An audience of more than 100 attended the 7 p.m. forum at the county commission auditorium in the county office building on College Street in Carrollton.
The candidates for the Nov. 6 special Republican primary on stage Monday were Mike Dugan, a Carrollton general contractor and former military officer; former House Rep. Bill Hembree, a Winston insurance agent; Jim Naughton, a Carrollton business consultant; and Glenn Richardson, a Hiram attorney and former speaker of the Georgia House.
James Camp, a Libertarian candidate from Temple and an information technician, also appeared, although he is not running in the Nov. 6 race. He qualified to run in the Jan. 8 special general election and will face the winner of the Nov. 6 Republican primary.
The winner of the race will fill the seat vacated by Bill Hamrick of Carrollton, who resigned last month to accept a position as superior court judge in the Coweta Circuit.
Speaking on the charter school amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot, Hembree said he supports it.
“I supported House Resolution 1162 which set up the charter school amendment,” Hembree said. “I would further like to say that no local funds can be used for charter schools. No reduction in state funding to local schools will take place.”
He noted that local systems can create charter schools.
“There will be a review process before submitting to the state,” he said. “The state will make sure there is checks and balances. I believe in public schools. My three sons are in public schools, but I also believe in private schools and charter schools. On size doesn’t fit all.”
Naughton, however, said he does not favor the charter school amendment.
First, he said the school system is in a crisis when one-third of students don’t graduate from high school and the state spends $7.1 billion on education.
“This charter school amendment is not about charter schools,” Naughton said. “It’s about control and money. We’re talking about taking control away from locally elected school officials. The best form of local government is the one that’s closest to the people. I wish Atlanta would stay out of local issues.”
He said the state has a problem with 33 percent not graduating and people favoring the charter school amendment say they can fix it with a 1.27 percent funding solution.
“I think we need to keep our control locally and let our local officials sort this out,” he said.
Richardson spoke in favor of the charter amendment as a way of giving control to the people.
“A good thing about the charter amendment is people get to decide,” he said. “Each of you get to decide, you have one vote, just like me. When you go to the polls, you get to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I intend to vote yes. Go inform yourself.”
Richardson said since the graduation rate is so low, we should be trying something different.
“Isn’t it time we try something with a choice?” he asked. “The charter school is one weapon in an arsenal of education that gives parents choices. I know schools in Carroll, Douglas and Paulding counties do good jobs. They can do better. This is not an attempt to attack our schools. It’s an attempt to give moms and dads a chance to see Johnny in the ninth grade go on to graduate.”
Richardson said the measure will let parents decide when their kids are failing, some at a 40 percent rate, to have a choice.
“This is a good time to try,” he said. “If you don’t like it, we can always change it again. That’s what government has to do, always be changing. I’m ready to give a choice.”
Camp said he was “kind of undecided” at first where he stood on he charter school amendment.
“I had some concern about giving control to a bureaucracy in Atlanta,” he said. “I got hold of the bill and tried to read it through. From my casual reading of it, nowhere does it say it’s taking away local control and giving it to some bureaucracy in Atlanta. In fact, it states that a petition has to be passed by the local school board. If they don’t act in 60 days, then the commission can take it up. Then if the commission does take it up, the local board still has the first bite in the apple as why they don’t approve.”
Camp said education is broken and his Libertarian ideals include one on free market competition.
“When we have competition, we’ll have schools striving for excellence,” he said.
Dugan said the charter school issues is one of the most divisive in this election period, but added that one thing all candidates agree on is that the welfare of the kids is most important.
“I understand concerns about this both ways,” he said. “I’ve been preaching reduced government size, increased efficiency and less redundancy. We have a board at the state now that is supposed to review charter schools. I don’t understand why we’re setting up an agency outside to review what the state superintendent is supposed to be doing. If we have issues with the way the superintendent is doing it, we should change it instead of creating a new bureau to manage funds.”
Dugan said he’s not anti-charter schools because they have a great purpose, as do traditional schools.
“Without our next generation coming in and taking up the reins of our job growth, improvements in our economy won’t happen,” he said. “Education drives everything else.”
(Additional issues discussed in the forum will be covered in the Wednesday edition of the Times-Georgian.)