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Attorney says officials overstepping by opposing amendment

ATLANTA -- An Atlanta lawyer said that a letter sent Wednesday by Attorney General Sam Olens to State Superintendent John Barge "clearly" lays out a case against elected education officials advocating or opposing constitutional amendments.

It's a point he said should serve as an admonition to certain local school boards. Specifically, he named Gwinnett County Public Schools.

"We're very pleased with the letter," said attorney Glenn Delk, who shared news Wednesday of the correspondence between Olens and Barge. "(Olens) basically agreed with our position, and now we're interested in seeing what (Barge) is going to do to comply."

Delk's position -- and that of "six to eight taxpayers" he represents -- is that public officials are "entitled to their personal opinions, but cannot use taxpayer resources to advocate for one side or another." Delk spoke in regard to a proposed constitutional amendment that would underscore the state's authority to charter independent public schools. It's a matter voters will decide on Nov. 6.

Local Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks and several members of the Gwinnett County School Board have remained vocally opposed to the amendment. In a statement Wednesday, Wilbanks said he and fellow public officials "do have a right to provide information about the constitutional amendment to our constituents who ask and expect us to have information about this issue."

Added Wilbanks: "We have always complied with the law and will continue to do so."

Most recently, Wilbanks voiced his opinion during a forum at Sept. 24 forum in Peachtree Corners and a state of education luncheon at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in which he was keynote speaker.

Delk said he believes that "Wilbanks giving speeches in his official capacity" violates state law.

The letter from Olens to Barge, which was provided to the Daily Post, comes on the heels of the state superintendent's public announcement Aug. 14 that he was opposed to the constitutional amendment.

According to Olens' letter: "Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong."

In August, members of the Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a resolution during a meeting stating the district's stance against the constitutional amendment.

In previous conversations, Delk said he doubted education officials would take heed. "I doubt that school districts will back off," Delk said. "It's probably going to be necessary to go to court and ask for injunctive relief."

The General Assembly endorsed the amendment after the Georgia Supreme Court struck down an earlier law that allowed the state to create the publicly financed, but privately operated schools.

The court ruled that the existing Georgia Constitution gives local boards control over K-12 education, including issuing independent charters. Advocates for charter schools argued that local officials were dragging their feet in approving charter applications. The constitutional change and a separate statute would restore a state commission that would issue charters to private operators.

Comments

LarryMajor 1 year, 6 months ago

Glenn Delk is worried about public officials making statements, while charter schools send both teachers and students to rallies?

Delk’s six or eight clients are going to be sorry their attorney opened up this can of worms because if it’s injunctions they want, then injunctions they shall have.

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NewsReader 1 year, 6 months ago

LarryMajor, specifically, which charter schools, and even more specifically, who at those charter schools, sent both teachers and students to rallies?

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

Teachers and students of charter schools aren't covered under the statute, especially if it was on their own time. Wilbanks has been expressing his opinion publically while in the capacity as superintendent. This is clearly in violation.

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NewsReader 1 year, 6 months ago

That's it? That's your evidence? The only thing this video demonstrates is that a student of Ivy Prep and a legislator spoke before a public gathering. It doesn't prove anything about the charter school, in this case Ivy Prep, sent any teachers, nor does it prove they sent students. By all accounts, the students and their parents may have made the decision to send this child to this gathering on their own. So again, what evidence do you have that Ivy Prep, or an Administrator or employee of Ivy Prep sent any teachers or students? Please tell me you have something much more substantive to demonstrate your assertion.

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BuzzG 1 year, 6 months ago

Wilbanks should be prosecuted for violating the law.

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

Would that be the law guaranteeing freedom of speech? No, wait, thats the one you don't believe.

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

Wilbanks is free to express his opinion about this bill in his own time and while he is not in the capacity of his job (which is paid for by tax payers.) He cannot do so while in the capacity as superintendent, which he repeatedly has done. He is in violation.

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

In my opinion, it is his duty as superintendent to explain how the amendment would adversely effect education. If "tax payer expense" is a bar which prevents those on taxpayer payroll from expressing an opinion at certain times, then that must apply to state representatives and senators. That would sure slow down discussion of legislation!

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

The statute does not apply to legislators.

