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Local school boards stay neutral on charter school amendment
Efforts did not use taxpayer funds and were meant not as persuasive pieces but as information
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As the Nov. 6 vote draws near, the conversation about the constitutional amendment regarding state charter schools has nearly reached a boiling point.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Sam Olens wrote State School Superintendent John Barge advising him that “local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters.”

A number of school boards in the state have passed resolutions opposing the amendment, which would allow a new state board to select private organizations to run taxpayer-funded charter schools.

Currently, that power is reserved for local boards of education, with the state board able to approve charters that the local boards opt out of.

Neither the Gainesville nor Hall County boards of education have passed resolutions advocating or opposing the amendment, but members have voiced their concerns.

Last month, members of the Hall County Board of Education issued a collective statement during the citizen’s comments section of the board meeting expressing their concern and presenting information about the amendment.

“I don’t think it has any effect on what we said,” board chairman Nath Morris said of Olens warning. “It’s a First Amendment issue. Our comment didn’t tell anyone how to vote. It expressed our thoughts in the citizen’s input, and it’s just becoming a big, ugly issue right now.”

In September, Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer submitted a guest column to The Times highlighting some of the cons of the amendment and information about the possible outcomes.

“Mr. Olens’ memo clarified we could not use taxpayer resources,” Dyer said. “The only formal thing that our school system or our board has done is the informational piece, and I did intend it to be informational, to The Times, and, of course, that was done on my own time and no resources from the school system were used.”

Both school officials said they do not anticipate any more conversations on the topic in open meetings, nor do they expect any formal motions made by the boards.

“Our board has not made a resolution or discussed it in a meeting, so we’re just going to continue our course, and as individuals, on their own time, (they) are entitled to their opinion. But there’s not formal action they intend to take,” Dyer said.

Barge previously vocalized his opposition to the amendment, spurring local boards to follow suit. But in the following weeks, Barge’s position was criticized and a complaint was lodged by an Atlanta attorney on behalf of unidentified clients.

Barge retracted online documents explaining his opposition, and the state department of education’s website has a scrolling alert stating it “takes no position” on the vote.

The governor’s office has publicly supported the amendment, along with many state legislators.

“It seems to me there’s some double standards going on, because I know, as we speak, there’s a (Georgia) Charter School Association meeting going on,” Morris said. “And there’s two legislators making presentations to that group, and seeing who’s on the program, I can only assume what’s being said.”

Morris, who sits on the state board, said there is already a system in place for addressing charter schools and that the state board this week approved three new charters as well as renewing three more.

There has been no indication if legal action will be taken against local boards that passed resolutions.

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