A few Cobb residents are listed among its donors, though their donations were in amounts of $250 or less.
Cindy Suto, a photographer who lives in the city of Marietta and homeschools her two children, said she believes the proposed constitutional amendment will give parents more options.
“I wish I had more money to donate toward causes like this,” Suto said.
Other Cobb donors to the advocacy group were Valerie Grindstead, a teacher at Cherokee Charter Academy; Faye Sisk, a professor at Mercer University; Derrick Brown, of the Georgia Charter Schools Association; Sarah O’Sullivan, an auditor with Coca Cola; and Michael O’Sullivan, business owner.
On the other side is Vote SMART, a group opposing the referendum. Cobb’s two school superintendents have made personal donations to that group, and, not surprisingly, most school board members in the county oppose the referendum.
Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa gave $500 to Vote SMART in June.
“I don’t see why we need to create another state bureaucracy to do what’s already in place and available right now,” Hinojosa said. “I just don’t see the need to spend more money on the state bureaucracy.”
Marietta Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck gave $250 to Vote SMART in July.
“Since 2003, Marietta City Schools has lost over $30 million in revenue due to state austerity cuts,” she said. “Parents should be asking why a new funding stream for schools is being opened when their child’s school has suffered state funding reductions.”
Of all school-board members for Cobb and Marietta City, only two — south Cobb’s David Morgan and Tim Stultz — said they will vote for the amendment. One other board member, Marietta’s Brett Bittner, is undecided.
Stultz said the amendment would “restore a role” that the state already before the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the Charter Schools Commission as unconstitutional in 2011.
“Having another option for the approval of quality charters is good for creating more options for parents,” Stultz said, adding that he hasn’t given or received any contributions from supporters of the amendment.
Morgan — who is employed as a lobbyist for school-choice group American Federation for Children — said creating charter schools should not be monopolized by any one entity, such as a local school board.
“It will create a better product,” he said.
But most school-board members in Cobb and Marietta City are critical of the referendum on several fronts.
Marietta City’s vice chair Randy Weiner said creating another state agency would be a waste of taxpayer money.
“At this rate, why not create a fourth state agency to approve schools the third state agency denied, and so on?” he asked.
Tom Cheater, who was elected to Marietta’s school board in 2009, said he opposed the referendum since learning that passage could cost districts as much as $430 million.
“I can’t see any upside to the approval of this amendment, for either public or charter schools supporters,” he said. “The Marietta school system holds charter system status and maintains school choice. Our success is based on our clear understanding of when, where and how new charter schools should be introduced into our system. Allowing a state bureaucracy, with no knowledge of our unique needs and situations, to have command authority over that decision could result in failed charter schools and create negative impacts across the school system.”
Cheater said he paid $20 in dues to his parent-teacher association that is speaking out against the bill. He’s also thinking about sending Georgia Superintendent Dr. John Barge a box of chocolates for his recent stand against the charter school amendment, “so let’s add $25 to my donations of those lobbying against,” he said.
Marietta City’s board chair, Jill Mutimer, doesn’t believe an appointed commission should allocate tax dollars for public education.
“Appropriation of tax dollars is for elected officials only,” she said. “Appointed officials have no accountability to the public. I cannot support the unnecessary and costly creation of yet another state agency to contribute to bureaucracy.”
Other Marietta school board members expressed similar sentiments.
Stuart Fleming, said, “We currently have 180-plus (school boards) that determine how to best educate Georgia’s students. I’d prefer if we didn’t expand this with an additional body/layer of government that will not bear fruit in the years ahead.”
Tony Fasola said he is against a new state organization that will directly impact the financial and education process that he was elected to do as a local board of education member. Irene Berens concurred.
But Brett Bittner, the board’s newest member since his special election on July 31, is still on the fence.
“I can see pros and cons on both sides, and I’ve not come to a concrete decision yet,” Bittner said. “I do have concerns over how the sides are framing the issue as being ‘for’ or ‘against’ charter schools. There is more to the issue.”
Cobb school board member Kathleen Angelucci, who represents north Cobb, believes the amendment would dismantle “traditional public education for corporate private-sector control of education in Georgia.”
“(The bill) forces taxpayers to support privately operated, publicly funded schools with very little or no local accountability,” she said. “Taxpayers will provide free start-up capital and guaranteed revenue to for-profit Education Management Organizations, all with no liabilities or penalties for failure to perform, so essentially a private company receives guaranteed profit and no risk.”
Angelucci also said research by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes showed the academic performance of charter schools doesn’t add up.
“The CREDO study found that charter schools underperform in math and reading at the high school level,” she said. “In addition, students in multi-level charter schools underperformed counterparts from traditional public schools in both reading and math.”
And Lynnda Eagle, whose term on the board representing northwest Cobb ends in December, said the approval of charter schools should be left up to the local school boards.
“When local control is lost and relegated to the state, many factors can be created which, in my opinion, can undermine the effectiveness of our public schools,” she said.
Both of Cobb’s voluntary teacher associations, the Cobb County Association of Educators (CCAE) and Educators First, oppose the amendment.
Connie Jackson, of CCAE, worked with state Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) to organize a forum this week on the issue. It will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at Trinity Tabernacle Baptist Church, 595 Veterans Memorial Dr., Mableton.
“We are so strongly against this charter school amendment,” she said. “It’s not about charter schools, Republicans and Democrats, or race. It’s about money and power. … We’re talking for-profit organizations that are for it and education should never be for profit, period. If you are truly doing what’s best for the child, you can’t do that if you’re thinking about money first.”
John Adams, co-director at Educators First, echoed objections over the money and a new bureaucracy.
“Although the school board may not be perfect, and of course none of us are, I trust the Cobb County School Board to make good decisions about charter schools in Cobb County much more than an unelected board of strangers in Atlanta,” Adams said.
On finance reports filed with the state, Families for Better Public Schools reported raising $486,750 as of Aug. 30. Of that, $466,000 came from sources outside Georgia and was mostly from charter school management companies.
Vote SMART, meanwhile, reported raising $80,951 in its Aug. 29 report. Most of that came public school superintendents, teachers and the like.
According to the Vote SMART website, its coalition members include the state’s Association of Educational Leaders; Music Educators Association; Retired Educators Association; Professional Association of Georgia Educations (PAGE); Southern Education Foundation; PTA; School Boards Association; and Schools Superintendents Association.