published Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Consolidation seesaw: Lawyers say Whitfield, Dalton schools could stay separate

  • photo
    Dalton city schools attorney Henry Tharpe addresses the Dalton Board of Education in this file photo.
    Photo by Mariann Martin /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. — In the latest round of plucking daisy petals, the possibility of Dalton and Whitfield County government consolidation without affecting the schools systems is back in again — for now.

Dalton City Schools attorney Henry Tharpe told the Dalton Board of Education at its regular meeting Mondya that he now believes state legislators can craft local legislation to create a charter commission that will leave the Dalton City Schools charter intact.

On March 4, Tharpe told the board he believes that dissolving the City Charter — which would be necessary to consolidate city and county governments — would dissolve the school charter.

Monday night, Tharpe said he has changed his opinion after discussing it in numerous conversations with legislators and those working on writing the legislation.

City and county leaders began moving forward with consolidation efforts in February and had requested that local legislators authorize a charter committee to study the issue and create a new charter. Attorneys had said they did not think either school system would be affected if the issue were put on the ballot in November 2012 and passed.

After the school issue emerged, local legislators said they would not create a commission without agreement from both school systems — a move that leaders said could halt the entire process.

But discussions seemed to be back on the table Monday.

“I am reasonably optimistic it can pass constitutional muster,” Tharpe said. “At least that’s what I’ve been told as of 4 p.m. [Mon]day.”

The Georgia Constitution was amended in 1945 to prohibit the creation of more independent school systems. However, because Dalton schools predate that amendment and have operated as a system independent of the city, the legislation can be written so that the City Charter can be dissolved without dissolving the school’s charter, Tharpe said.

After Tharpe’s comments, Board of Education Chairman Steve Williams jokingly added, “Stay tuned.”

Legislation to create a charter commission to study consolidation and write a new charter for city and county governments may pass as soon as next week, Tharpe said.

He noted that all discussion of consolidation and what may happen to the school systems is only conjecture until city and county voters approve the merger.

After the meeting, Williams expressed relief about the latest information.

However, he said Whitfield County and Dalton City Schools would continue to look for ways to develop partnerships and share in education.

Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 706-980-5824.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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