Georgians were asked whether “to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities,” and according to unofficial results published by the Georgia Secretary of State, 61.85 percent of Spalding County residents who cast their vote said yes.
A total of 23,056 local voters decided on the issue - with 14,261 approving of the amendment and 8,795 voting against it.
Statewide, the charter school amendment passed with 58.5 percent, or 2,152,091 of those Georgians who voted, being in favor of it - with 158 of 159 counties reporting. Likewise, 41.5 percent, or 1,526,959 Georgians, voted no on the amendment.
“I’m a little bit frustrated, honestly,” said Griffin-Spalding Board of Education Chairman James Westbury, adding that due to the ballot language, some voters may not have fully understood what they were voting on.
Westbury said he believes that as a result of the amendment approval, there will be less tax dollars coming to Spalding County to support the local school system.
“There’s only so many tax dollars to go around,” he said. “We’ll feel the impact of it, but it is what it is. We’ll be responsive to the will of the voter.”
Griffin-Spalding Superintendent Curtis Jones, who had voiced his opposition to the amendment, said he was glad that the vote occurred, though he doesn’t agree with the outcome.
“The fact that the amendment passed does not mean that it was the best decision for the children, but it was the decision,” Jones said, adding that he felt that instead of an honest discussion on the issue, it was reduced to sound bites.
“I personally believe that we have been providing a better school system,” he said. “We are going to have to do a better job in telling our story.”
Asked about the likelihood of a new charter school in Spalding County, Jones said that while he believes the board would certainly consider any petition that was submitted, the school system has been in discussions over the creation of a College and Career Academy that would essentially be a charter school.
Such an academy would be a joint effort between the Griffin-Spalding County School System and Southern Crescent Technical College whereby students could see a dual enrollment in both educational institutions.
“That’s something that’s going to be moving forward in the next year,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, not all local stakeholders were displeased with the outcome of the charter school amendment.
“My feeling is that competition don’t hurt anything,” said state Rep. John Yates, R-Griffin, who had been in favor of the amendment all along. Yates used his many years with the Ford Motor Company as an example to underscore his point, stating that Ford makes better cars today because of the competition it has had.
Responding to concerns over funding and state interference, Yates said charter schools, if created, would be state-funded. And the state would only get involved if a local school board refused a charter school that was created legitimately.
“I did not (hear from) a single person other than a paid educator being against it,” he said.