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Posted: March 7, 2012 12:00 a.m.

County BOE braces for charter decision

As legislation is allowing the state to create and fund charter schools heads for another attempt for a vote in the Georgia Senate Wednesday, school boards across the state are bracing for the outcome.

The Newton County Board of Education, in particular, has begun to recognize the public's unhappiness with public schools.

The board opposed the bill, or House Resolution 1162, last month when it was reintroduced into the House. Newton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Gary Mathews and Rep. Pamela Dickerson, D-Conyers, also came out in opposition, saying the decision to approve and fund charter schools should be left to the local school boards.

"While I understand the ‘desperation' about non-performing public schools, at the end of the day, in my view, it's not a charter, a voucher, or even merit pay that will improve learning in school - any school,"
Mathews said. "It is, however, a laser-like focus on the quality of instruction that will win the day."

HR 1162 resurfaced after the Georgia Supreme Court determined the state could not control local tax dollars to fund charter schools if the school board disapproves. The bill passed through the House after a second vote on Feb. 22.

The bill quickly moved to the Senate, though it stalled after a two-hour debate on Feb. 29, which led legislators to delay the vote. The bill will need all Republican members and two Democrats to pass.

The county houses two charter schools approved by the BOE: The Newton College and Career Academy and The Challenge Charter Academy.

With nearly all 180 school boards in the state and the Georgia School Board Association against HR 1162, some are urging their respective school boards to look into improving its current structure.

Newton County Board of Education member Jeff Meadors said the growing demand for charter schools is a direct result of dissatisfaction with the current climate of public schools.

"None of these people are asking for charter schools because they want something bad for their kids," Meadors said. "Some of these people have legitimate complaints."
School boards will have to tackle public schools' tougher issues, like overcrowding, poor curriculum and gang-related behaviors, and work to resolve them, Meadors said. The public's opposition to public schools could also be an indication with their frustration with the board's priorities and use of funds, he said.

"When we refuse to look at the issues and tackle them appropriately," Meadors said. "We end up shooting the messenger-in this case, the charter school advocates."

If approved by the Senate Wednesday, the bill will head to the ballots in November, where Meadors said the bill truly belongs.

"We can argue amongst each other about what we should or shouldn't do, but really, the voters deserve the right to make their decision," Meadors said. "And this November is the best time for something like this to be on the ballot, especially since there is a presidential election and there will be a bigger turnout."

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