vote:

LOCAL CONTROL is currently vested in elected board members in each of 180 school districts. The public is led to believe that it can, through its vote for 1 individual on the district board, every 4 years, only 3 times in the course of a child’s educational career, actually influence what happens in their school district.

That’s nonsense. 

The set up, although through an election process, does not allow for a community to easily overhaul a district board that is failing its children and not meeting its fiduciary obligations. Moreover, you have an unelected superintendents that actually run the show – aided by the Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association, both who train up weak and passive board members to follow the superintendents’ bidding.

It’s a recipe for disaster without recourse. Just look at the number of districts who have lost SACS accreditation or who are on probation. Even in these very serious situations, the local boards cannot easily be voted out by its community, and those living in APS, DeKalb, Clayton, and Sumter Counties can attest to this. They are trapped and so are their children.  But goodness knows, let’s protect “local control.” 

Interestingly enough, we have recently had a charter go before Clayton County that was denied. Denied. What absolute arrogance to deny the rights of parents and community members trying to get out from under failure to give their kids something better and to be denied by the very district who failed the whole community. But it is this district Establishment the opposition to the amendment wants you to “protect” by voting no.  Forget what’s better for kids.

FOLLOW THE MONEY is the mantra of the opposition, but to be fair, let’s turn it around and follow the money on the other side to see how protecting the money (which isn’t in danger to begin with) ties with protecting the fiefdoms of the districts. Without doubt, the districts have had austerity reductions over the last 3 years due to the state of our economy. There is another side to the equation to consider, and that is with spending. Without getting too deeply engaged in the rampant waste on travel and unnecessary expenses not tied to instruction, let’s look at spending just at the heart of “local control” – the boards and central offices - to see why they are fighting so hard to protect it.

  • Every single one of our school boards are paid for their “public service.”  This accounts for $4.1 MILLION dollars in salary.  With the austerity cuts, are board members donating their salaries back to put into classrooms?  Nope.  Just as an aside, charter board members receive $0 in compensation. Ever.
  • Nearly one third of the superintendents in this state make in excess of $150,000 yearly.  Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, of Gwinnett County, makes $410,000 annually, followed closely by superintendents from Clayton, Atlanta Public Schools, Savannah-Chatham, Fulton, and Cobb (3 of which are in danger of loss of accreditation, by the way). 47 superintendents took a raise last year while furloughing educators.
  • Our state spent $686 MILLION dollars on central office.  77 out of our 180 districts serve less than 3000 students and have FULL central offices and account for $67 MILLION dollars of the total spent.  In these tough economic times, are districts in rural areas combining central offices to reduce duplicative costs?  Are large districts cutting central offices to keep money in classrooms?  No, and in fact, according to a recent study by Dr. Benjamin Scafidi of Georgia College and State University, central office growth has nearly doubled the growth of students. 

This is all very important in the context of this fight for money and control against the Charter Amendment.   The Education Establishment is not fighting for your children.  They aren’t fighting for quality education. They aren’t fighting to protect the voice of parents or teachers. They aren’t fighting for kids to become work or college ready. 

Don’t be fooled by the Education Establishment.  This amendment is about giving public school students a chance and parents a choice for a quality public education.

Sources of data:

Open Georgia:  www.doe.k12.ga.usGa DOE: http://app3.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/fin_pack_revenue.display_proc

Kelly Cadman is the Vice President of School Services at The Georgia Charter Schools Association, a former founder of a charter school, and a dedicated charter school mother and public education supporter.

GA citizen & taxpayer October 31, 2012 at 05:56 AM
Cadman talks about "absolute arrogance" because a charter school application was denied. The height of arrogance is to assume that charter school applications must always be approved; that's what is being intimated here. In recent months, I have been struck by the sense of entitlement with which many charter-school supporters seem to be imbued. It's THEIR opinion which is all that matters...THEIR children...THEIR charter schools...THEIR money. But it's not their money...it's OURS, the Georgia taxpayers'. And it's not their schools...they are OURS. In the end, it's OUR responsibility to consider and determine what's best for ALL the children in Georgia. Charter schools are already thriving in this state and will continue to do so after November 6, no matter what the proponents say. Our legislators who support this amendment--especially Nathan Deal, Jan Jones, Edward Lindsey and Chip Rogers--should be ashamed of theirselves but I know they are not. To craft such a deceptive and misleading ballot question plus preamble is truly despicable. It was a deliberate and calculated action, showing a total lack of respect for Georgia voters. Democracy depends on an informed electorate. Read HR 1162 and HB 797. Then you'll see for yourself that this amendment--if ratified--will go far, far beyond a simplistic "reaffirmation". In the end, it will be taxation without representation. A nasty battle, indeed.
GA citizen & taxpayer October 31, 2012 at 06:01 AM
CORRECTION: Our legislators who support this amendment--especially Nathan Deal, Jan Jones, Edward Lindsey and Chip Rogers--should be ashamed of THEMselves but I know they are not.
LD October 31, 2012 at 01:47 PM
If it is nonsense to expect elected officials to be accountable to the voters, than why bother with any election? Or should we just leave the “influence” of our elected officials to those with the deepest pockets? In the case of this amendment, that would be outside, for-profit education management organizations. No one ever said it was easy to be an American citizen. Our rights and freedoms do come with a cost – the price is our INVOLVEMENT in our own government. The “recipe for disaster” here is for the voice of the citizens to be silenced by the influence of money. As for the charter to go before Clayton County – you are making that assumption that the charter application was good. At the very heart of it, a charter application is an application for a small business loan – where the investors are the taxpayers and the loan officer is the school board. How many small business loans are approved on the first submission? The second? Ever? This is our tax money being used; it should not be loaned out lightly.
LD October 31, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Yes, there is money in our school systems. There is a cost to educate 1.67 million students. Did you subtract out of the central office amount the cost of locally approved charter schools? The Georgia Department of Education required schools systems to report the funding for charter schools in the “Administration” column, not the “Instruction” column. For one county, this was an over $25 million line item. To believe that the Charter Enterprise is “fighting for your children” is naïve. Charter schools both in Georgia and nationally do NOT outperform traditional schools (studies by RAND, Stanford, Georgia DoE, and NAEP scores). The Charter Enterprise is fighting to line its own pockets. Parents and students are just pawns in the campaign. Charter schools can be a good addition to a community. However, our local schools boards and our state board of education can already approve charter schools. Georgia does not need this amendment nor its accompanying legislation, which is more about money and influence than education. Do not be fooled – Vote NO! to Amendment 1!
MCurrie November 01, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Good article Kelly! I have already voted "YES" for Amendment One because I believe in real local control. I have seen firsthand the results of dumping millions of dollars into poorly performing schools, and I can say with absolute certainty that it doesn't work. Why? Because nothing really changes. I don't care whether the "new" program is Reading First, America's Choice or any of the other programs that I have seen come and go in the past twenty years, nothing REALLY changes. We just hired more reading coaches that never coached anyone, purchased new gadgets/games, and still got the same results. I have wearied of my tax dollars going to public schools that choose administration over the students, and I am appalled that superintendents would receive raises when teachers are being furloughed. I no longer trust my local school board to make decisions in our children's best interest. I can't wait until all of Georgia's children have the opportunity to receive an education like my grandson receives at Pataula Charter Academy.


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