In light of Attorney General Sam Olens’ recent ruling that school boards can’t attempt to sway voters’ opinions on a Nov. 6 constitutional amendment ballot question, the Richmond County Board of Education canceled plans to discuss the issue Tuesday.
The board intended to vote on a resolution opposing the amendment, which would allow a state committee to establish charter schools without regard to the wishes of local school boards.
School board attorney Pete Fletcher advised the board not to make the resolution and cited Olens’ opinion, which states that school boards can’t use taxpayer resources or funds to rally for or against the charter school bill.
“It’s similar to the rules when we have a (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax),” Fletcher said. “The school board studies and recommends a SPLOST to the voters but forms a committee of other persons to help serve that because it becomes a, quote, partisan question.”
Fletcher said board members are allowed to express opinions as individual citizens but not with board resources. Board members are also allowed to present facts to the public on the issue, but must do so without intentionally swaying a vote.
Prior to Olens’ ruling,the school board passed a resolution against state-run charter schools in February without specifically naming the amendment, House Resolution 1162.
“The lack of support for public education sought by those in support of school vouchers, state-approved charter schools, and programs that allow public school funds to be redirected to private schools, serves to deepen inequalities and the promise of opportunity for every able student to achieve the American dream and contribute to the greatness of this country,” the resolution states.
On Oct. 3, Olens sent a letter to state Superintendent John Barge stating that no state law allows a local school board to engage in electoral advocacy.
Board Vice President Venus Cain said it is unfair that school boards can’t publicly endorse an opinion while more than 90 percent of campaign money in favor of the amendment has come from out-of-state sources.
“It’s like they’re spending more energy trying to silence the people who truly care about the children in this state while we have all the influence coming from out of the state working to make it happen,” Cain said.