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Voters should send school system message

In the world of politics and government service, nothing speaks louder these days than money.

Complaints don’t carry as much weight; neither does constructive criticism. The only way to get an elected or appointed official’s full and undivided attention is by closing the checkbook.

And that’s what Dougherty County voters should do Tuesday when they go to the polls to decide whether to continue a 1 percent special-purpose local-option sales tax for education.

The leadership from the Dougherty County School Board and the superintendent’s office has been lacking for some time now, and shows no signs of immediate improvement. Take the manner in which the superintendent and School Board have dealt with the latest controversy — accusations that a longtime employee of the school system, Morningside Elementary Principal Gloria Baker, and her husband lied on paperwork so that their daughter would be entitled to free lunches at school. The program for free and reduced-cost lunches was established to help families who have lower incomes, a segment that comprises an unfortunately large percentage of Dougherty County families. With Baker receiving a salary in excess of $90,000 from the school system, it’s difficult to see how the household could qualify for free lunches.

If this happened as authorities charge, there’s a good chance this is not an isolated incident. Taxpayers who ultimately fund this and other programs should be able to rely on the officials they put on the School Board — and the officials appointed by those board members — to ensure those programs are properly administered and conducted by the rules.

With Tuesday’s vote hanging out there in the political wind Friday, the majority of the School Board and Superintendent Joshua Murfree initially took a duck-and-run mentality. The Albany Herald obtained emails Friday in which board member Darrel Ealum, who clearly saw action was needed, expressed concerns about the adverse impact the free-lunch scandal could have on the vote. He asked for a called meeting to take up the issue so the board could be proactive rather than reactive.

But the inertia was there as usual. Murfree’s response was he didn’t see a need for one, and be careful about those emails — they’re public record.

Board member David Maschke pointed out that the chairman, James Bush, or a four-member majority could call for a special meeting. Later in the day Friday, Murfree finally relented and called for a special board meeting on Wednesday. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to entrust more tax money to an organization with too many so-called leaders who, rather than stand up and address a controversy head on as Ealum wanted, prefer to skitter away from it.

This same mentality prevailed when the School Board trashed its own selection process for superintendent and the majority of members thumbed their noses at the Georgia Sunshine Laws. And when you have a board member like Milton Griffin who is willing to pay an extra $30,000 on a contract to handle Sales Tax for Educational Progress (STEP) bonds just because a firm employs someone who once attended a Dougherty County public school, you seriously have to question the overall quality of the leadership that’s overseeing the school district.

The projects on the list for the sales tax vote Tuesday are not the issue. The $100 million expected to be generated over the five-year life of the 1 percent sales tax would improve facilities, technology, equipment and vehicles. And voting down the referendum would set those schedules back.

That’s an unfortunate consequence, but in our view a necessary one. The voters have an opportunity to send the School Board a loud and clear message, one that business as usual is no longer acceptable. The culture that has taken hold and has led to cheating on standardized tests and looking out for pals instead of the students has to end, and school system leadership must refocus on what should be its only job — educating young minds and preparing them for life in a rapidly-changing world.

Before that will happen, though, Dougherty County voters have to demand that all of those who are in charge of the system perform better. Voting “no” on Tuesday is the loudest voice the average citizen has for demanding improvements in the school system, starting at the top.

Comments

Justice4Moma 2 years, 5 months ago

I was up at 4 am this morning,watching FoxNews,In New Orleans they have opened Charter Schools.And you should have seen the kids smiling eager to learn.See they have it where if the teacher,prenciple,dont do there jobs.They get fired.Not layed off with pay.We have to much goverment in our Schools.Get them 0ut of it.And the kids here will have a chance.I pay enough School tax that i can have my say on this.You can to.STAND UP FOR THE KIDS.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Vote NO on Tuesday!!!! They will only do more damage with more money. Think about it... Until the "Failed Four" and their Super are out they don't need to receive a single dime more. Let's send them a real message with our NO votes.

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Local 2 years, 5 months ago

This is a tax that reaches out beyond the local tax payers. So you go ahead and vote NO and watch Y-O-U-R taxes rise!

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Citizen_A 2 years, 5 months ago

There are more than the school board at stake with the SPLOST. We NEED to think further than the moment. We would affect the next 5 years if we act rashly. We are forgetting the important thing...the students!!! You really want to get DCSS's attention, vote the board out!!!! Contact the GADOE, and pester them until they get involved. Crap rolls downhill...we need to quit trying to push it up the hill.

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Local 2 years, 5 months ago

@ Citizen_A - Thank you for "getting it"!

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

Don't hold yourself hostage with concerns of a property tax increase. E-SPLOST has become a perpetual "slush fund' to the school board. For your protection, the 1983 Ga Constitution limits a board's property tax assessment to 20 mills. And while it is true that E-SPLOST gets money from all who spend, the tax makes it easier for the system to essentially get money by answering to the people only every 5 years and eliminates concerns for managing within the 20-mill cap.

Despite all the money DCSS has gotten, it has not been providing the education taxpayers envision. Money is not the answer to the system's woes. Any organization living on public funds does a better job when it has to actually manage itself efficiently What is the downside--not cheating on CRCT scores or perhaps people having to pay to eat?

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Citizen_A 2 years, 5 months ago

No money is not the answer to the systems woes. But we can as citizens take the mis-managers out of the equation. We hired them and we can fire them.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't think it is possible to "vote out" those who are problems--think June Bug. However, GADOE/Gov is a a real possibility.

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Margie 2 years, 5 months ago

My property taxes are high and I pay school taxes and don't have a child in public school, and I am thankful that I don't. The school system and it administration and board members are decayed. As voters we continue to put people in office that shouldn't be there in the first place. School board members should also possess credentials in the education to qualify to be on a school board. I wonder how may that are on the board have post secondary education and have a good concept of business and money management. Murfree is not responsible for cheating on tests, that mess belongs to the superintendent before him. But, he certainly hasn't stepped up to the plate addressing other issues and problems within the system. The line has to be drawn. My two children attended public schools and both graduated from Dougherty High School with honors in late 80s and 90s, and went on advanced education. There is a major difference between then and now. With all the technology, one would think things would be better. I have two grandchildren and at this time public schools in this county is not an option. Stop re-electing the same problems, and vote "No", I am. Our school system is a MESS. Murfree at least should have called a meeting even if an investigation was on going. A meeting was not going to hinder nor stop the investigation. But, for the sake of faith, I hope that the free lunch deal was all husband doing and not the principal. In some families husbands handles everything and all the paperwork. But, whomever processed the application knew better as well as some folks at Radium.

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Citizen_A 2 years, 5 months ago

Requiring board members to be educators sounds like the logical thing, but in all common sense is not a good idea. Educators are too close to the subject to make impartial decisions. I think that non-educators who truly care for the edcation of the children of our community can do just as good of a job. And until this community quits voting with their personal feelings (race, friends, etc.) and vote in the person that will do what needs to be done, it is not going to matter whether they are an educator or not. Don't punish the children for the next 5 years because of it.

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