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Chairwoman denies school board acted improperly on charter amendment vote
by Liz Marino
lmarino@neighbornewspapers.com
October 17, 2012 03:20 PM | 1572 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lithia Springs activist James Bell filed a complaint with the state attorney general last week alleging the Douglas County Board of Education and Superintendent Gordon Pritz acted improperly by using public resources to take a public stand on a ballot question.

However, school board chairwoman Janet Kelley denied any wrongdoing by the board and stated that “no public resources were used to exhort the voters.”

Bell, director of the Douglas County-based Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, filed the complaint after the board passed a resolution opposing the charter school amendment to the state constitution, which is part of the Nov. 6 ballot.

Board members approved the resolution 4-1 earlier this month with District 1 Board Member Mike Miller opposing the resolution.

“I therefore request that your office initiate an investigation into this matter and determine if any laws were broken by the Douglas County Board of Education,” Bell stated in his complaint to State Attorney General Sam Olens.

“The school board cannot undo their actions; the harm has been done. The voters and taxpayers of this state expect to hold elections and make decisions without government officials attempting to influence elections using public funds and resources.

“The board’s action in passing this resolution was done to generate media attention in an attempt to influence the voters to reject the ballot question.”

State School Superintendent John Barge had requested advice from the state attorney general regarding the use of taxpayer resources by local schools to advocate for or against the charter school amendment.

Olens restated to Barge “… what the Georgia Supreme Court made clear 30 years ago: local governments cannot expend taxpayer resources to tell taxpayers how to vote.”

Olens said the rule applies equally to supporters and opponents of the amendment.

The attorney general also stated in his letter that the rule “also only applies to the expenditure of public resources — government officials and employees have full First Amendment rights to express their personal opinions

“They simply don’t have a right, under the First Amendment or any other legal provision, to expend public resources in communicating their personal opinions.”

According to Kelley, “Our resolution does not involve any advocacy to our electors. The attorney general’s letter makes a clear distinction, based on law and previous cases, between advocacy directed at legislators and advocacy directed at voters.

“The Douglas County Board of Educations’s resolution stands on firm legal ground, according to this letter.”
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Kelly Cadman
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October 19, 2012
As I stated in public comment BEFORE the board made the resolution, there is no reason for the board to take a collective position at all on this matter and it is imprudent for them to do so. In so doing, they ARE expending funds (each board member is paid - the district spends about $100k per year on board member salaries), use of the facility costs tax dollars, use of staff time to prepare the resolution is taken, they spoke with their attorney (who is also the attorney of GSBA who opposes the amendment, too - a direct conflict of interest.) And we have the superintendent and board members out speaking (and using their titles....which is a no-no, as they are exempt employees, not hourly, so being "off the clock" is irrelevant).

Each individual member of the board is certainly entitled to their own personal opinion to be expressed on their own time and their own dime, but as the Attorney General made very clear, neither side may use tax dollars to electioneer or influence a vote. Establishing a public opinion on a political matter (AFTER the legislative session and before a pending election) and speaking on anti-amendment panels certainly qualifies. The actions of this board are putting the district at risk - they are exposing the district to lawsuits, loss of funding, and attention from SACS on governance. This risk is unwarranted, as:

1. Douglas County has, in the past, always used an appropriate review process for charter applications, so they should not have to fear a charter group needing an appeal that would be successful.

2. NOT ONE DIME would leave this district for any state charter approve don appeal if they should ever be unfair.

It troubles me to hear the things that teachers in our community say is being told to them. From where, I do not know, but from someone whom they trust. The information shared has not been accurate. Scare tactics (i.e., if the amendment passes, class sizes will rise to 40, teachers will lose jobs, massive furloughs, etc.) are completely and totally absurd. As I've stated before - the law (HB 797, starting with line 317) PROHIBITS funds from being taken from districts. It cannot be done. I trust that our educators in Douglas County are savvy enough to research on their own and not believe everything they hear. Go directly to the source - the law - and read for yourself. Also, read the Judge Nahmias', Supreme Court Justice's dissenting opinion to understand why we need a Constitutional Amendment in the first place.

The public should have accurate information, and it should be balanced. Please confirm what you are being told by reading the source documents (i.e., HB 797, HR 1162) for yourselves.

Thank you for supporting KIDS sand the rights of parents to choose the best setting for their kids (whether it is traditional or charter) and not bureaucratic control.
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