Governor Deal vs. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce

August 23, 2012 17:26 pm

by Buzz Brockway · 14 comments

Today Governor Deal spoke at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s Monthly Membership meeting -listen to his full speech here. He spoke about economic development (something the Gwinnett Chamber does very well) and some of his plans moving forward. The Governor also made mention of the upcoming vote to allow the State to approve charter schools denied by local school boards. I Tweeted this about the Governor’s comments:

Governor Deal praises Ivy Prep and says State approved charter schools are needed even in high performing systems like Gwinnett.

The AJC’s Nancy Badertscher filed a report as well.

“In many parts of our state, students are stuck in schools that are failing … in schools that are not making adequate yearly progress,” Deal told members of the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce.

Deal spoke with Camie Young of the Gwinnett Daily Post after his speech:

But Deal said that the eight state-chartered schools in Georgia are all outperforming the public schools in the area. He pointed to Ivy Preparatory Academy, located in Peachtree Corners, as an example, since the students at the all-girls school are doing better on standardized tests than even the high-quality Gwinnett schools in their area.

“We want to give parents and students some choices,” he said, adding that the proposal would not decrease state funding for public school districts. “The important thing is we have the right facts on the table (for the Nov. 6 election), so people have a choice.”

It’s not news that Governor Deal would speak in favor of the charter amendment. Today isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. However, as Jim Galloway points out, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is raising money to oppose the amendment.

Earlier this month, Jim Maran, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, sent out invitations for a Sept. 5 fund-raiser – to build cash for a campaign in opposition to the charter school amendment.

Galloway speculates the North Fulton Chamber, led by charter opponent Brandon Beach may come out against the amendment, however I was told today the Fulton Board of Education will likely not publicly oppose it. I’m not aware of another Chamber of Commerce raising money or publicly opposing the charter amendment. In fact the Georgia Chamber of Commerce made the issue a scorecard issue.

Why is the Gwinnett Chamber out there on this issue? Galloway continues:

I understand that the Gwinnett County Board of Education, which also opposes the governor’s measure, makes annual (and relatively large) contributions to the Gwinnett Chamber.

I like the folks at the Gwinnett Chamber. They do a pretty good job advocating on behalf of Gwinnett’s business sector and bringing new business to Gwinnett. I wish they would back off this their opposition because seeing it pass wouldn’t harm Gwinnett’s schools in fact it would help them.

Harry August 23, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Buzz, I agree with you. There’s no reason for the Chamber to oppose the charter concept, except for the contribution from the Board of Education. I would maintain that each and every proposal to fund charter schools and other such experiments with public money be entertained with plenty of skepticism and due diligence, but let’s not rule out the option.

Edward Lindsey August 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Buzz:

Two questions:

1. How much does the Gwinnett School Board contribute to the Gwinnett Chamber each year?

2. How on Earth is that a legitimate school expenditure?

Just asking.

Buzz Brockway August 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm

The Gwinnett Chamber has a program called Partnership Gwinnett. That is their big economic development effort and it’s been very successful. According to this website, GCPS gives Partnership Gwinnett a little over $150,000 per year to pay for the salaries of 2 Partnership Gwinnett employees. They claim it’s legal to do it but I don’t consider it a legitimate school expenditure especially when budgets are tight and teachers aren’t being hired.

SabrinaWorks247 August 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Hi Buzz:

We estimate that the total amount of education funds that has been given to the Gwinnett Chamber, instead of being spent on school children, is approximately $900,000. The Gwinnett County School Board has refused to answer our questions about this issue for the last 6 months. Responses to open records requests we filed show that GCPS does not have one shred of documentation to support their claim that they have received $6 million in return for paying chamber salaries. The Gwinnett Chamber is also unable to support their claim that they generated $800 million in economic activity as a result of having the 2 GCPS paid employees on staff.

SabrinaWorks247 August 23, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Of course, the $900,000 figure only represents the funding from GCPS. Most Gwinnett County taxpayers are unaware that they have given MILLIONS of dollars to the Gwinnett Chamber. Payments to the chamber come from the county, the cities, the Gwinnett Conventions & Visitors Bureau and the CIDs. The chamber CEO sits on the board of the Gwinnett Conventions & Visitors Bureau and Alvin Wilbanks, the GCPS superintendent sits on the board of the chamber. Taxpayer funds went to the chamber while they were lobbying for E-Splost and T-Splost.

Jimmie August 26, 2012 at 10:21 pm

The PTA rep. at our GCPS elementary back to school night recommended to the hundreds of parents in attendance that the Charter was bad for Gwinnett and its teachers. It didn’t sit right with me. The more I learn about the Charter issue, the Chamber, and GCPS intertwined stuff stinks to high heaven. Any news media have the cojones to do a complete undressing of it?

John Konop August 27, 2012 at 8:38 am

In all due respect I do think we have issue withies bill:

1) The bill does not have enough protection for tax payers on how we fund charter schools. We have patern from both parties putting tax payers at higher risk than the private company getting the revenue.

