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Wilbanks, Jones speak piece on charter school amendment

Staff Photos: Frank Reddy At left, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks speaks Monday night during a forum discussing a proposed constitutional amendment. At right is House Rep. Jan Jones during the forum.

Staff Photos: Frank Reddy At left, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks speaks Monday night during a forum discussing a proposed constitutional amendment. At right is House Rep. Jan Jones during the forum.

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Taylynn Bell, 10, and friend, Olivia Gates hold up signs in support of a constitutional amendment slated for the Nov. 6 election.

PEACHTREE CORNERS -- The highest ranked non-elected official in the state's largest school district and the first female speaker pro tem in the history of the Georgia House took opposing sides Monday night on a hot button issue that drew hundreds.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks and Rep. Jan Jones spoke during a forum on a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee the state's authority to charter independent public schools. It's a matter that voters will decide on Nov. 6.

Jones told the group that "the nice thing about public charter schools ... is that they put local control where it counts most: the parents. It allows parents to select for their children an independent charter school that would best meet their needs."

Added Jones: "The reality is, we have too many students falling through the cracks. I happen to believe Georgia should give students more opportunities ... sometimes schools just don't have the right fit for students."

Wilbanks and Jones each had 20 minutes to speak their piece.

Gwinnett's superintendent told the group that the amendment they'll have the chance to vote on "is not about charter schools. I have no problem with charter schools. We have plans for three or four more as we speak. The real issue is ... at a time of severe financial means ... where is the money coming from?"

Added Wilbanks: "Go ahead and approve charter schools, but make sure you use a vehicle that's already available to you. (With this amendment) you're setting up a dual school system, and quite frankly folks ... you know we've had two school systems before in this state. We used to say they were separate but equal. Now, the separate was correct, but I don't think the equal was, do you?"

Many of those who Wilbanks and Jones addressed were students of charter schools and their parents. Angela Palmer brought her daughter, Olivia Gates, 11, in support of the amendment. Gates waved a sign that read, "Kids win when parents choose."

Palmer said she was a supporter of the charter schools amendment, because "it puts the choice back into the hands of the parents."

Palmer isn't alone in her support. She has the company of public officials like Gov. Nathan Deal, who has personally lobbied lawmakers on the amendment and is urging Georgia voters to support it in November.

Gwinnett County Public School board leaders, however, have voiced public opposition.

In August, the local leaders adopted a resolution during a board of education meeting stating the district's stance against the constitutional amendment.

Gwinnett County Public School board leaders aren't alone in their opposition.

On Aug. 14, State School Superintendent John Barge announced publicly he also was against it.

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.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Comments

rco1847 1 year, 7 months ago

Madam Speaker - we have our own system and this is our county. We'd prefer you go somewhere else to score political points and not use our schools as your career advance, photo op platform. In otherwords, get the heck out of Gwinnett.

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Elbonian 1 year, 7 months ago

I thought Republicans were all for local control. Now the state wants to usurp powers that the elected Gwinnett County School Board refuses to exercise in the way the state government prefers? In my view, if you have a problem with the local school board, its time to agitate to change that board, not get the State of Georgia involved to supercede what the local board decides.

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JHogan 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree. This will result in more public money being spent on private projects. This is wrong, Public money for public purposes!

This is basically a "royalist" amendment, and I hope all little "d" democrats (and that includes many Republicans) vote this ill-considered amendment down.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 7 months ago

The fact is the Public School system is broken and has been for many years. Yes, testing scores are high in Gwinnett but that will only get you an interview and maybe a job. But who is going to help them keep the job?

The Federal Education Department needs to be abolished. They and the Unions have destroyed the educational process. To support this with facts just look at our "World Ranking".

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JW7 1 year, 7 months ago

Let's take a look at the "World Ranking." "Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. Recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent..The problem is not public schools; it is poverty." How is amending the Georgia constitution going to solve the problem of poverty? Do you really think school systems are responsible for helping an adult keep a job? It seems to me that some people are blaming schools and districts on all the ills of society.

