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Posted: March 14, 2013 8:32 p.m.

Morgan: What are they up to?

Public education in Georgia is always perceived to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. Or two steps forward and one step back.

Last year, the state got a big, nationally noted Attaboy! when Education Week ranked Georgia seventh in the United States in “overall education quality” on the basis of strong school standards and school accountability.
At the same time, we regularly pull up the rear with rankings like 45th in SAT scores and 47th in public high school graduation rates.

Education writer Maureen Downey, commenting on last year’s seventh place ranking, had this to say in her ajc.com blog: “The disparity in our grades raises questions: We have standards that are held up as among the nation’s best by an objective and respected source, yet we have achievement results that are ranked among the nation’s worst? Why?”

While giving Georgia seventh place overall — an A minus — Education Week gave us an F in K-12 achievement and a D minus in spending. And that brings me to the E-SPLOST we will be voting on Tuesday, if you’ve not already voted by today in early voting.

We’re being asked by the Board of Education to continue a 1 percent sales tax to fund needed capital outlays in the Newton County School System along with debt service for the period January 2015 through December 2019.

We’ve been doing this regularly since 1999, but the current E-SPLOST expires at the end of next year.

The reauthorization of the E-SPLOST for 2015-2019 is projected to bring in $55 million to $57 million, but collections are capped at $75 million, just in case the local economy enjoys a healthy uptick due to new residents, business activity and investment and an improved tax digest.

Collections of the 1 percent sales tax will cease if we take in $75 million, by chance.

The list of projects to be funded include $30 million to pay down existing debt, $3.8 million for school safety measures, $17 million for school technology, more than $11 million in school maintenance, some $9.6 million for school buses and maintenance and construction of a new high school with $3.25 million, if student population growth merits it.

And now — almost at the last minute — we have two elected officials who would seem to be encouraging a “no” vote on the whole package of critically needed school system improvements because they want to re-think the long-term plan to replace Eastside High School — if and when student population would require it.

The officials are new Board of Commissioners member/former school board member and former chair/former state representative/former state senator/unsuccessful Public Service Commission candidate and would-be member of Congress John Douglas, representing District 1, and Board of Education member Jeff Meadors, also representing District 1.

Give me a break, guys. Neither of you ever expressed reservations about this long existing planning item to the full Board of Education or to the school superintendent during deliberations on what to include on this year’s project list.

You’ve sideswiped members of the local citizens committee working for passage, and you’ve spurned requests to meet with them.

The entire list of projects has been a matter of public record published in the legal organ for the county and on the BOE website. What’s up with you two?

If there is any time to stand up full force for public education in this county, it is now.

All eyes in the state, and many across the country, are on Newton County because somebody as big as Baxter International chose to locate here.

That’s enough to convince others like them to put down roots in Newton County. They need — and we’ve promised — an educated workforce. Now is not the time to pull back support for public education. If we do not continue the 1 percent sales tax dedicated to our school system, the projects on the E-SPLOST will have to be paid for from general funds, further debilitating the system’s abilities to deliver the education our children need to be productive workers and lifelong learners. We will fail them and the future we long for.

Newton County schools have been shortchanged some $53 million in state funds due them under the state funding formula since 2006.

That’s not pocket change. It’s $53 million! It all started with then-Gov. Sonny Perdue’s austerity measures in recessionary times, and the state education budget was hit harder than anything else. But wait, I may see a link here. John Douglas was in the State Senate from 2006-2011 and voted every year for the state budget that included massive cuts to education in Newton County. I guess it’s hard for him to change his stripes; he said he plans to vote no on the E-SPLOST.

And Jeff Meadors? I just can’t figure him out.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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