Well, that didn't take long.
Two weeks ago, in our third editorial on the topic, we applauded the Columbia County School Board for their vote to begin withdrawal from the pre-kindergarten program. Pre-K isn't mandatory, and shifting the county's program to private schools - which already handle twice as many pupils - would free up the equivalent of 16 classrooms in an already overcrowded system.
But with that praise we added a word of caution: While the announcement gives the board, staff, parents and the private sector more than a year to plan, it also provides "plenty of time for board members to waffle on their decision if the tiny number of unhappy parents are noisy enough."
Turns out they didn't need much time, or noise. After a handful of complaints about the proposal - many of them just plain misinformed - the school board began backpedaling.
Sad to say, we've seen this kind of "buyers remorse" before. Board members two years ago seemed to have settled the contentious issue of school calendars. Rather than give the issue time to die down as parents adjusted their schedules, the board caved in to a few protesters and scrambled the calendars again.
This time around, school system staffers had already been studying withdrawal from pre-K, and trustees themselves had raised the possibility. Then, the concept got sudden momentum when the scandal over River Ridge Elementary's pre-K drawing came to light.
Sure, some trustees might have been caught by surprise when Board member Wayne Bridges made a motion to begin studying a withdrawal. Even so, they agreed 4-0-1, with trustee Roxanne Whitaker abstaining because of her uncertainty over the proposal's effect on her rural district's schools.
Yet now board members are backing away. Are they saying their vote was too hasty? If so, a reversal now doesn't speak well for their ability to think on their feet. If not, then the board members are just being wishy-washy.
Following the vote, and after our comments urging the board not to wimp out, Chairman Regina Buccafusco assured us trustees would stand by their decision.
They should. The next year should be spent making the transition out of public school pre-K as smooth as possible, which means giving the private sector plenty to time to prepare to absorb most or all of the county's 320 slots.
Waffling only causes confusion, and even worse, could make a transition far more difficult if it deters entrepreneurs from building more private pre-K capacity.
In our first editorial on the topic, more than a month ago, we challenged school officials to use existing data to determine the relative success of private and public pre-K programs in the county, and make their decision on the future of pre-K accordingly.
If the information shows public pre-K is superior enough to warrant the extra cost in classroom space and transportation, make the case. But if there is little appreciable difference, they should exit pre-K as some other Georgia systems already have done. More study seems to be the direction trustees are now headed - but they need to keep moving.
In any event, the board should make a decision - and stick to it.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.