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School leaders debate charter school amendment

Posted: October 31, 2012 - 12:07am
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Dr. Stan DeJarnett poses a question to the debate team in favor of state control of charter schools as school board member Regina Buccafusco waits her turn to speak out against the amendment.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Dr. Stan DeJarnett poses a question to the debate team in favor of state control of charter schools as school board member Regina Buccafusco waits her turn to speak out against the amendment.

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The future of charter schools was the topic of conversation Monday night at an Evans debate.

The debate pitted advocates of House Resolution 1162, which would shift authority to create charter schools from the local to state level, against those adamant that the proposed legislation would lead to more budget cuts and other issues for traditional public schools.

Speaking out in opposition of the resolution was Stan DeJarnett, retired superintendent of Morgan County schools, a charter school system.

“If you look at the huge amount of money that’s being put into the campaign to get this ballot amendment passed ... what’s the real purpose?” he questioned.

DeJarnett emphasized that he’s not against charter schools but doesn’t see a need in creating dual public school systems.

“It’s about money and control,” he said of the amendment.

The debate lasted about an hour at the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center and drew a crowd of nearly 50 spectators. It was organized by Georgians for Educational Excellence and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

On the other side of the stage, Monica Henson spoke about the charter school she runs in Atlanta: Provost Academy Georgia.

At Provost, most of the school’s 700 students work from an online curriculum at home, she said.

More than half of the student population is made up of minorities and 70 percent are on a free or reduced lunch plan. Seventeen percent are special education students, she added.

“Because we serve students all across the state, for us to have to get approval from 180 school districts is unwieldy,” she said. “A statewide charter is the best way for a school like mine to come into existence.”

The resolution, if approved, would override a Georgia Supreme Court ruling last year that charter schools be accepted and governed only by local school boards.

In addition to budget cuts, many in opposition worry the amendment would cause larger class sizes, shortened school years and lead to teacher furloughs.

Proponents, like local attorney Glee Smith, say the resolution would give parents more choice in their children’s education and should be looked at as a statewide initiative.

“People in Columbia County are very satisfied with their schools,” Smith said to the crowd. “A lot of people see this in other places as a new opportunity of choice for their children.”

A question written by an audience member asked if a charter school had ever been petitioned for in Columbia County.

County School Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco said the board has never received a formal request.

Buccafusco also questioned how much sway for-profit companies had in making curriculum decisions at charter schools.

Henson said charter institutions in Georgia are governed by a non-profit board of directors, not non-profit agencies, and still have to meet state and federal standards.

“If we don’t meet them, they’re going to close us down,” she said.

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