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Opinion: Who sees greatest opportunities from Deal's Opportunity School District?

Dan DeLamater of Athens describes himself as a proud parent, a disgruntled conservative and an insurance executive.

By Dan DeLamater

As a lifelong conservative – most always voting Republican – I am disgusted. Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District is certainly creating “opportunity” long before it even comes in front of Georgia’s voters.

Unfortunately, opportunity in this administration is defined by crony capitalism not beneficial education reform.

First, we have learned about ALEC, a hideous national legislative-steering organization where lobbyists, private interests, and legislators craft legislation behind closed doors. There is no sunlight on this entity. There is no accountability. Participants are back-room puppet masters controlling the local and national political agenda. Until recently, most of us had no idea it even existed.

Regarding one important topic, ALEC is admittedly and proudly against public education. The for-profit education industry rules ALEC’s agenda here – including testing companies, consultants, for-profit schools.  And lest you doubt ALEC’s influence in Georgia, know that state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, has served as National Chairman for ALEC.

Second, we have learned that Gov. Deal has become enamored with state takeover of school districts.  The power play topped the governor’s education agenda in the last legislative session, in the form of the legislation to allow a state-wide referendum to create the “Opportunity School District.”

This state takeover is contrary to the long-standing “conservative” mandate of local control within the Republican Party since a state takeover clearly usurps locally elected school boards. This is contrary to any information provided by the governor’s appointed Education Reform Commission as their recommendations are still under construction to this day.  This is contrary to our state’s Constitutional mandate as Georgia state government is forbidden to control local school districts.

Third, we know the governor hired an inexperienced but eager-to-lead Erin Hames as his education expert. The statewide-elected Georgia state school superintendent was evidently not an appropriate expert for Gov. Deal.  This is not a surprise, of course.  After all, Deal has minimized and circumvented the voters’ superintendent for years – John Barge previously and Richard Woods recently.

The aforementioned Hames tirelessly shepherded Georgia’s version of ALEC legislation through the legislative process.  The “Opportunity School District” will allow the state, if our voters so permit by vote in November 2016, to take power away from locally elected school boards and run schools from the hallowed halls of the Gold Dome.

The statewide elected superintendent will not have any part in this OSD.  Rather, the governor will empower even more bureaucratic control by appointing a czar to distribute lucrative contracts to special interests with illusory ideas and political donations.

Fourth, we have recently learned Ms.  Hames will depart the Governor’s Office on August 31.  Ms. Hames has gotten a quick jump on her upcoming employment – she launched an education consulting company on Aug. 5.

In a curious and somewhat alarming fact, we have also learned the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education has already voted (on August 10) Dan DeLamaterto retain Ms. Hames’ services under a no-bid, single-source annual contract valued at $96,000.

No-bid.  $96,000. Annually.  The APS was actually going to sneak that through via “Consent Agenda” until discussion was requested by education activists at the meeting.  The vote was not unanimous, but approval occurred 7-2.

Put the pieces together, friends. For-profit education proponents have steered their agenda through back room conventions at ALEC.  Our governor, along with friends in the Legislature, adopted this agenda to help large political donors.  The governor hired Ms. Hames to create his signature OSD proposal, thereby allowing statewide takeover of schools.

Before the OSD is even official, Ms. Hames is departing the Governor’s Office to consult within her newly created cottage industry.  She will help APS and presumably others avoid takeover by the OSD she helped create.  Her first contract has even been procured before she has resigned from office.  There is no doubt that Ms. Hames understands “opportunity.”

The APS Board has $96,000 available to hire Ms. Hames.  I fear for those who are not as fortunate as the APS.  Or Gov. Deal.  Or Ms. Hames.  Or their friends.  I wonder where public school children in Georgia fall in this pecking order… you’ll be hard pressed to find their interests represented by anyone involved in this sordid tale.


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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.