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State school systems receive open records request from governor’s office

In a move that is speculated to be backlash for the opposition to proposed Opportunity School District amendment on the November ballot, school systems throughout the state of Georgia have received an open record request from the office of Governor Nathan Deal.

The Decatur County School system is one of the few systems in the state to have not received the request, but Superintendent Tim Cochran said that he believes that is because of a technical issue.

“It went out as a blanket email and with me being a new superintendent, I think they probably don’t have an updated email,” Cochran said.

According to a copy of the email provided by Cochran, Deal’s Chief of Staff Chris Riley has requested “Records of dues collected by the school system for the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE): a- total dollars collected per month for Fiscal Year 2016; b- total dollars collected per fiscal year for 2016.” They have also requested information related to whether the school systems charge teachers an administrative fee to collect professional association dues.

Cochran said that currently teachers can have professional association dues removed from their paycheck by the school system as a payroll exemption.

He said that this is a service that is provided as a courtesy and that Decatur County, nor any system he has previously been affiliated with, charges any fee for this service.

PAGE and GAE have both been very outspoken in opposition of the Opportunity School District amendment.

Craig Harper, a spokesman for PAGE, said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they “see this as punishment for the opposition of teachers to the Opportunity School District.” He continued that, “We are hearing from districts that they have gotten this Open Records request and are concerned about it and see it as indicative of this governor’s penchant for state intervention in things that don’t require it.”

Cochran said that the speculation is that the information that is being gathered will be used during the legislative session to create new laws to keep school systems from collecting dues in an effort to reduce the professional association’s memberships. He said that he recommends that all teachers be a member of one of the professional associations because they provide liability insurance.

The threat of backlash from the governor’s office was also one of the reasons that Cochran did not push for the Decatur County Board of Education to pass a resolution opposing the amendment.

“It is up to the board if they want a resolution,” he said. “I didn’t push it because I don’t think it was my place and I didn’t want to put them in the radar.”

Cochran said that Decatur County has already collected the information that they would be required to provide to the governor’s office in anticipation of receiving the open records request.

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