2) We need to promote coordination of charter schools at the local level not force it. Charter schools can play a major roll, but it should be done in a manner that best utilizes fixed overhead tax payers have already invested. The duplication of overhead is something we should be elimanting not promoting. For instance we could cordinate higher education with high schools further via joint enrollment via facilities, faculties, administration…..in high schools…..

3) We should be promoting intern/ co-op style education with the chamber not picking a fight…..

4) We should be creating flexibility in scheduling in high school ie public/private school option, allow sport participation replace gym requirement…..to help foster the intern/co-op concept.

5) We should be working on elimanting and seeking waivers for the failed No Child Left Behind over testing requirements to reduce adminstrative overhead.

6) We should be measuring schools on graduation rate with students either getting into 4 year colleges and or job skill, not a mean score

Kilkenny Kid August 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Couldn’t agree more. When are these local “chambers” going to act like advocates for free-enterprise and not defenders of the status quo? I don’t think any public agency should be allowed to join a Chamber of Commerce, you can see the result!

notsplost August 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for the link and the explanation Buzz.

More and more we see how the Chamber operates. They’ve become a shadow branch of government, so intertwined with the official branches that it is getting hard to tell what, if any, boundaries there are. Kudos to anyone trying to break through darkness and get some real information to the taxpayers on where there money is going.

wicker August 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

The charter amendment will likely pass – overcoming both Democrats and establishment Republican types – because it will have an odd coalition of libertarians, free market conservatives and younger black voters (think Alisha Morgan).

But Deal said that the eight state-chartered schools in Georgia are all outperforming the public schools in the area. He pointed to Ivy Preparatory Academy, located in Peachtree Corners, as an example, since the students at the all-girls school are doing better on standardized tests than even the high-quality Gwinnett schools in their area. ”

That is exactly why charter schools and vouchers (which I oppose for reasons that I won’t get into) are opposed in some corners. Folks who benefit from the current arrangement want to limit competition. If your kid is on track to get into Georgia Tech or Emory by virtue of attending a free high achieving public school, you aren’t going to be too happy about some kid in a charter school or who received a voucher taking your kids’ spot. And think about the whole real estate value thing too … a charter system would ruin the whole “living in an area with great schools drives up housing costs” thing. Why pay extra to live in Brookwood’s zone when you can live anywhere in the county and send your kid to a charter? Or in the case of multi-county charter schools (Georgia has at least one of those) why pay extra to live in Gwinnett at all? You can live in Fulton, Clayton, DeKalb, or wherever. (And yes, a rail or express bus system would make metro Atlanta-wide school choice even more practical, but that is another story for another day).

For a lot of people, charters are cool so long as they are only in urban areas and can be used to poke a thumb in the eye of the urban ruling political classes. So charters in Kasim Reed’s Atlanta? Great idea! But putting them in Gwinnett, Cherokee, etc. and they become less a good idea than a threat. And yes, that is exactly why no voucher bill has ever passed in any state that puts it to a popular vote. Parents who are already paying for the advantage by putting their kids in private school don’t want their kids to have the increased competition from the kids of parents who currently can’t afford it.

SchedulesUSA August 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I think Galloway is being a little presumptuous, I doubt Brandon Beach and the North Fulton Chamber Board would come out in opposition to 1162 considering Fulton County is already a charter school system.

Plus, North Fulton and Beach’s crew through are big supporters of the Governor and threw a big fundraiser for him last year.

LeeAlpharetta August 27, 2012 at 11:33 am

I’m pretty sure Brandon Beach campaigned against state control of charter schools during his most recent senate campaign (the loss to Chip Rogers). It would not surprise me at all to see his GNFCC organization oppose 1162. They seem to be taking cues from Gwinnett’s chamber these days. He’s got his own version of Partnership Gwinnett. In north Fulton it’s called Progress Partners. And just like in Gwinnett, the group takes taxpayer money and lobbies for ballot initiatives and zoning matters.

SabrinaWorks247 August 27, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Hi Lee: You are right. Other metro-Atlanta chambers have seen the set-up that the Gwinnett Chamber has, and to quote the CEO of one chamber who spoke to me, “We are all envious of the funding the Gwinnett Chamber gets.” Don’t forget that the Gwinnett Chamber gets funding from the county, Gwinnett County Public Schools, the cities, the Gwinnett Conventions & Visitors Bureau, and the CIDs. I caution taxpayers in other counties to hang on to your wallets and watch carefully to see what proposals come forward to get you to fund your local chamber.

UpHere August 24, 2012 at 6:13 am

Beach would do it just to try to help himself feel better after his whipping at the polls. But, the business community that is active in the North Fulton chamber would bring him back down. Nancy Davis from Georgia Power is close to Jan Jones. Mike Garrett is close to the Governor. No way would they allow Brandon to go down that path.

Rumor in education circles has it that the Gwinnett BOE gave the Chamber a recent $750,000 check to help fight the charter amendment.

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