• February 27, 2015

Ethics trump politics

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Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 12:00 am

The recent action by the Cherokee County Republican Party (CCRP), as it relates to the Cherokee Board of Education, is reprehensible, and it needs to keep its politicking out of issues where it doesn’t belong.

A little more than a year ago, just after the July primary election, I sat at this very same desk and penned a piece about taking politics out of education.

A year later, politics has reared its ugly head in education once again, and my opinion hasn’t changed: there is no room for politics in education.

This time, it’s over the Cherokee Charter Academy and the school board vote earlier this year that kept the charter school from getting local funding.

The CCRP recently met and approved an official resolution urging the four school board members, who dissented in the vote to approve the Cherokee Charter Academy, to either reconsider their decision to locally fund the school or renounce their membership from the local Republican Party.

The spokesperson for the local GOP told the Ledger-News that “this isn’t political” ... “it’s about the children.”

The issue is about the children, but the local Republican Party is making it political. And it’s a shame the children in Cherokee County are being used as pawns in a political game.

Last year, the Georgia General Assembly passed SB 84 (sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers), which basically says local board of education members should be treated differently than other elected officials.

“Given the specialized nature and unique role of membership on a local school board, this elected office should be characterized and treated differently from other elected offices where the primary duty is independently to represent constituent views … Local board of education members should abide by a code of conduct and conflict of interest policy modeled for their unique roles and responsibilities,” the law states.

That policy “modeled for their unique roles and responsibilities,” as SB 84 calls it, was adopted by the Cherokee Board of Education this past January.

The local policy clearly and unequivocally states that school board members should not be swayed by special interest groups, and members’ first priority is the educational welfare of the schoolchildren.

The policy states, under Domain II: Strategic Planning, that each board member must “reflect through actions that his or her first and foremost concern is for the educational welfare of children attending schools within the system (and) render all decisions based on available facts and his or her independent judgment and refuse to surrender his or her judgment to individuals or special interest groups.”

The veiled threat recently issued by the local GOP is asking those who voted against the charter school to violate the Cherokee Board of Education’s ethics policy by going against their judgment of what’s best for the children.

The heart of this matter seems to be the local funding the charter school isn’t getting because it did not receive local approval.

Some have argued that it’s the parents’ choice because the money follows the student no matter what school the child goes to. That’s partly correct. But what some are forgetting or choosing to ignore is the fact that local approval would have meant $2,098 per child coming from local property tax millage.

It’s only the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding that follows the student. That equates to about $4,600 per student. The charter school is getting a little more money per student from the state, thanks to a $10 million pledge from the governor.

Days before the June meeting where Cherokee Charter Academy’s petition was considered, the current school board offered the charter school a chance at local approval (and local funding) by handing  a petition it could approve to the charter school officials, who apparently didn’t want to entertain that option. The offer of the alternate petition reportedly went unacknowledged.

One of the school district’s concerns from the get-go, was the financial practices of the for-profit Charter Schools USA, based in Florida. Cherokee Charter Academy is paying the for-profit Florida company a 3 percent ($184,546) management fee, according to the recent budget approved by the charter’s Local Governing Council. (If education is to be outsourced using taxpayer dollars, it needs to go out for bid, just like other projects/services outsourced in  local government.)

More than 2,000 children (of the district’s almost 40,000 students, as well as  some private school and homeschool students) applied to the charter school, but only 995 were accepted, making it abundantly clear that the charter school can turn children away – something the local public school district can’t do.

If parents want their children to attend a charter school, that is clearly up to them, and the QBE money that is allocated to each child will go with that student.

The CCRP is asking the board members to violate the ethics policy in yet another way: by letting their votes be swayed.

The CCRP, and the heavy-hitting, pro-charter school politicians behind them, are trying to inflict their special interests on the school board members, something the ethics policy strictly forbids.

As the spokesman for the Republican Party told us last week, it’s not about politics, it’s about the children; so don’t threaten local elected officials with an “our way or the highway” type of resolution.

It doesn’t resolve anything.

This is just another clear-cut example as to why there’s no room for politics in education, and it’s time for lawmakers to remove that eight-letter dirty word from our local school boards and make them non-partisan.

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