How’s that cof­fee?

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Folks, let me just jump right in this morn­ing and get your blood pump­ing faster even be­fore your first sip of cof­fee. I want to talk to you about schools and taxes. Ready?

Our lo­cal su­per­in­ten­dent of schools was quoted last week as say­ing he would never sup­port shift­ing the bur­den of taxes re­quired to run the pub­lic schools to peo­ple oc­cu­py­ing lower lay­ers of in­come earn­ers. Well, I ad­mire Steve What­ley and the job he’s done for decades in our school sys­tem, and what he said does not change my lofty opin­ion of him one iota.

How­ever, my su­per­in­ten­dent is hired by “we, the peo­ple,” to run the schools, pe­riod. Where his money comes from is the peo­ple’s busi­ness. And right now, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of prop­erty own­ers, along with se­nior cit­i­zens on fixed in­comes, are pretty much past ready to change the way schools are fi­nanced.

Sta­tis­tics in­di­cate that the mid­dle class pays a whop­ping 84 per­cent of all taxes paid in our coun­try each year. And while I un­der­stand that re­gres­sive taxes - like sales taxes - hit lower in­come folks a tad bit harder than any­one else since one penny to a per­son liv­ing on wel­fare con­sti­tutes a big­ger per­cent­age than one penny to a mil­lion­aire, con­sider that the pub­lic schools are over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lated with lower in­come stu­dents. Just look at the per­cent­age of kids in our county, state, and across our na­tion for that mat­ter, who eat free or re­duced cost meals. Who pays the freight for that? You guessed it – the mid­dle class.

In this elec­tion year, ev­ery­one seems to be throw­ing around words like “equal­ity” and “op­por­tu­nity.” Well, it’s easy to talk about how you want to ride on the train of equal op­por­tu­nity, as long as you don’t have to pay the freight.

Let me em­pha­size this: I have known Steve What­ley for a long time, and I ad­mire the job he has done, and I have ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve he is the ab­so­lutely right per­son in the right spot to con­duct the busi­ness of ed­u­ca­tion – as it is cur­rently pre­sented and op­er­ated. This is not a crit­i­cism of our lo­cal school su­per­in­ten­dent in any way, shape, form or fash­ion.

How­ever, his quote hath opened Pan­dora’s Box. And once the Ge­nie is out of that bot­tle, it’s next to im­pos­si­ble to coax it back inside. In other words, y’all, Mr. What­ley pre­sented the soap­box to me, I have climbed atop it, and here I go.

With re­gard to schools, it’s way past time to chuck the deal where prop­erty own­ers pay the freight. The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in this county who send their kids to pub­lic schools are renters, and the ma­jor­ity of those kids come from the lower in­come seg­ments of our soci- ety. They don’t pay prop­erty tax and they don’t con­trib­ute in any fi­nan­cial way to­ward op­er­at­ing the schools, but they surely do show up in the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice reg­u­larly.

The school sys­tem that made Amer­ica great is dead, folks. Dead and gone, and no­body even gave it a de­cent burial. If those bleed­ing hearts who think kids who pop­u­late to­day’s pub­lic schools are go­ing to take care of old folks one day, they haven’t been to schools lately and seen what the sit­u­a­tion is. To­day’s schools have been har­nessed by leg­isla­tive at­tempts to make ev­ery kid as smart as ev­ery other kid, have had the pad­dle taken out of the teacher’s hand and have had to hire lawyers to craft the word­ing of dis­ci­pline poli­cies in or­der to meet ACLU stan­dards, and have had to re­move spir­i­tual and moral ed­u­ca­tion from the class­room. In no way do our Ge­or­gia pub­lic schools of the 21st cen­tury re­sem­ble the school sys­tem which ex­isted in Amer­ica prior to the pas­sage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Cling­ing to seg­re­ga­tion un­til the fall of 1969, Ge­or­gia’s pub­lic schools were still not ready for in­te­gra­tion when it came at the rul­ing of a Fed­eral judge in Bos­ton. We’ve been fight­ing the bat­tle of bring­ing ev­ery­one up to snuff ever since, throw­ing money at prob­lems money can’t fix. How’s that cof­fee? So what will we do about our schools? What kind of revo­lu­tion must take place? Elected of­fi­cials are over­whelmed, upon tak­ing of­fice, by the amount of le­gal in­for­ma­tion they have to ab­sorb just to know what they can say, and what they can and can­not do, in pub­lic meet­ings. Non-elected school of­fi­cials have their ca­reers and re­tire­ments vested in keep­ing things go­ing just the way they are un­til they can re­tire. Sadly, many of even the most ded­i­cated folks I know in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion are count­ing down the days un­til they can get out, and are hop­ing their world won’t be rocked be­fore they re­tire.

Here’s what I think. We don’t need to build any more schools, at all. We have enough schools presently in op­er­a­tion or un­der con­struc­tion to han­dle the sys­tem’s re­quire­ments. What we need now is the will to im­ple­ment dou­ble shifts at each and ev­ery school fa­cil­ity. In other words, turn each school into two schools. Ge­or­gia Code An­no­tated §20-2690(c)(5) re­quires a school day to last four and one-half hours. So let’s tune our schools to run “Day School” for half a day, and op­er­ate “Night School” for half a day. Throw three hours in be­tween the end of “Day School” and the start of “Night School” for both schools to prac­tice their ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and hold fac­ulty meet­ings and par­ent con­fer­ences. Uti­lize our fa­cil­i­ties to the max, 24-7-365.

Elim­i­nate the un­fair prac­tice of fund­ing schools through prop­erty taxes on the al­ready­be­lea­guered mid­dle class, and fund the op­er­a­tion of our schools with sales taxes so that ev­ery­one pays the freight.

How’s that cof­fee?

Nat Har­well

Colum­nist

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