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news2me 1 year, 7 months ago

Our public schools are also attempting to educate immigrants (illegal and legal). We are spending too much money trying to educate people who don't belong here (legally) and immigrants that just want a cheap American education. Asian counties that outscore US are educating their own, we are expected to educate the students for 100's of countries and cultures. Taxpayers children have taken a back seat for too long.

I have been trying to find real numbers on what we spend on educating non- citizens, etc. Obviously with our lax immigration policies the data is not there. This hard data could wake up our country if it was ever revealed.

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JimmyOrr 1 year, 7 months ago

Vote NO to keep from creating another layer of bureaucracy in an already bloated state government. John Barge & Company already have the vehicle in place to create charter schools. NorcrossDot "shucked the corn" when she stated that we need to abolish the Federal Education Department. AMEN, AMEN, & AMEN! Federal edicts dictate that we teach our kids to test and not to learn. Why? Education dollars received from the Feds is determined by test score results as per Federal guidelines. Bottom line? Vote NO on the proposed constitutional charter school amendment.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 7 months ago

Actually I prefer private schools and I am for vouchers. But that seems to be stuck somewhere. I also was very active in the school system when my children were there. I know for a fact Gwinnett County is way over staffed in the Administration levels.

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NewsReader 1 year, 7 months ago

You know, I really could give a crap about the charter school amendment or any argument associated with it. I want, dollar for dollar, to follow the child no matter what school they attend whether that be public, private, charter, or what have you. The exception to that is home schooling because there would be an overwhelming number of people that would establish home schooling solely for the purpose of collecting the money and utilize it for purposes other than educating the child.

My disdain for Wilbanks and Company stems from how the BOE has squandered money that would otherwise have been utilized for educating children to sue the State of Georgia and the BOE has never funded Ivy Prep Academy at the same level as other Gwinnett County Schools. LOL, underfund it, and then complain about it because it doesn't meet the BOE expectations. It was deliberate and malicious on the part of the BOE. Furthermore, they have proven time and again that they cannot be good stewards of the people's money. We have TADs that siphon money away from education thanks to the blind ignorance and voting of the general public. We have ESPLOST I, II...X, XI, XI...where does it end? And when we have shortfalls because of lower sales tax revenues, we simply create another bond referendum to shore it up. All the while, we squander money on land that sits idle for literally decades. Let's not forget the Taj Mahal over there on Old Peachtree either. It would be a joke if it weren't so serious.
The people in that community wanted/decided to have a charter school, and GCPS didn't like it and they despised anyone dare step on their turf - pure and simple. What do you care? They pay their taxes. It's not, I repeat NOT, your money. It is the child's money. The people who oppose the amendment aren't doing so on account of education. They are doing so because they stand to lose some benefit as a result.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 7 months ago

Good job. You hit the nail on the head with your last statement.

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pcjohn 1 year, 7 months ago

Well said, NewsReader. Wilbanks only wants to protect his fiefdom and, of course, the bloated salary that he acquires within it. What a hypocrit he is pretending he cares about the kids while handing out taxpayer money belonging to those kids to his friends at the Visitors and Convention Bureaus.

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R 1 year, 7 months ago

The only reason the county spent the funds in court is because state leaders OVERSTEPPED constitutional grounds previously.

The very same body now screaming we must do this NOW!!!

And in a state that has shorted school budgets for years, it’s reasonable to ask WHERE the additional funds will come from – what specific revenue source is dedicated to this proposal going forward, so NO other programs are reduced? Or clearly list what will be reduced…

Because even the supporters state charters are options for URBAN areas, but the entire state isn’t all URBAN.

Charter schools are an option, but this amendment text and its sister bill are NOT the way to improve educational choices. Please don’t take the position that it’s now or never and we MUST do SOMETHING – that’s how we get into trouble and its unintended consequences.

