Rev. Roscoe Perry of First Mount Carmel Baptist Church gave a humdinger of a sermon the other day.
It wasnt in his Winfield church, though: it was in a letter to the editor, in which he sounded off on problems in education in Georgia - junk-food lunches, teachers taken for granted, underpaid paraprofessionals being told to get more education but to pay for it themselves.
The latter one really burns me up, but it took Rev. Perrys prompting to get me to comment.
The federal No Child Left Behind legislation requires paraprofessionals - what we used to call teachers aides - to get at least two-year degrees if they teach in federally designated Title 1 schools. But most systems, like Columbia County, understand that staff at one school should be qualified to serve at any school.
As a result, Columbia County school officials, after the approval of the new law, told parapros they have five years to get at least a two-year college degree, or pass a competency exam in lieu of the degree. The county paid for the test (which most parapros passed), but the newly qualified parapros still get the same low pay - and they also are now required to obtain five times as much staff development training to keep their certification.
A few weeks ago, School Trustee Mildred Blackburn and I talked about some things the school system should do. One thing we agree on is that we should improve the status of parapros, the in-the-trenches utility workers of the schools.
Talk about bang for your tax buck: Parapros make around $14,000 a year, yet are a vital part of the education of our children.
And there arent enough of them. One of the effects of Gov. Roy Barnes education reforms is the requirement of parapros in the earliest grades, but the elimination of aides in higher elementary grades. Barnes denies cutting the aides; but what happened is that school systems were told to reduce class sizes, and that parapros could no longer be used in the formula of teacher-to-student ratios.
School systems, forced to hire more teachers to meet those arbitrary ratios, pushed parapros into the earliest grades, and let others go to save money for teachers.
No one asked the teachers, of course. But if they had, they would have found that a teacher often will welcome more students if he or (usually) she can have an aide to help with the drudgery of paperwork, or even to watch the class for a bathroom break.
Blackburn, a retired teacher, knows how important parapros are. Its time for the rest of us to put our money where our mouths are: If we want parapros to get degrees, we should pay their tuition - and raise their salaries at graduation.
At least, in the end, theyll be making more money. And adequate pay, more than any degree or test, will improve the quality of parapros.
And another thing: Letter-writer Dave Stewart, one of the areas more talented scribes, has a good piece today on the Georgia flag controversy (See page 5). I penned a column the other day on the same issue, offering similar comments on the flag debate - including a call for a commission to set up a binding referendum on the flag, and stating a preference for the pre-1956 banner.
My comments were in the pipeline before we received Stewarts letter for publication, but he reasonably thinks I flattered him through imitation. It isnt so. Rest assured: I can come up with enough cockamamie ideas on my own without ripping off someone elses.
One thing Stewart and other referendum-supporters should note: Georgia ballot questions, by law, can only be yes/no votes. So my concept of an up-or-down flag poll is the only legal option.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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