This week in Georgia is School Board Member Appreciation Week, designated to recognize the significant contributions of elected officials who oversee the public school systems around the state.
There is, indeed, plenty to appreciate. School board members have the sort of job that most politicians regard with a mixture of respect and pity, as in, "Serve on the school board? Are you nuts?"
Columbia County's Board of Education, for example, recently began seeing small, annual raises in their laughably low monthly pay - and then only to bring them toward parity with county commissioners. They handle a budget nearly triple the size of the county budget; getting half the pay just doesn't make sense.
Not only do school trustees handle such a big job with little compensation, but they also handle the only commodity more precious to taxpayers than their money: their children. Nearly 20,000 kids are served in the county's public school system every day, from early intervention programs for 3-year-olds all the way up to post-teens needing special services. What is amazing is not that there are complaints - including those voiced by this
newspaper in its public-watchdog role - but that the complaints are so few.
Columbia County's School Board is far from perfect. For example, we wish trustees were bolder in pushing the frontiers of learning with an elementary grade foreign-language program, and quit quibbling over the cost while the school system's bank account bulges with tens of millions in surplus tax funds.
They should also take a stand - a strong one - regarding the pace of
residential development that continues to pack the overcrowded schools with new pupils. Impact fees can help pay for new classrooms - and trustees should push for them on all new construction.
A sometimes nose-to-the-grindstone lack of vision is perhaps the biggest challenge for any school board, especially one that governs a community growing as fast as Columbia County. Even so, there are occasional flashes of think-outside-the-box brilliance - such as a program to allow Internet-based distance learning for college credit, or small grants for teacher innovations. These are certainly cause for celebration.
Another of these great ideas comes to fruition Saturday. Trustee Regina Buccafusco at the beginning of the year called for a series of public listening sessions in each trustees' district. Wayne Bridges takes the first turn with a session at Lakeside High School at 10 a.m.; other trustees will hold similar forums later in the year.
Citizens should do their part to show appreciation for trustees by taking advantage of the opportunity. If trustees are willing to take the time to listen, members of the community owe it to them to have something constructive to say.
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