But it does bring up another question to GCPS with funding always short, what benefits do we get as tax payers from the funding given the Gwinnett Chamber. Where is there audit detail backup and when will it be released to the public?

Remember, if we have such a hard time getting information locally, how you think we’ll do collectively getting information from the non elected STATE appointees?

But enough now, let’s all GO FISH! On our state mandated Driver-Ed, tire and super speed fees that AREN’T spent on programs they are supposed to fund.

Trust - it’s a 5 letter word ain’t it!

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motherinduluth 1 year, 7 months ago

I arrived about 45 minutes early and planned to leave and come back, but there were so many people already there that I decided to stay. Mary Kay Murphy was to start the meeting with a "State of the Schools" address. She simply introduced 3 speakers from the Norcross area (Online school, Norcross High School, and Life Academy). No mention was made about how the Peachtree Corners schools were fairing. Maybe because Norcross HS (-8) and Duluth HS (-13) had both learned of drops in SAT scores more than the GCPS average rise in scores? Or that PTC constituents want information about Norcross High School being a Priority (formerly "Does Not Meet Expectations" Title I school? Anyway, this portion seemed rushed and out of place. Gay Shook was the "MC" and her personal opinion seemed obvious along with other PTC "leaders". Before the meeting started there was a man standing beside me with a stack of Murphy campaign brochures, but I didn't see anyone take one. Personally, I was "put-off" by how political this was on both sides of the issue. Also, to not allow live Q & A? We had the option to get 1 green index card to address a question to the speaker of our choice and turn in at the end of the meeting with our name and contact information. With today's technology, why not an on-line forum where questions could be posted and answered by both sides?

Jan Jones was a wonderful speaker and I felt she would have welcomed a live Q & A session. The majority of the audience was Ivy Prep students, parents, and supporters. I must admit it was hard to not be supportive of the amendment when sitting surrounded by these girls that will be directly and almost immediately affected by the amendment vote. The statement that made most impact on me was when Ms. Jones said, (paraphrased) the most control/impact an individual has in GCPS decision making is their vote once every 4 years for 1 of 5 school board members.

Then GCPS "CEO" spoke against the amendment. He seemed "out of place" and was not engaging. As I said, the audience was probably 75%+ Ivy Prep supporters and he acted like they did not even exist. He looked only at his supporters and the camera while making comments that came across to me sounding like, "I support Charter schools . . . just not yours." It came across as a superintendent not being in touch with our REAL communities and needs. He didn't lend much credence to the "local support" GCPS can offer.

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Mack711 1 year, 7 months ago

Wilbanks will not support this ammendment because it takes away power and money away from him and may show that the BOE is not doing its job. We should have a choice in how and where we send our children to school. A little competition will not hurt anyone, if nothing else it may make the system better.

As for the elected officals that are on the school board, espically Murphy, should be voted out. There should be term limits on these offices. It is time to get some new thoughts and ideas from someone else on the board.They did not want to have a Q&A because Wilbanks may not come out so well and show his hand. He knew that this audience was not with him on this idea therefore he may not want to embarass himself. He probably gave the questions to a staff member to answer, and probably answered the ones that support his position. Remember they, Wilbanks and Murphy, control the entire education system in the county and do not want to do anything to upset their power.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 7 months ago

Even if the charter school amendment passes, that does not guarantee Ivy Prep will get renewed. They fell short of GCBE achievement levels, so the state gave them another year to bring up the scores. If they fail to achieve, the will probably be closed anyway. If they do achieve the standards, they probably will get renewed even without the charter bill passing.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 7 months ago

Georgia State Board of Education

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ptcconcerns 1 year, 7 months ago

Wilbanks did a horrible job speaking. The only take away I got from Wilbanks was that he didn't care enough about either the subject or the people to which he would be speaking to bother to prepare. Dr. Murphy talked in circles as usual. Rep Jones made an excellent presentation. She was prepared and was able to state her case eloquently.

