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Saturday May 23rd, 2015 10:57AM

Charter schools fight pension proposal

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) Georgia charter schools are fighting a proposal that would require the independent public schools to contribute money toward pension debt for the traditional public education system.

The idea may have a hard time in the Georgia General Assembly, where many lawmakers support charter schools as publicly financed alternatives to traditional schools. But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that charter backers want to make sure they kill the bill after lawmakers convene Jan. 13.

Georgia Charter Schools Association executive Tony Roberts notes that charter school teachers won't ever receive public pension benefits. So, he argues, charters shouldn't have to reserve part of their budgets for the retirement system.

``It's so important to stop an additional takeaway for those pensions because it could move a good deal of those charter schools toward closure,'' Roberts said. ``Their teachers never got any advantage from it whatsoever, and now they're being asked to help shoulder the bill. It just doesn't seem right.''

Atlanta school officials argue that charter schools are part of the entire public education system and should share in all of its costs. The Atlanta school district has $500 million in pension obligations. Last fiscal year, the system spent about $13,000 per student, compared to $10,000 per student spent by charter schools. The difference comes largely from administration, pension and transportation costs.

``Atlanta Public Schools is strongly advocating for the passage of (House Bill) 680,'' Associate Superintendent Steve Smith wrote in a memo outlining legislative priorities. The newspaper obtained the document, dated Nov. 4, through a public records request.

``This bill would legally allow the district to share its financial liabilities proportionately with all schools,'' Smith continued.

APS declined further comment to the newspaper.

The bill would involve rewriting the portion of education law that the Georgia Supreme Court relied on in September to rule that taxpayer money designated for charter campuses can't be used to pay for system-wide expenses.

Signaling the uphill climb for the bill's backers, one local representative has abandoned the effort after initially agreeing to sponsor the plan.

``Charter schools should not get favorable treatment,'' Rep. Margaret Kaiser, D-Atlanta, told the newspaper. ``But I don't think you should be able to go back retroactively and hold them responsible for a debt they weren't part of incurring.''

Kaiser is a member of the House Education Committee. That panel's chairman, Republican Brooks Coleman of Duluth, has promised that House Bill 680 will get a hearing.

The session opens Jan. 13.
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