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CD 1 year, 6 months ago

It appears as though the Gluttonous Heathens will stop at nothing to provide a pipleline of taxpayer dollars to their friends.

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

Though I agree with your assessment of the charter school executives and congressmen that have accepted their gifts (legal bribes), including such insults only distracts from the facts.

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CD 1 year, 6 months ago

Trust me, Heathens don't care enough to be insulted. What is theirs is theirs and what is everyone else's is theirs. That is really the bottom line.

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CD 1 year, 6 months ago

Although I believe in the Lord, I do not impose my faith on others. When I use the term "Heathen" or "Gluttonous Heathen", I reference a select group that would absolutely sicken Ronald Reagan to his very core, a group that both serves and worships themselves exclusively, while often times cloaking themselves in religiosity.

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TheDon 1 year, 6 months ago

@NewsReader, I think Larry might be referring to things like this: http://www.schoolchoicerally.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Info_for_Schools_2012.pdf

It has specific information directed schools who want to participate in a "school choice" rally at the capital back in January. And the subsequent coverage reported that "busloads of students, parents, and teachers swarmed the capital on Wednesday..." http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/school-choice-supporters-converge-on-capitol/nQQhQ/

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kevin 1 year, 6 months ago

show these crooks the door. Never heard of allowing any public figure to use public time and funds to support a candidate or anything political that is up for election. They don't need warnings. They need to be fired.

Vote YES. We need Charter schools and not let the local boards try their best to either deny them or delay them. They want power and money. Period.

Vote YES.

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

Just today, all teachers and staff in GCPS were sent another email (others have been sent out previously) with "information" about the bill. Although they glossed it over in an attempt to appear objective, the content and message was clearly slanted toward telling teachers that they should vote "no". Of course, the intent was to also arm the teachers with Wilbanks' message so that they could convey it in the community. If the State Superintendent gets into trouble about this, Wilbanks most certainly should as well.

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

It only seems one sided because most of the data shows charter schools perform at a lower level than public schools and the amendment puts the power of giving away education funds in a small, unelected, board, even circumventing the state board of education.

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

Perhaps, but that isn't the point. The point is that, regardless of what anyone thinks is "right" or wrong, Wilbanks is doing things that violate the statute.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 6 months ago

Notice the article does not specify a statute, only "..."clearly" lays out a case against elected education officials advocating or opposing constitutional amendments.". If you think that their is such a statute, then please give me a link to it. Note the argument is "elected officials" and Wilbanks is not an elected official, so why would the statute apply to him, if it existed? Do you really believe such a law would be held up by the courts, even if it existed? Do you think it is right to allow charter school officials to advertise lies about charter schools and give expensive gifts to legislators but not okay for the people responsible for keeping a good education system functioning with shrinking budgets correcting the lies? Wow, you must not believe in freedom!

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angie63 1 year, 6 months ago

@JohninSuwanee - not correct. I'm a teacher in GCPS and I wasn't sent an email. Might want to check your "information".

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

@angie, then perhaps you might want to check with your principal and ask why it wasn't sent to you. I have the email, so I know for certain it exists.

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Don 1 year, 6 months ago

Willbanks can speak his own opinion but can not endorse his opposition against the amendment as the GCPS does not want it. This is the same as the states superintendent last week.

Stop the charter schools running their own private schools while using my taxpayer money! If you do not like the public schools then send your kids to a true private school on your own dollar!

Somebody must be held accountable for the money that is getting spent on these schools, no a select group of the administration of them.

I will gladly help in getting a few injunctions if this passes.

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JohninSuwanee 1 year, 6 months ago

Charter schools are not private schools. They are schools with funding from both the private sector and public funding and are run independently. As such, they allow anyone to attend. Private schools can select who attends their schools based on their established critiera, provided that criteria does not discriminate based on race.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 6 months ago

So Glenn Delk is arguing that officials whose salary comes from taxpayers opposed to the amendment cannot voice their opinion but those for it, like the Governor and Congressional members like Jan Jones and Alisha Thomas Morgan can since they don't oppose the measure. Yea, that does make perfect sense. If you believe that, then let me convince you that your taxes should be raised so Mitt Romney can get a million dollar tax cut!

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