With early voting in high gear and Election Day less than two weeks away, the men of Eta Omega Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, sponsored a Public Forum on the most controversial item on the Georgia ballot; the proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution which would create the Opportunity School District.

About 30 people attended the forum which was held on October 29 in the gymnasium of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Southwest Atlanta.  Eta Omega Chapter Brother Craig L. Oliver Sr., the Senior Pastor, hosted the event.

Amendment One would give the state the power to takeover so-called “failing schools” anywhere in Georgia and place them in a special “Opportunity School District” (OSD) which would be run by a superintendent appointed by the governor.  It’s estimated that as many as 163 Georgia schools could be affected. Most are in Black communities.  During the forum, moderated by Brother Ernest L. Hale II, both “Yes” and “No” advocates made passionate presentations.

Zenda Bowie, of the Georgia School Boards Association, believes the language on the ballot makes Amendment One seem rosier than it actually is.  She stressed that changing the state’s constitution is serious business, and unnecessary since Georgia already has the power to intervene in school districts.

Educator Tamara Rice said OSD is needed because, in many schools, friendships between teachers and administrators are deemed to be more important than improving student performance.

Retired U.S. Army Major George Bratcher expressed confidence that an Opportunity School District would break the cycle of failure in failing schools.

But Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose countered that OSD doesn’t address socio-economic issues which need to be part of any real solution, and that hiring a “Czar” to run an OSD is not a plan for improvement.

Opponents insist that the real issues here are power and money.  Brother Langston Longley, an Atlanta Public Schools Principal, argues that so-called “failing schools” don’t exist in a “vacuum”. Children, he pointed, are negatively impacted by problems which plague poverty-stricken neighborhoods.  Brother Longley said data from other states indicates that plans similar to OSD have not made a difference, and mockingly asked if OSD supporters actually knew how to fix the schools, “why didn’t they share the secret sauce years ago?”

Brother Dr. H. Benjamin Williams, a retired educator with experience in these matters, who heads the Government Relations Committee of Omega Psi Phi’s State Organization, added that school takeovers generally have a poor rate of success.

Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort urged the audience to “Follow the money”, which he believes would flow to for-profit companies if OSD is approved.  This should be about improving student performance, he said, but it’s not.

The forum was organized by Eta Omega Chapter’s Government and Community Relations Committee. Brother Ernest L. Hale II is chair.  Brother Vincent Smith is Co-Chair. Brothers Langston Longley, Craig Oliver, Alwin Peterson, and Geraud Prince are members.

The meeting ended with a challenge to the Fraternity to continue working on ways to improve student performance in individual schools and neighborhoods.  Both sides agreed that Amendment One has sparked a conversation that needs to continue.