The diversion of money away from public education and a new method of teacher accountability were the hot-button topics for the annual meeting today of Oconee school leaders and the county’s state legislative delegation. Lawmakers tried to assure the district administrators and three school board members attending the meeting that education remains the state’s top priority, though State Senator Thomas Alexander said living within means will dominate the next General Assembly. Alexander and his colleagues were placed in a defensive mode this morning when they were asked by trustees Rosemary Bailes and Buddy Herring about the prospects for more state money to be appropriated to charter and virtual schools, in place of regular public schools. The controversial idea of allowing Oconee school some form of direct tax-setting authority was like an elephant in the room, with both sides not eager to engage in an old debate. Representative Bill Whitmire told the public school leaders that charter and virtual schools have their rightful place in today’s field of education, but he personally would not be opposed to allowing public schools at least some of the freedom that charter schools enjoy in educating children.