Charter schools commission holds first meeting since its rebirth

It’s back. The State Charter Schools Commission, brought back to life with the passage of the charter schools constitutional amendment in November, held its first meeting Wednesday.

“It’s good to be back,” said Tom Lewis, a Georgia State University executive who is one of three members of the old commission appointed to serve on its successor.

With about 30 charter school supporters looking on, the seven-member commission did not consider applications for new charter schools. That will come later.

Instead, the commission, whose members were nominated by Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston and officially appointed by the state Board of Education, focused on the basics: introducing itself, appointing a chairman, getting a detailed overview of its authority and, finally, setting up a search committee to find an executive director who will lead a paid staff of about six people. It met at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business in northeast Atlanta.

The introductions:

There’s Lewis, a Cagle nominee who is the senior vice president for external affairs at GSU. Another Cagle nominee, Paul W. Williams, is an accountant who is chief financial officer of Brickstream Corporation, a Norcross company that provides businesses with information about potential customers.

Ralston’s nominees were Jose Perez, a former state Board of Education member who is president of a marketing consulting firm in Peachtree Corners, and James Hogg, a 30-year education veteran who served as interim director of charter schools for the state Department of Education.

Deal put forward three people: Charles Knapp, the former University of Georgia president who was voted in as chairman on Tuesday; Tony Lowden, a pastor and the executive director of a Macon-area program for at-risk schoolchildren; and Jennifer Rippner, a charter-schools authorizing consultant who served as education policy adviser to former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Rippner, Lewis and Knapp all served on the old commission, which ceased operating 20 months ago when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the commission did not have the authority to approve and direct local funding to charter schools.

That ruling was a rallying point for charter school advocates, who were successful in their quest to change the state constitution to clarify the state’s power to authorize charter schools.

Opponents of the constitutional change argued that it was not necessary, since the state Board of Education has been approving charter school applications in the absence of the commission. They also argued that it would undermine the authority of local school boards, where most charter school applications must first be considered.

In November, voters weighed in, passing the proposed amendment and bringing the commission back to life.

Lowden said the commission’s rebirth comes not a moment too soon.

“We have to break the cycle of poor education, poor jobs and poor communities,” he said. “I don’t know if this is the silver bullet, but I’d sure like to take a couple shots at it.”

Lewis was appointed to lead the search committee, which he said would like to hire an executive director before the end of February, when the commission’s next meeting is likely to be held.

No salary parameters have been set for any of the staff positions, he said.

The previous commission had an annual budget of $520,000, but that budget was expected to swell significantly as it approved more applications for more schools.

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