Ga. teacher groups fear payback in Opportunity School District fight


When Gov. Nathan Deal’s staff asked Georgia school districts for a record of dues collected for teacher organizations, educators figured it wasn’t just a case of routine government fact-finding.

They saw it as a precursor to the political payback ahead for fighting the governor’s Opportunity School District proposal, Amendment 1 on Tuesday’s ballot.

“It’s unfortunate about the governor’s implied retaliation toward all education associations that disagree with him on this issue,” said Sid Chapman, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators. “However, we strongly feel the defeat of Amendment 1 is too important to worry about political consequences. We feel the well-being of our children is worth the risk.”

The governor’s office said it only wants to make sure teacher groups such as the GAE and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators are treated the same way as charitable organizations, such as the United Way.

The battle for Amendment 1, which would allow the state to directly intervene in chronically low-performing schools, has been costly, bitter and at times personal. Opponents have spent big money on TV ads saying that the power-hungry state is trying to wipe out local control by “taking over” schools. Local school boards have very publicly voted to oppose the measure. Critics have characterized a contract the governor’s daughter-in-law has to raise money for a fund heavily bankrolling the pro-Amendment 1 campaign as a “pay-for-play scheme to move money from the schoolhouse to Deal’s house.”

Deal, meanwhile, has promised closer scrutiny of local school boards, whom he accused of often doing too little to help children in poor-performing schools. Deal staffers said the governor is ready to take away local school boards’ flexibility over how they use state money for teacher pay raises. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that only 40 percent of districts used the $300 million the state allocated for raises this year for permanent pay hikes.

About two weeks after Deal Chief of Staff Chris Riley filed an Open Records Act request for the dues information, about two dozen districts hadn’t responded with the information, according to records reviewed by the AJC. One large metro Atlanta district was on that list — DeKalb County — but officials there sent the AJC the dues report and said it was submitted to the governor’s office Monday.

The data gathered by the governor’s office shows that districts collect more than $18 million a year in dues from teachers and other personnel for PAGE and the GAE, the two largest teacher groups in the state.

The GAE’s national parent, the National Education Association, has poured at least $4.7 million into the campaign to defeat Deal’s Amendment 1. Part of the GAE’s dues go to the NEA, so Chapman said the national organization is spending money on the campaign that was contributed by Georgia teachers.

Teacher groups have speculated why the governor’s office wants the information.

They are concerned that the governor’s office asked for the information to prop up future legislation to prevent educators from using payroll deductions to join professional organizations, such as the GAE and PAGE, or to force either the groups or members to pay administrative fees.

Jen Talaber Ryan, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the administration is trying to find out whether school districts keep any of the dues money for overhead, like other charitable organizations.

“The Georgia State Charitable Contributions Program allows state and local employees to donate to charities of their choice, such as the American Cancer Society or United Way, through payroll deductions,” Ryan said. “The state is required to utilize a portion of these contributions to cover overhead and processing costs.

“To ensure that charities, nonprofit groups and membership organizations are all treated equitably, information was sought from local school systems,” she said. “This request included asking local districts whether processing fees were collected for said membership organizations.”

Systems that responded to the administration’s request said they didn’t charge such administrative fees.

Craig Harper of PAGE said most school districts allow payroll deductions for voluntary benefits costs, contributions to organizations such as the United Way, to education foundations, and other community services, as well as to PAGE and the GAE.

“This is no different than payroll deductions for other voluntary benefits, including life insurance, dental or eye care plans, flexible spending accounts, pre-paid legal services for family members or even pet insurance,” he said.

Harper said his organization thinks the governor’s interest in payroll deductions is aimed at proposing legislation to eliminate or restrict professional associations dues from being collected or to mandate districts assess administrative fees.

“Targeted legislation like this would send a clear signal to Georgia’s educators regarding Governor Deal’s displeasure with educators and their advocates for speaking up about the issues that matter to them,” he said. “And any attempt to dictate how local districts administer their day-to-day payroll processes would be an unnecessary and unwarranted state overreach into the administrative decision-making of local boards of education and superintendents.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Georgia Politics

After Virginia, Georgia has the most Confederate symbols in the country
After Virginia, Georgia has the most Confederate symbols in the country

Ever since the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., calls for removing Confederate memorials in Georgia have grown louder. If someone were to take up that task, they would have their work cut out for them. Georgia has the most Confederate symbols in the country after Virginia. The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled a list of Confederate...
Opinion roundup from the right: Trump’s record on race; Motor Voter; the judge was carrying a gun
Opinion roundup from the right: Trump’s record on race; Motor Voter; the judge was carrying a gun

A roundup of editorials from the Right on Tuesday includes a look at President Donald Trump’s record on race; how Motor Voter laws can damage an election and the judge who was carrying a gun and fired back when he was attacked. From Stephen Moore: Is Trump a racist? He has no great record on race, but he is creating jobs for blacks and other...
Court orders new environmental review for Sabal Trail Pipeline
Court orders new environmental review for Sabal Trail Pipeline

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a second environmental review of a network of natural gas pipelines being built across Alabama, Florida and Georgia, saying federal regulators had not included enough information about potential greenhouse gas emissions that will result from burning the gas the pipelines will carry. The $3 billion project...
Protesters demand removal of NYC statue hailing doctor who experimented on slave women
Protesters demand removal of NYC statue hailing doctor who experimented on slave women

NEW YORK — When Sharon Thompson was a girl, she used to get a bad feeling when she walked by an imposing statue of a man on the edge of Central Park near East Harlem.          On Thursday, Thompson learned the story behind the statue when a local news station produced a piece on it...
Big pensions on the rise in Georgia retirement systems
Big pensions on the rise in Georgia retirement systems

The number of Georgia retired university employees, teachers and state employees receiving pensions of more than $100,000 a year has more than doubled in the past six years, according to retirement system records. But state law prevents the public from going online and looking up who any of those retirees are, despite massive taxpayer investment...
More Stories