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Opinion: Opportunity School District won't enhance local control

The Rev. Timothy McDonald has served as senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta for 32 years. In this essay, he shares his objections to Amendment 1, the Opportunity School District.

McDonald is founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council and president of the African American Ministers In Action of People for the American Way. A longtime civil rights activist, McDonald is one of three lead plaintiffs in a class-action suit over the language in Amendment 1. The lawsuit maintains the language is “so misleading and deceptive that it violates the due process and voting rights of all Georgia voters.”

By Rev. Timothy McDonald

In a last-ditch effort to mislead voters further, proponents of the so-called “Opportunity School District” have put out an audacious ad that claims the plan “will actually enhance local control.”

This is a blatant lie.

By design, OSD requires an amendment to the Georgia constitution, which circumvents the authority of local, elected Georgia school boards and hands control to a political appointee. This education czar will answer only to the governor and will have absolute power. If the education czar decides to fire teachers without cause or to close a school entirely, parents and teachers will have no recourse.

As Ambassador and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young stated in a recent press conference, "Family values and the traditions that have made us great as nation have very seldom come from the state down; they have come from people up. And public education controlled by communities is the basis of a continued, growing, creative society."

The enabling legislation pays only lip service to our desire, as concerned parents, teachers and community leaders, to play an active role in our children’s education. It promises opportunity for community input, but not accountability, while our schools are steamrolled by the state. But mere community input is meaningless without accountability, and accountability is what is at stake.

So let us put to rest the argument that opponents to Amendment 1 are defenders of the status quo. As protesters chanted at a recent Georgia PTA press conference: “Keep in mind — you ought to know, parents aren’t the status quo!”

We who oppose Amendment 1 DO seek change, and we seek progress. The schools the state has labeled “failing” are in fact located in communities where the state has failed the schools, and that is a wrong that must be righted. Georgia parents have watched as their public school children’s art and music programs have been decimated. Teachers have to dig into their own pockets to buy basic school supplies, and in 2016  20 percent of Georgia school districts were still furloughing teachers. Teachers in these districts can’t even dream about raises — they’re still living with pay cuts.

Yet, despite the odds, we are making progress. In Georgia, we're consistently seeing minority students advance at faster rates than white students, despite what pro-takeover advocates tell us. In 2014  the AJC reported the persistent achievement gap between white students and other key groups is significantly narrowing.

The key to our success is community involvement and accountability, and that is assuredly tied to local control. The members of a local school board are our neighbors, and they understand the challenges that are unique to our local schools. Our kids play sports together, our families worship together, and we see one another on the street. When we have a problem, question or concern, we talk to them. And if members of the school board go astray or are derelict in their duties, we can lean on the democratic process and appeal their decisions or vote them out of office.

If given the proper resources, our communities can continue to make great strides in raising our children out of poverty. But if Amendment 1 passes, it will deplete our power. OSD will trap families under the rule of an education czar with no connection or accountability to our communities.

As Hank Aaron so powerfully pleaded at a recent press conference, “We have to defeat this. We have to vote ‘no’ on Amendment 1.”


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.