Amid gloomy talk of tight budgets and election-year politics, state Rep. Ben Harbin, chairman of Columbia Countys legislative delegation, offered hope during meetings with local elected officials Thursday.
It seems Gov. Sonny Perdue is warming to the idea of allowing successful school systems more leeway in the use of state funding, and more latitude in how closely state rules are followed. Conversely, worse-performing schools would be subjected to tighter controls and more-intense scrutiny.
Among the requests to lawmakers from Columbia County school officials was for help in easing strict class-size mandates. But with this approach, high-performance systems like Columbia Countys could get all the relief they need.
One of the many criticisms of ex-Gov. Roy Barnes much-maligned school reforms was its one-size-fits-all nature. Success-ful or not, every school system around the state has to follow the mandates from Atlanta.
Class-size mandates are just one of those requirements, but are one of the costliest. In Thursdays session, state Sen. Joey Brush, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, reiterated that the next phase of student-teacher ratio reductions is too expensive.
Putting those class-size changes on hold is a good first step. Getting the state off the backs of successful school systems is an even better one.
Besides: Good students succeed without the need of greater teacher supervision, while struggling kids need more attention. Shouldnt the state work the same way with schools?
Foreign language peril
One education item that never came up during the session between school officials and lawmakers was the states elementary foreign language program. It did come up later, though, with what one observer called passionate pleas for continuing foreign language at Thursday nights town hall meeting with lawmakers and state officials.
Prospects for the program are dicey, at best. Perdue has already signaled it wont be in next years budget. And Columbia County school officials, whose own study recommends foreign language in elementary schools, are taking a worst-case-scenario presentation to elementary school councils.
School Board trustee Regina Buccafusco, among others, detected a negative slant when the school board reviewed the school systems foreign-language presentation. Officials seem more interested in displaying the harsh realities of the programs cost, rather than trying to sell parents and schools on its benefits.
Lacking a champion at the school system level, and without a governor wholl support it, a real educational gem may be doomed. If so, hasta la vista, progress.
Speaking of Buccafusco, shes lobbying to become the next chairman of the School Board. Lee Muns, who challenges board and school-system officials almost reflexively, also is seeking support for the chairmanship.
To be charitable, the odds arent in Muns favor that hell be chosen when a vote is taken at the special meeting, 7:30 in the morning on Jan. 5 in Appling. Theres only a slightly better chance that hell get support for suggestions to allow more public input at board meetings, and the addition of at least two listening sessions a year.
Over at the County Commission, now that its chairman is elected by the people, the only leadership drama of the year is the election of a vice chairman. More than a decade after her election to the Commission, this could finally be the year that Diane Ford takes the second-in-command role.
She was backstabbed out of the post last year; it will get ugly if it happens again.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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