BOE’s Belton sums up county’s schools in 2012 • Dave Belton
I write a column every year to sum up the past school term. I usually wait till the SAT comes out, but with all the comings and goings, I feel an earlier version is required.
Let us face it… It’s been a very turbulent year. Since last June we’ve changed a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, and two principals in addition to losing three assistant principals. Wow.
But let’s remember that none of these people were “fired” or “let go” or pressured to leave by the board. Three of these left after long and happy careers; the others left of their own volition. We’ve only “fired” one employee this year, and that was a bus driver for which we had conclusive video evidence.
I often hear complaints that we weren’t harsh enough in some of these cases. The fact is the board did what we could within the bounds of the law. I also hear we were too harsh in these very same cases. To me, that shows the diversity of opinion on any given issue. We should have been more transparent, even though, legally, we can’t talk about personnel issues. We also should have handled these “in house,” the exact opposite of transparency. I hear it from all sides.
Overall, most people wish we had handled some of these things differently. In a perfect world, I’d agree. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and concepts like evidence, formal charges and “innocent until proven guilty” means the board had to act prudently, not willfully. I think we have been prudent, as evidenced by the lack of lawsuits. People who insist we should “fire so-and-so” would have guaranteed months if not years of expensive litigation, wasting taxpayer money and miring our schools in bad press. The other argument that we should “sweep things under the carpet” is repulsive and illogical, as matters were taken over our heads – directly to the state – where we had no choice but to deal with them.
Feelings have been hurt and, unfortunately, careers have been damaged. I’m told our prestige has been harmed throughout the state. I certainly hope not, and would be very sorry to hear that some of our former administrators were lauding our troubles. I hope instead that “One Morgan” continues to improve our legacy – and the legacy of these administrators – by continuing to be one of the very best systems in Georgia.
Because we are. Despite what some of these administrators did or failed to do, our TEACHERS continue to teach, mentor and empower our children, displaying an expertise that proves their professionalism.
Evidence? Morgan County High School is ranked in the top 9 percent of the nation and 14th in Georgia by The Washington Post. This is our fourth year on this prestigious list, due in large part to our ridiculous number of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (college-level) courses. Make no mistake, IB and AP put Morgan on the map. This tiny, underprivileged, rural community has no business being better than 91 percent of the nation… Yet we are.
Furthermore, our entire system was just ranked 13th best in the state. With an 86 percent graduation rate, we were 13 out of 177 systems, putting us in the top 7 percent in Georgia. All the other winners were from much smaller city systems, making our win an even bigger feat. A record 240 students graduated last year.
MCHS had a record 83 percent acceptance rate at UGA and 80 percent at Tech. A stunning 23 of 28 were accepted, even better than the 15 of 19 (79 percent) we had last year. A few years ago, only four students went to UGA and none to Tech. Overall, an amazing 70 percent of our seniors went to college.
I defy anyone to find a more frugal system with better results. People who expect to win the World Series with a Kansas City Royals payroll are being intellectually dishonest. Our teachers defy the odds, producing better results with much less money.
Less money is unfortunately what we’re faced with, as funds from the state continue to dwindle. In 2008, we got $14.6 million from the state. This year we’ll be lucky to get $12 million. As the value of a local mill falls from $1,000 to $900 in just a few years, we face even greater challenges.
Part of the problem is the way Georgia funds schools. Unlike city or state governments, school boards have only one way of procuring local funds for operations – property taxes. These are shrinking as the state cuts our funds. The federal contribution is negligible and is wrapped up in a legion of regulations. As insurance and fuel costs rise, and funding slumps, it will be more and more difficult to make ends meet.
To me, the very worst thing that will happen this year is the 10 fewer days we’ll be paying our teachers. Administrator squabbles aside, TEACHERS have done a fabulous job “Working on the Work” as they say at the elementary school. They’ve done all we ask them to and they’ve done it well. Unfortunately, we’re now asking them to do it with less.
On the positive side, the state has instituted a different way to measure Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) which should be fairer. The old requirement for 100 percent pass rates for 100 percent of our children was a train wreck waiting to happen.
Enrollment has fallen about 20 students this year to 3,314. It was 2945 students 11 years ago, with a meager gain of about 1 percent per year.
I have every confidence in Mrs. Norburg and Dr. Malanowski, and hope the later will throw his hat in the ring for the permanent position. And of course you never hear anything about Dr. Short and Mrs. Triplett because they are “merely” doing a great job and therefore don’t attract any attention.
Two eras will come to an end. “Doc” Wilson has done wonders making Morgan County Schools a revered name around the state, both with his “Best Principal in the Nation” award and our impressive IB and AP programs. More historically, Mrs. Minnie Peek is ending 52 years of service in education when she steps off the board. A teacher, Civil Rights champion and community leader, her wisdom will be sorely missed.
Finally, I’d like to thank our teachers, without whom nothing would be accomplished. Not only do they create civilization with their bold ideas, they restore it – year by year, child by child – with life changing impact that’s full of immense joy and awesome responsibility.
I know I couldn’t do it.
Dave Belton sits on the Morgan County Board of Education as District 5’s representative.
Printed in the June 7, 2012 edition