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Henry BOE to appeal charter schools ruling

The Henry County Board of Education plans to appeal the recent court ruling affirming the authority of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to approve charter school applications.

"We're going to move forward," said Ray Hudalla, chairman of Henry's school board.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob ruled on May 7, in favor of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, an entity created in 2008 to assist the state board of education in overseeing and approving charter school application appeals. The ruling concluded a case that began with the Gwinnett County Public School System filing suit against the state and its charter schools commission.

Henry filed a joint lawsuit with the Griffin-Spalding County School System in February, like several other school systems around the state, who challenged the constitutionality of the charter schools commission. However, all of those suits were consolidated in May in Shoob's summary judgment.

Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma said Henry's part in the lawsuit involves the creation of Heron Bay Academy, a charter school that would open in August 2011, on the property of Heron Bay Golf and Country Club, which spans parts of southern Henry County and northern Spalding County.

Last summer, the Henry and Spalding school boards denied the charter school's application, citing its exclusive nature in relation to the country club community, as well as the funding obligations it would create for the school systems.

Surma said one of Henry's major concerns is the state's determining how local funds can be used, as opposed to leaving local school boards with the authority to decide.

"It's not that we're against charter schools," said Hudalla. "As long as a young person is getting a good quality education, we really don't care where it's coming from."

Hudalla believes the act of transferring some funds from the Henry County School System to the charter school might adversely affect the public school system. He said the amount of per-pupil funding that would be obligated to the charter school would not be an equitable distribution of funds.

The school board chairman said the relatively few students served by the charter school in the county would not aid in lessening the school system's per-classroom costs, as Henry's public school classrooms will likely be full, or over capacity, based on traditional standards.

"Where we're having an issue is the state saying, ‘We're going to take funding from your county and give it to this charter school' ... we have some issues with that," Hudalla continued. "And it's not even so much the state funding part of that, it's the local funding part of it, which is the only part that we really have control over. It's going to take money from the students we do have."

Hudalla said while the school board has publicly expressed its desire to pursue an appeal of Shoob's judgment, no other formal action has taken place, yet.

There has been no official school board vote at this time in the Griffin-Spalding County School System, according to Elizabeth Benz, communications specialist with that school system.

"The [Griffin-Spalding County] Board of Education has given some guidance that they do want to proceed with an appeal," Benz added.