This is in response to the Dick Yarborough column, "A Hard Lesson About Education," printed in the Jan. 26 edition of the Bryan County News. The views expressed are solely my own.
It’s hard not to take offense at Chris Riley’s comments regarding local school boards, superintendents and administrators in Georgia, whom Governor Deal appears to blame as being lackadaisical and apathetic about failing schools.
Riley, the governor’s chief of staff, was the main creator of the recently failed Opportunity School District, also known as Amendment 1 on the November ballot. 60 percent of voters were against this Georgia Constitutional Amendment, which would have allowed the governor to to assume management of "chronically failing" schools.
Riley was quoted as saying that the message of Amendment 1 was not against school teachers but was really against the status quo, defined as, "administrators - superintendents, principals, school boards - who choose not to do anything [about failing schools]." As the recently re-elected Bryan County Board of Education representative for District 3, I’d like to share not only an alternate opinion, but some critical facts for those who care about preserving strong public education in Georgia.
•Starting in 2003, local school system budgets were cut by more than $8 billion (yes billion), including back to back annual cuts of $1 billion from 2010-2014. School systems, including our own, had to cut staff and slash budgets. Many school systems had to increase class size, reduce the number of electives for students, add furlough days, increase local property taxes and across Georgia over 8,000 teaching jobs were cut.
• The state has begun in the last couple of years to increase public school funding and to reduce the size of the austerity cuts school systems faced. For that we are grateful and the cuts have been reduced to about $167 million. But we are still not fully funded.
• Currently lawmakers are assessing and revamping how much money each district should receive per student. There is current criticism that these allotments do not account for inflation. For example, the current allotment for direct instructional costs (paper, textbooks, lab equipment) is $113.60, per student for the entire year. If we factored in the cost of inflation, that number should be over $240. So when you complain about the lack of textbooks your child brings home, please know one textbook at the high school level costs over $150. It would cost our school system well over $1 million to provide every student in the system a text book in one subject area. You don’t need to get out your calculator to see that the math does not add up.
• The governor continues to appear bent on finding a way to take over "failing schools." It is concerning that a resounding "No" from the majority of voters is not enough to accept that Georgians are opposed to a takeover from local control. He is now planning to go through changing legislation to find a way to take over "failing schools."
• So let’s talk about this College and Career Ready Performance Index, which is the basis on which schools are given an A-F grade. First, the CCRPI metric has changed every year.
How can administrators and teachers implement improvements when the criterion on which we are basing success changes constantly? This year the average elementary school in Georgia had a drop of 4.3 metric points. Do you really think almost every elementary school in Georgia negatively changed that much in one year?
Of importance is to note that Georgia’s A-F grading scale is one of the most stringent rating scales in the nation. In November a UGA researcher, Richard Welsh, released a study comparing Georgia to Florida and Louisiana, the only other two Southeastern states with the A-F grading scale.
A comparison of the three states’ grading systems for schools noted that a "C" in Georgia would be comparable to an "A" in Louisiana and an "F" in Georgia would be comparable to a "C" in Louisiana. When Georgia is compared to Florida, the results are very similar.
The continued effects of past budget cuts, changing metrics that appear difficult to understand, and a grading scale that is more stringent than most states across the nation can’t help but feel like a campaign against public schools and a set up for the skewed argument that the state should intervene and take away local control.
To place blame on good people who work tirelessly with little accolades (i.e., our superintendents, administrators, principals and teachers) and to paint them as lazy and accepting of a student’s low performance is insulting and disheartening at the same time. And to say that as a school board representative, I am accepting of anything less than a focus on high standards for our students is a lie. But we can’t deny that money makes a difference. And we must continue to be aware and to inform you, the taxpayers and parents of our students, that the metrics upon which our schools are graded should be viewed with a critical eye.
Furthermore, across the state it appears lawmakers want to pretend that poverty doesn’t affect academic performance, when study after study shows that it does.
As one of your local representatives I must implore you to remain engaged and aware of the truth regarding our public schools.
I will be the first to admit I am not, and never will be, a perfect representative. But my children attend school with yours and you will see me at the grocery store, around the neighborhood or at the ball field. I signed up to be accessible and open to listening. You hold me accountable with every election and are welcome at every board meeting. I am not the "status quo" but the one advocating for your child, along with our passionate superintendent, administrators, principals and teachers (most of whom also live in our community and have children that go to school with yours). I encourage you to think about how much harder it would be to hold a school system accountable if the school was run by a for profit group who would answer to someone other than a local representative. You stay vigilant and so will I.
I believe in our strong public schools and will not settle for the status quo, no matter what the Governor would have you believe.