Gwinnett, Fulton school districts sued over charter opposition

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Gwinnett, Fulton school districts sued over charter opposition

Threats gave way to action Monday as supporters of the charter schools constitutional amendment sued Georgia school districts, which they accuse of illegally using taxpayer resources to oppose the amendment.

Fulton County Schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools were named as representatives of all 180 school districts in Georgia.

The suit, filed in the Superior Court of Fulton County, alleges they and “the rest of the Education Empire are engaged in a coordinated campaign and conspiracy.”

Lawyers for the districts and Glenn Delk, the Atlanta attorney representing those filing suit, are scheduled to appear before a judge Wednesday afternoon. The judge has been asked to order the districts to stop engaging in political activity with taxpayer resources and “to disseminate factual information prepared by the plaintiffs.”

Instead of the typical ‘no comment’ offered in legal cases, Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa reiterated his position that his district did nothing wrong in posting question-and-answer material about the amendment on its website. That information remains on the district’s site, and Delk’s clients claim it is misleading and openly anti-amendment.

Avossa said parents have questions about the proposed amendment, which, if approved by voters in November, would guarantee the state’s power to authorize charter schools and establish a commission to consider applications for them.

“I get so many questions on this,” Avossa said. “We decided to put a Q-and-A together. Let’s answer the questions.”

Gwinnett officials said they are still reviewing the suit and could not comment.

Jeannie “Sis” Henry, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association, said board members will not be intimidated into dropping their opposition. “This is no conspiracy,” Henry said. “This is not the Evil Empire. These are educators, and they’re opposed to this.”

Monday’s filing disclosed Delk’s clients, whom he previously declined to identify. They include Rae Anne Harkness, a charter school parent in DeKalb County; Kelley O’Bryan Gary, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party; and Rich Thompson, founder and chief executive officer of 100Dads, a charter school parent group that supports school choice.

The charter school fight splits largely along party lines, with many Democrats opposing the amendment as a potential funding threat to traditional public schools and many Republicans supporting it as an alternative to parents whose children attend failing traditional public schools.

There are notable exceptions, including Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge, a Republican who angered many in his party by coming out against the amendment.

In announcing his opposition, Barge released a 29-point statement, parts of which some districts have used in relaying information about the amendment to parents.

Delk’s clients complained that the superintendent violated state law in using public resources to oppose the amendment. They threatened to file suit.

Barge insisted he had not violated state law, but he removed the statement from the Georgia Department of Education’s Web site, which later included an alert that the department was neutral on the issue.

Jeffy Scott and Nancy Badertscher contributed to this article

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