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.