To Barge’s credit, he didn’t beat around the bush when he took the podium as speaker at Thursday’s Marietta Kiwanis Club meeting. After a few scant seconds of perfunctory niceties, he launched into an explanation of where he’s coming from.
“A lot of folks have said I’m anti-charter schools and that I flip-flopped on campaign promises and that type of stuff,” he began. “I want you to know why I’ve taken the stand I’ve taken.”
Barge, a Smyrna native who has lived in Rome since 1984, said he’s a staunch supporter of charter schools.
“My opposition is not to charter schools. I love charter schools. I’ve written grants for charter schools when I was a curriculum director for other school systems. Charter schools offer tremendous flexibility and opportunities for schools to really get outside the constraining box of state policy and rules and try something different and try to move the needle of student achievement. So charter schools are wonderful.”
There are more than 100 charter schools operating in Georgia with another dozen or so applications in the pipeline to be considered in the next few months, he said.
But the wording of the amendment is misleading, he said.
“It will simply ask, ‘Should the state Constitution be amended so as to allow local and state approval of charter schools at the local community’s request?’ If I’m going into a ballot box, that’s a no-brainer. I’m going to vote for it, because charter schools are good.
“The issue for me with that is we already have local approval of charter schools and we already have state approval of charter schools. So the mechanism is already in place for state and local approval of charter schools. In fact the way it works now, if a charter applicant wants to appeal to a charter school to a local school district, they appeal to the superintendent and the local board. They either approve it as a local charter or they don’t. If they don’t, that applicant has the right and ability to appeal to the state board of education, and the state board can approve that charter school. That’s already in place.
“What the amendment doesn’t say is that if it passes, the state will create a third state agency to approve charter schools. So we already have a mechanism to create charter schools. But this agency was declared unconstitutional two years ago by the state Supreme Court, and that’s why we’re coming back with an amendment to approve it.”
Another reason for his opposition, he said, is the cost. He said the new state agency would cost taxpayers at least $1 million per year in operational costs. And that would come against a backdrop of school systems all over the state that are drowning in red ink, he said.
“I just read an article that ranked Georgia seventh in the country as the worst offender in cuts to public education,” he said.
And of Georgia’s 180 school systems, 121 of them, or two thirds, are operating fewer than 180 days per year, which is the minimum required by the state.
“They all have to get waivers to do that,” he said. “They’re having to do that because they can’t afford to keep the doors open 180 days a year and pay the teachers.
“Over the last four to five years, there’ve been $5 billion in funds earned by local school districts according to the state’s local funding formula, which hasn’t been changed since 1984 mind you, that they’ve not received. So that is resulting in larger class sizes, shorter school years, teacher furloughs and the elimination of teacher-professional development in a lot of school districts because they can’t afford to pay their teachers for that time.”
The state has 72 school districts that are operating in the red, he noted.
“Is there a plan for school districts if they go bankrupt? I don’t know,” he said.
“So again, I’m not opposed to charter schools, but before we restore all of our kids to school for 180 days and our teachers to full pay we don’t need to be sending new state revenues to other places. That’s why I’m opposed to the amendment. Not to charter schools, but to the amendment.
“It’s not a charter-school issue, it’s an amendment issue,” he concluded.
U.S. SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-Ga.) traveled to Sweden earlier this week to present a document bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal upon WWII hero Raoul Wallenberg to the 91-year-old sister of the deceased diplomat.
“Being of Swedish descent, it was my idea to bring it here to present,” Isakson told Around Town. “And considering the tremendous sacrifice that Wallenberg made, it was appropriate for us to do it here.”
The actual medal will be given to the sister at a later date.
The Gold Medal is the highest honor that Congress can give a civilian and recognizes Wallenberg’s successful efforts to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi death camps. Wallenberg fell into the hands of the Soviet Army at war’s end and was last seen alive in a Soviet prison cell in 1947. His fate became a cause célèbre 40 years later, but it is now known that he died in Soviet hands. Wallenberg would have turned 100 this year.
Isakson told Around Town that though Wallenberg was part of the Swedish diplomatic team in Budapest, his true job was to funnel money from a war refugee fund secretly set up by President Franklin Roosevelt to try to save lives.
While in Europe, Isakson and other congressmen met with Germany’s Finance Director about the EU financial crisis and with other officials. He also spent all day last Saturday visiting wounded U.S. troops at the military hospital in Ramstein, Germany, where severely injured servicemen are treated as they are evacuated from Afghanistan and Iraq back to the States.
OOPS! Due to an error of omission, the profile of attorney Jimmy Berry in last Saturday’s Around Town inadvertently left out one of the death penalty cases he has lost, that of Joshua Drucker last year. The Cobb jury deliberated less than two hours before finding Drucker guilty of robbing and murdering Andrew Robertson and Lora Nikolova in a drug-related case near Marietta. He is now on Death Row. …. And in Tuesday’s Around Town, West Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham was described as having spoken of Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee as being “courageous.” Goreham notes that she did not use that word in her comments about the chairman.
WHILE IT’S NOT A DISPUTE that’s expected to spill over into the parking lot, there is still disagreement over which City Council district the Manget neighborhood will end up in. The redistricting map Councilman Johnny Sinclair will show to the full council on Monday has the neighborhood divided between Councilwoman Annette Lewis’s Ward 1 and Councilman Anthony Coleman’s Ward 5. Both candidates are up for reelection in 2013, when the map is expected to go into effect if approved.
Lewis and Coleman, along with Sinclair, are the three members of the council’s Redistricting Committee. The committee is best known, of course, for the parking-lot altercation after a meeting last year that eventually led Coleman to plead guilty to a charge of assaulting Lewis. The incident also led to a long delay in the committee putting together a map.
With a proposed map now ready to go, some Manget residents spoke against the divided neighborhood at a committee meeting on Monday, saying they didn’t want to be in Coleman’s district. Lewis agreed, saying it is important to keep “communities of interest” intact.
“We need to listen to our residents,” she said.
Lewis acknowledged that changing the map could pose challenges. Coleman has the federally required majority-black district, which at 50.01 percent black, could fall below that line with even a minor bit of tweaking.
Coleman said that it’s time to approve a map.
“If I go to a Senator or a Congressman and say ‘I don’t want to be in your district,’ they laugh at me and say, ‘It don’t work like that, Councilman,’” Coleman said.