Early voting begins Monday on the issue, which is on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
About 15 attendees turned out to the event in Clark Creek STEM Academy’s cafeteria, including a man who got up and passed out pro-charter literature to the audience about an hour into the meeting.
According to the literature, the man was the father of two students — one at Cherokee Charter Academy and one in a Cherokee County School District school.
However, he did not identify himself and there was no contact information given in the flyer.
The man, who wore a Sequoyah High School polo, was asked to leave by members of Clark Creek PTA after he stood up and attempted to distribute the fliers.
Prior to the disruption and the man’s removal, the meeting went smoothly with audience members hearing answers to their questions from panelists.
The panelists included Lisa-Marie Haygood, Georgia PTA membership chair; Sally Fitzgerald, Georgia PTA educational policy consultant; and Ron Fowler, a representative from the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, the metro arm of the Georgia Federation of Teachers that has also come out against the amendment.
All questions to the panelists were written by audience members on index cards and read by Susan Hayes, 13th district director for Georgia PTA.
Fitzgerald began the evening by explaining Georgia PTA has never opposed charter schools. She said the issue at hand is the upcoming vote for a constitutional amendment that would create an appointed agency to approve and fund charter schools after they are initially denied by local school boards.
Fitzgerald called the question on the ballot “misleading.” As it will appear on the ballot, the question reads: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
“The state and the local school boards can already approve charter schools,” Fitzgerald said. “Charter schools are being approved by 181 entities: 180 school districts and one state board of education.”
Fitzgerald said the preamble is even more misleading because it suggests the amendment “provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement.”
“The legislation does not require either,” Fitzgerald said. “No parent of an enrolled student is guaranteed a role on the governing board. In a traditional school, there is a local school council—seven people, and four of those people have to be parents of an enrolled students and the chair has to be a parent.”
Haygood, who has a student at Dean Rusk Middle School and Sequoyah High School, said she fears the amendment will pass because she sees the fight against its passage as a “David and Goliath battle” between charter proponents and public school system supporters.
She said she likes parental choice in education, but personally opposes the amendment because it would take away local control in government and would fund students disproportionately, with charter school students getting over two and a half times the state funding of traditional students.
“The fact is 94, almost 95 percent, of students in Georgia are educated through the public school system,” Haygood said. “One of the things that concerned me most and made me very passionate about this amendment is what we call enabling legislation… (House Bill 797) and the language in the preamble don’t actually represent what the legislation says.”
House Bill 797, the enabling legislation for the constitutional amendment, was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal at Cherokee Charter Academy in May.
Fowler, a former national representative for 12 years with the American Federation of Teachers, said his concern is that the amendment is not just about having more opportunities to open charter schools but about how the schools would be governed.
“There’s a bigger piece,” Fowler said. “There’s a lot of money involved in this thing…there’s a lot of money here, folks, and it’s our taxpayer dollars. So don’t be fooled, the public schools are going to be affected by this thing. There’s only so much money.”
Fowler compared the state’s budget to household budgeting and how money must be taken from somewhere when a crisis—a charter school closing—might occur.
“If you get a flat tire, the money’s got to come from somewhere,” Fowler said. “There’s not a pot of gold coming from somewhere, it’s going to be carved out of (the education budget.)”
Some notable people in attendance were Donna Kosicki, Georgia PTA president; Debbie Rabjohn, second vice-president of Georgia PTA; and Kyla Cromer, Cherokee County Council of PTAs advocacy chair, who ran for the newly redrawn District 1 school board seat this year.
Cromer’s opponent and winner of the seat, Kelly Marlow, was also in attendance. Marlow, who has no opponent in the general election, has two children who attend Cherokee Charter Academy.
Marlow did not want to make a comment for this story.
Cromer rounded out the meeting by requesting parents who may be interested to contact her about standing in front of the county’s 44 polling places with “Vote No on Amendment 1” signs.
Rabjohn, who helped organize the event, said she was saddened by the low turnout but said many countywide PTA members have been getting out their message through word-of-mouth and email blasts.
“I think a lot of them already know how they’re voting,” Rabjohn said. “It’s hard to compete with sports and homework.”