partlycloudy
Monday August 31st, 2015 9:18AM

Lawsuit filed against district in charter campaign

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA - A lawsuit filed Monday by five Georgia residents accuses the state's 180 local school districts of illegally using taxpayer money to campaign against a proposed constitutional amendment that would put more control of charter schools in the state's hands.

The amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot would allow the state to create a new board that could pick private entities to run the independent schools financed by taxpayers. Local boards currently control charters, though any applicant who is denied a charter may appeal to the state Board of Education.

The lawsuit argues that by using school board meetings or teacher staff meetings to organize opposition to the amendment, officials were improperly using a state resource time out of their workdays for political purposes. It asks a state judge to make them halt such activities.

Filed in Fulton County Superior Court, the suit names the Fulton County School System and the Gwinnett County School District as lead defendants. The systems, the suit alleges, are part of an ``Education Empire'' that is using public money to urge Georgians to vote against the amendment. Their aim, according to the plaintiffs, is ``to retain their current monopoly power over public education in Georgia.''

Susan Hale, a spokesman woman for Fulton schools, said in an email, ``Fulton County Schools hasn't taken a side on the charter amendment issue. We have provided information on our website, through a Q&A, that addresses many of the questions received by our community.'' She declined specific comment on the lawsuit ``because it is now an ongoing legal process.''

Officials in Gwinnett did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did a spokeswoman for the Georgia School Boards Association.

The suit cites state officials giving public speeches opposing the amendment and several local school boards adopting resolutions against the measure. It also alleges that the opposition has organized at staff meetings of public school teachers. The complaint cites a 1981 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that stated: ``The expenditure by a political subdivision of public money to influence the citizens and voters of the entity contains within it the possibility of the corrupt use of influence to perpetuate a local administration's power.''

Neither Superintendent John Barge nor the state Board of Education is named among the defendants. The plaintiffs' attorney, Glenn Delk, had previously threatened legal action against Barge for explaining his opposition using a state website. Barge removed the material.

Plaintiffs include Rich Thompson, the founder of 100Dads, an Atlanta-based civic group that backs expansion of charter schools; R. Allen Hughes, who separately has contributed to several libertarian and conservative politicians and causes; Kelley O'Bryan Gary, chairwoman of the Jackson County Republican Party; Rae Anne Harkness, a DeKalb County mother who pushed legislators earlier this year to approve the amendment for a statewide referendum; and Kara Martin.

The complaint asks the court to block the defendants from any further alleged violations and to reimburse the public treasury for any actual violations.

Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob has scheduled a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction for Wednesday at 2 p.m. An injunction is granted in cases where a judge believes the party seeking the order has a reasonable chance to win the case.

Shoob has been involved in the charter school debate already. The state previously had a charter commission like the one contemplated under the November amendment. Opponents sued, arguing that the state constitution limits the state's power to grant independent charters. Shoob sided with the state, ruling that the General Assembly was within its powers to create the body. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed Shoob in a 4-3 ruling.

That led Gov. Nathan Deal and others to push the amendment that voters will settle next month.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Couch names administrative team
Ahead of his scheduled swearing in Friday, Hall County Sheriff-elect Gerald Couch named his top administrative team Monday.
6:28PM ( 2 years ago )
Tech beats Southern California in Sun Bowl
Tevin Washington threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score to help Georgia Tech beat Southern California 21-7 on Monday in the Sun Bowl.
5:54PM ( 2 years ago )
Hall Co. officials launch health-based initiative for employees
Hall County officials believe healthy county employees will be of greater service to the county. With that in mind, they have created a health-based fitness initiative to provide free fitness training for county workers.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Gov. Deal proposes $50M more on pre-kindergarten
Gov. Nathan Deal said he wants to spend $50 million to reverse cuts to Georgia's pre-kindergarten program that increased class sizes and cut teacher pay.
By Associated Press
8:14AM ( 1 hour ago )
AAA: Lowest Labor Day gas prices in a decade
Motorists in the southeastern United States should find the lowest Labor Day gas prices in a decade.
By AccessWDUN staff
5:30AM ( 3 hours ago )
Ga., five other states partner to combat impaired driving
Law enforcement officials in six states, including Georgia, are launching their 24th annual "Hands Across the Border" campaign aimed at catching motorists driving under the influence.
By The Associated Press
7:57PM ( 13 hours ago )
Turner Field US flag at half-staff, players' families deal with grief after fan dies in fall
ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. flag flew at half-staff at Turner Field on Sunday, one day after a fan died following his fall from the upper deck into the lower-level stands during a game between the Atlanta...
7:26PM ( 13 hours ago )
Developmental disabilities group to hold public forum in Gainesville
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) will host a series of public forums between now and Sept. 30 in order to collect public input on its next strategic plan, including one in Gainesville.
By AccessWDUN staff
4:00PM ( 17 hours ago )