Is this the right move for GA public shools? Are charter schools the answer to our public school woes? Probably not, but they are much better than the status quo which is all that Murphy and Wilbanks can provide. Charter Schools are only part of the journey not the destination. I believe we have to go down this road to shake up the system. Hopefully we can get the entire Gwinnett School board turned over in the next couple of election cycles and get some fresh ideas on how to deal with the overcrowding and economic obstacles facing GCPS..

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kevin 1 year, 7 months ago

The "dual" system is needed because the one we have now, the local boards, are doing nothing but stopping the Charter schools from existence. Bring on the vote. Yes, yes , yes. I will do anything to get Charter schools in the hands of private corporations. It is time for real change!

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Kat 1 year, 7 months ago

Children should be able to get a good education in the public schools. I can certainly understand why a charter school looks like the solution. It's what schools and students used to look like. Now we have school resource officers (police) a fixture in the schools. Used to be the only time you saw a police officer in the school was when they were talking about safety. Also have some high schools that have offices for probation officers. Lack of parental involvement, schools having special classes and classifications for everything imaginable. I work with young people and the apathy they have toward their schools is sad. How did schools get to the point they are at now? We shouldn't have Give Centers. Put the students in uniforms, demand parent and student accountability and stop letting the students disrupt the schools.

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LarryMajor 1 year, 7 months ago

What we stand to lose with this amendment is our voice in government. While people in other parts of the world rebel against their governments to establish their right to vote, some of you here are willing to throw away what we have by taking authority away from elected officials and handing it to a politically appointed group. If you think elected officials turn a deaf ear, it’s pure folly to believe a political group that you can’t vote out of office will care at all about you.

The first Commission took millions in state funding away from kids enrolled in Gwinnett schools and gave to their own pet schools. The only way we could stop them was the lawsuit. If our constitution is changed, there will be no stopping them.

Make no mistake, this isn’t about education; it’s about power – your power to control our government.

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pcjohn 1 year, 7 months ago

Looking at our elected officials here in Gwinnett I don't know if we lose much by taking away their authority. We elect Commissioners who ram their personal projects (Beaudreau's trash plan, Nasuti's ball field, Lassiter's future approval of Briscoe Field commercialization, etc) down our throats in spite of the objection of the people. In this school district Wilbanks rules like a monarch, apparently not answering to anyone except the State anyway, and is permitted by our local government to give away school money to his friends at other Agencies. All of our elected officials are completely interchangeable like the Stepford wives. It makes no difference whom we elect since they all are from the same pool of political hacks that have a stranglehold in this County. Even though "elected", they still are basically political appointees, with rare exceptions.

I agree with you Larry in so far as it is about power. Unfortunately, it's about the power of our local officials, not about the power of the people, as it should be.

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LarryMajor 1 year, 7 months ago

The difference is, a former Commissioner and others are already in prison and another former Commissioner and others are on their way. Compare this to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission members who ripped us off for millions of dollars. Not only did they walk because it was “legal” for a time, but they are the very same people pushing this amendment. That should scare you. If we mung our constitution and give these people what they want, even Danny Porter won’t be able to root out the corruption because we will have legalized corruption and cronyism at the highest level. Please reconsider your position.

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

Danny Porter wouldn't see corruption if it drove a car and ran him over. He lets dirty politicians and cops off the hook regularly. His inaction with the BOC could be considered as enabling the corruption that appears to be endemic in Gwinnett.

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dman 1 year, 7 months ago

Bring back the Paddle with holes! A big 6'4" muscular Male to be in charge of discipline. This equals some scared students. Scared Students then will be afraid to do something "stupid" in school. Therefore, teachers can concentrate more on their "educating" our children, instead of worrying walking around the school scared that they could do something wrong or something wrong happen to them. Seems parents only want to "get involved" when their child is "done wrong" instead of being involved the whole time...in good times and bad times. In this person's opinion, Discipline could be the key in bringing our Schools back into "our" control.

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

Roger that, dman !! Discipline is a necessary adjunct to every classroom situation.

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