Columbia Co. superintendent calls local legislators' votes 'a slap in the face'

By: Katie Beasley Email
By: Katie Beasley Email

News 12 First at Five / Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

EVANS, Ga. -- They're the ones who are supposed to represent people living in Columbia County, but it looks like two of the three state representatives weren't listening to the school system's own message as they voted to approve a controversial charter school resolution.

Columbia County school leaders aren't happy about it.

The resolution will change the way charter schools are approved, essentially stripping the power of local districts to say "yay" or "nay" and giving it to the state.

Supporters say the state should have the power to create charter schools against the will of the local districts, but those against the resolution, including Columbia County school leaders, say it will hurt your child's education.

Ginger Thomas may homeschool her three Columbia County children, but she understands the importance of a public education.

"The education of our children, that's the future of our country," Thomas said.

This week, members of the Georgia House narrowly passed a resolution changing the way charter schools are approved and funded.

It's a change many local school districts oppose.

"Another attempt to divert money from public education is ridiculous," said Columbia County Superintendent Charles Nagle.

Nagle says it will mean more education cuts.

"We're teaching 2,000 more students with 200 less teachers than four to five years ago," Nagle said.

Thomas agrees, saying it would be "detrimental" to cut the budget any further.

The resolution passed, despite the Columbia County Board of Education and other local school districts publicly announcing concerns.

"It's very disappointing," Nagle said.

Nagle says he is most disappointed with his own legislators. Reps. Barbara Sims and Lee Anderson both voted to support the resolution. Rep. Ben Harbin was the only one to vote no.

"Obviously whatever pressures were placed on them were far greater than meeting the wishes of our boards of education. There was a lot of pressure put on Mr. Harbin and he stood very strong and was committed to supporting what was in the best interest for our school system," Nagle said.

Nagle says his principals feel let down.

"Their morale is extremely low. They feel this is a slap in the face," he said.

And Thomas says if the resolution hurts education, she'll think about teaching politicians a lesson next election season.

"You're putting your faith in those candidates to represent you," she said.

News 12 reached out to Reps. Sims, Anderson and Harbin.

Rep. Sims was the only one to get back with us. She says she's concerned there's so much unhappiness about this resolution and her vote was not intended to be a slap in the face. She added that she's been promised changes are in the works to make sure that local funding will not be affected.

Keep in mind, Columbia County Schools are already working to fill a $13 million gap for next school year.

The resolution is working its way through the Senate now, and if approved, could end up on a ballot this November.

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