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Charter School Debate Comes to NE Cobb

Monday night's forum at Lassiter High School features the Cobb legislative delegation chairman and the Cobb school superintendent.

Charter schools haven't been a hot-button issue in the East Cobb area in recent years.

But the area's role as an incubator of the concept in the county is being recalled as Cobb school officials speak out against a proposed Georgia constitutional amendment that would supersede local control of charter school applications.

The matter of HR 1162 that's on the Nov. 6 ballot is the subject of a forum Monday night at Lassiter High School.

With just eight days before the election, and as early voting expands this week in Cobb, the issue could galvanize local voters, especially with a presidential race at the top of the ballot.

State Rep. Ed Setzler, a North Cobb Republican and chairman of the Cobb legislative delegation, and Cobb School Superintendent Michael Hinojosa will speak at tonight's forum, which is co-sponsored by the Lassiter PTSA and the Mountain View Elementary School PTA.

The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and will take place in the Lassiter Theater. The school is located at 2601 Shallowford Road.

Setzler and most members of the GOP Caucus in the General Assembly support the amendment, which allow the creation of a committee to examine charter school applications. The seven-member panel would be appointed by the Governor, Lietuenant Governor and Speaker of the House.

But Cobb school officials and most PTA organizations have been adamantly opposed to the measure, pointing to the loss of local control.

The Marietta Daily Journal agreed with that rationale in an editorial published on Sunday.

Addison Elementary School in Northeast Cobb was the first charter school in Georgia in 1995, and Walton High School and Sedalia Park Elementary School in East Cobb also have become charters.

But all three schools became charters according to Cobb County School District auspices, under which school board reviews and votes to renew or decline charter renewals.

At a forum last week at Hillgrove High School, Setzler continued his advocacy for school choice, especially in lower-performing schools and school districts: “I think it’s an absolute moral imperative for us to give single moms and parents without means options for choice."

Like many pro-amendment forces, he asserted that local school districts often work against the interests of parents seeking better educational options for their children by preventing competition.

He was opposed by Cobb Board of Education member Alison Bartlett, who expressed concern at a school board meeting later in the week that HR 1162 would do more than deprive school districts of local control.

According to a report by WABE-FM, 70 percent of the estimated $2 million raised by Families for Better Public Schools, a pro-amendment group, has come from out of state. Among the contributors are Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and a school choice group formed by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C. school superintendent.

The group last week mailed out glossy flyers entitled "Hope is in Your Hands," including a distribution in Cobb.

In impassioned remarks at Thursday's school board meeting, Bartlett said she supports charter schools says state authority to approve them would benefit for-profit corporations above all.

"This isn't about helping needy children, this is about taking money out of public schools," she said. "They are taking money out of the state of Georgia. Just follow the money. Do your homework."

"Ditto," said Hinojosa, who will be debating Setzler at Lassiter.

East Cobb representative Scott Sweeney, one of five Republicans on the seven-member school board -- Bartlett is a Democrat -- said he was concerned about three powerful politicians appointing the charter school committee members.

"It doesn't matter what side of the political aisle you are on," said Sweeney, who has served as the board chairman this year. "You have one political party trying to impose its will on an entire community."

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