Georgia voters warned of ‘deceptive’ ballot question on schools

(Monday,08/29/2016 © Macon Telegraph)
A group that supports Georgia teachers warned people in Macon on Monday about a question on November’s ballot that the group claims is intentionally misleading. The opportunity school district question, which will be on the ballot as “Amendment No. 1” will ask voters: Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance? “That sounds OK, doesn’t it?” Georgia Educators Association President Sid Chapman told a small group of teachers at Macon’s Westside High School. “Well, that’s exactly the reason they worded it that way, because the average person wouldn’t read that as a bad thing.” The amendment, according to its language, will provide “greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.” Chapman, who will head to Hall County on Tuesday, said it could have been written more clearly. “Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an appointee of the governor — not the state elected schools superintendent or the current local boards of education — to take over local school operations, buildings and control of all federal, state and local funding” if a school has low scores on standardized tests or for any other reason a future legislature may allow, Chapman said. Up to 20 schools per year that are deemed failing would come under the control of nonprofit or for-profit charter school groups, Chapman said. Under the amendment, those groups “can fire the whole faculty and staff, including the principals, and have them reapply if they want to,” Chapman said. “It doesn’t really do anything to fix the problem.” Nine schools in Bibb County have low enough test scores to be eligible for state takeover should voters approve the amendment. Many such districts are poverty-stricken, mostly minority students “who need more than just a new faculty,” Chapman said. Erica White, a 46-year-old media specialist at Bruce Elementary School, which is eligible for state takeover per the amendment, said she doesn’t think Gov. Nathan Deal has educators’ best interests in mind. “If they were truly interested in helping the schools, they would have come down and found another way to work with us to provide the services that have been eliminated or cut so deeply,” White said during Monday evening’s information session. Though the amendment promises to turn around failing schools through charters, White said Macon Charter Academy is a fine example of how “a charter school can be a good thing and a not-so-good thing.” Earlier this month, the Bibb County Board of Education passed a resolution denouncing the proposed amendment . Board member Lester Miller said more meetings will be held in coming months to raise voters’ awareness.