Jeff Meadors: Local schools should be governed locally

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

As the General Assembly continues its 40 days, I challenge school system employees and retirees to pay attention to a number of things, and I urge them to start writing letters. A contingency of lawmakers unhappy with the Supreme Court decision in Cox versus the Gwinnett County Public Schools, which struck down the Charter Commission, will likely take another shot at this through a constitutional amendment to redefine "special schools." If this passes, we are back to the mid-1700s where, during the American Revolution, only one in 20 British citizens had representation in Parliament, none of whom were members of the 13 Colonies. Purely and simply, this smacks of taxation without representation.An amendment to allow a state commission to use local dollars for state-governed schools not governed by local education authorities transfers local control to the state. Local school boards cannot govern such schools, yet local tax dollars would fund them. This smelled badly to a majority of the Supreme Court in its former presentation; it stinks now.

This resonates of the same attack on local governance as the leading 2012 education legislative priority of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce: Create a voter referendum to restore state involvement in charter schools and clarify state funding and governance of local school systems.

If the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is committed to workforce development, they would ideally want to work cooperatively with the entities that educate 92 percent of all children in the state: public schools. This priority is bad for local systems, local communities and local governance. This one deserves a lot of noise from educators. I hope they're not too busy to make it. If it is clarity the Georgia Chamber seeks on state funding, I will remind them that QBE has not been fully funded for nearly a decade. That's pretty clear to educators.

Attacks on local education authorities, local school governance and local school dollars are nothing new and aim at allowing access to local funds with a return of zero governance for voters.

In the last two months, the Newton County School System has earned the following accolades: Indian Creek Middle (GASSP Break Out Award), Heard-Mixon Elementary (Georgia School of Excellence), Liberty Middle School (GOSA Bronze Award) and Flint Hill, Rocky Plains, South Salem, Heard-Mixon, and Livingston earned awards as Title I Distinguished Schools. Local success for local students is built on the backs of local teachers, not by state-level micromanagers.

This happens through strong instructional leadership based on research proven strategies, a clear mission, strategic goals and effective planning by a local school superintendent appointed by local leaders who are elected by voters. We need no misguided referendum adopted as a legislative priority by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to toy with local schools.

Do a little research on the midnight passage of House Bill 251 and remember that your legislators are up for re-election this year. I challenge everyone with an interest in public education to learn where candidates stand on important funding and governance issues relative to public schools before casting your votes in the General Election. Make time for this.

Maybe it's time to send someone like Mrs. Johnson into the General Assembly. She delivered a much-deserved mini-skirt correction to the Harper Valley PTA. Maybe she could bring a 2012 correction to the apparent mythology that public schools need more unfunded mandates and initiatives in schoolhouses already jam-packed with toxic government cheese, pervasive austerity cuts and federal legislation so daunting that survival translates into new teachers calling it quits after four short years.

Better schools build better communities. If legislative priorities focused on fair funding of public schools, we'd likely need less money for jails and prisons and new teachers would stop leaving the field, never to return.

Maybe Mrs. Johnson's repeat performance in a legislative setting would find someone outside of Harper Valley whose secretary had to leave town. She might even find someone from Muscogee County in Kelly's Bar. She would first have to dig through the $87,248.00 largesse spent on lawmakers' meals and trinkets by lobbyists during the first two weeks of the 2012 General Assembly.

Our schools need support. I recommend a full funding of QBE and a return to pre-austerity cut days as opposed to the bloated rhetoric of referendums and redefinitions. Remember that any new cuts must be added to existing austerity cuts to gather a full picture of what seems to be a move to decimate public schools altogether.

If you want taxation without representation, then when you're not paying attention you'll get it. And when you're hopefully contacting your legislators asking them to kill off what is left of the voucher bill coming out of Woodstock, write the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and ask them to give the educational priorities a rest next time.

Jeff Meadors is a member of the Newton County Board of Education.