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Gainesville school board mulls proposal to join charter systems group

POSTED: January 10, 2013 12:30 a.m.

A group headed by a former state lawmaker is attempting to rally charter school systems throughout the state to band together under one flag to share ideas and petition legislators.

On Monday, the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education broached the subject of joining, potentially, 15 other systems as members of the Charter System Foundation, an initiative of Dan Weber, a former state senator who was chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

The foundation, Weber said, would allow for “collaboration between our charter systems ... and (would) support and promote the efforts of charter systems.”

Weber said he approached Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle about eight months ago to establish a foundation to do just that. Since then, Weber has been communicating with the 16 established charter systems in the state to ask for their support — and money.

The foundation’s main function, Weber said, is to provide an avenue for charter systems to share information, training and best practices. It will also give the systems a platform for a unified voice on the floor of the Georgia Senate.

“There’s not enough communication; there’s not enough meaningful input between the state and our local systems at this point,” Weber said. “In Georgia, if you think about it, we really don’t have a group like that that meets on a regular basis and shares ideas.”

The foundation is asking for $2 per student from each system, meaning Gainesville, if it chooses to join, would owe around $14,000 in fees. Weber said 11 systems have already committed to the funding.

“Year in and year out, there are going to be battles ... and we just need to educate the people at the state level about what’s going on,” Weber said.

But the Gainesville Board of Education is not sold on the idea and tabled the subject to request more information.

“I think it’s a good idea to have a think tank of charter systems so we can share ideas and help solve our own problems and have training,” said Delores Diaz, board member. “(But) my concern is our lack of information. I don’t think we have quite enough information to make a decision.”

The board questioned if state-allocated money could be used to pay the fees and if that would hinder any future funding.

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she “agrees with the board” in its decision to wait until more information is presented to make a decision, but does have a “deep respect” for Cagle’s views on charter systems.

“Casey Cagle has been a supporter of charter systems from the very beginning and I do respect his views of what our needs are,” Dyer said.

Weber said the foundation will “continue to work closely with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.”

“I applaud our charter systems, the countless community partners, the students and the parents that have come together to boldly embrace innovation and commit themselves to student achievement,” Cagle said in a statement issued through his office.

Weber said he is working to finalize the foundation’s paperwork, including tax-exemption and incorporation papers, and hopes to have the organization up and running before the legislative session ends.

“The legislative session starts this next week so we want to be up and running real soon so we can bring in our school system superintendents ... and really tell lawmakers our story, and to tell the governor our story and why it’s important to continue the $85 per (student) because there is going to be an effort again this year on the part of lawmakers to try to cut that funding,” Weber said.

The board said the subject will be brought up again in the next meeting, if additional information can be provided by then.

“I don’t think the foundation has worked out all the details yet,” Diaz said. “It concerns me that we’re being asked to make a decision without all the information.”


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