State Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, took on a new role in the state Senate this year when the legislative body switched to Republican control.
A long-time minority member of the Education Committee, Brush ascended to the chairmanship when the GOP became the majority. With that new post came new responsibilities, including the duty of bringing forward Gov. Sonny Perdues efforts to undo some of former Gov. Roy Barnes earlier education reforms.
How did the debate on the floor of the Senate go? Well, Brush described the effort this way in a post-legislative forum sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce: I felt like the Republican Guard in Baghdad for three solid hours.
It was a tough series of debates, and after sifting through the politics of the Senate and the partisanship of the House, much of Perdues reforms unraveled. But a couple of good provisions managed to get through:
Fair dismissal rights for teachers are restored.
Disliked by many school principals and derided by the misinformed as teacher tenure, fair dismissal rights helped insulate teachers from bullying by overzealous parents and retaliation from unfriendly administrators.
Barnes effort to end fair dismissal had a noble purpose: In theory, it would make it easier for schools to weed out less-competent teachers. In practice, however, it did nothing but make the job less attractive to new applicants at a time of a severe teacher shortage. And because it didnt apply to existing staff, incompetent teachers would be no easier to remove.
Class-size reductions are partially curtailed.
With little research supporting the popular notion that smaller classes automatically equal better education, Barnes class-size reductions did little to assure better schools, while guaranteeing more expense.
The rigid student-teacher ratios hit hard in Columbia County. The system was forced into an artificially induced building frenzy, adding classrooms and teachers in spite of near-flat growth. Perdue didnt get the outright freeze on further reductions that he sought, but at least school systems have more flexibility in computing class sizes. It will be a big help to us, says Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price.
As an acknowledgment of Brushs role in helping move the bill through the Senate, Perdue plans to visit Columbia County soon to ceremonially sign the legislation. The event had been scheduled for Thursday at Grovetown Elementary School. Thats still a good site.
There, perhaps Perdue can also get an up-close look at the pressing need for the state to contribute more money to the maintenance and operation of existing school buildings.
Building new schools is important, but we must also take care of what we have - and surely Brush and Perdue can make that a priority for 2004.
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