Chamber of Commerce berates school boards

Even the Chamber of Commerce Board may no longer be unanimous in support of “unification” after losing both school boards and the newspaper of record. But that doesn’t stop “itself” from speaking for local business leaders and berating the school boards for not doing what “itself” hasn’t done. That’s the sort of “high road” we’ve come to expect from proponents of “unification”.

The Chamber sent the appended letter to two tax-funded publicly-elected bodies, making it a matter of public record. I’m sure the Chamber has the resources to host their own copy of their own letter, so here I’m publishing it with my commentary in red in the boxes on the right. Bold text marks what the comments refer to. -jsq

Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2011 16:46:29 -0400 (EDT)
From: Tom Gooding
Subject: School System Unification Message


Dear Chamber Members:

Below is a letter that the Chamber Board of Directors would like to share with all of our members. The letter is being sent today to all members of the Valdosta City and Lowndes County School Boards and both Superintendents. In a meeting yesterday of the Chamber Board, there was strong consensus to maintain our commitment to school system unification and to CUEE.

Both school boards voted in open meetings, with the vote of each member recorded on video. Yet the chamber just has “strong consensus” and we don’t know who voted which way for what. That’s the kind “high road” we’ve come to expect from proponents of “unification”.
Most important, the Board members were firm in their belief that the Chamber’s role in the upcoming discussions regarding school system unification must remain “on the high road.” Thank you for your support of the Chamber in this effort.

Tom Gooding
Chairman of the Board
Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce


September 9, 2011
TO: Valdosta City and Lowndes County School Board Members and Superintendents:

The mission of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce is to serve as a unifying force, a focal point for enhancing the economic, social and cultural well-being of the communities it serves. In this role, the Chamber has been a leading voice for many of the critical issues facing Valdosta and Lowndes County, including the ongoing debate around unification of our separate local school systems.

The Chamber does and will continue to energetically support school unification. Our Board of Directors voted unanimously to support unification

Unanimously? But your chairman says it was “strong consensus”. Maybe we’re talking about some previous unanimous vote. In which case apparently even the Chamber’s board is no longer unanimous in support of “unification”.
and polling showed the overwhelming support of some 78% of our membership (over 1,500 strong) for unification as well. The Chamber did not take on this effort lightly and would not have done so without the belief that the unification of the two school systems would far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.

The business leaders of our community are disappointed

Really? The Chamber speaks for all business leaders of our community? Funny how I’ve run across quite a few who don’t agree with the Chamber on this issue.
that the debate around school unification has recently become divisive and more importantly misleading, based on emotional and fear arguments rather than facts. As you know the Chamber has been a long-time community advocate for children and believes a unified school system is the first step to ensuring equal opportunity, improving educational achievement, and thus enhancing the economic well-being of our entire community.

It has been said that “business” is behind the Chamber’s unification efforts, as if making our city and county increasingly attractive to business and industry, which can provide jobs to both the parents of our children and, upon graduation, the children themselves, were a negative. It isn’t.

Our existing businesses and industries are disappointed that our local public schools are not producing graduates who are qualified for today’s workforce, not to mention the substantial number of students who drop out well before graduation. The statistical reality is that Valdosta High School has not met the State of Georgia’s AYP (annual yearly progress) standards for five consecutive years. It is likely that when the state releases its graduation rates this year using the new, more accurate federal standard for measuring graduation rates, both of our school systems will show significant decreases in graduation rates.

Here in 2011 we continue to

Um, how about stop using “County Schools” as a selling point for subdivisions?
endure schools that are essentially segregated by economic status. Unless something changes dramatically, this community will continue to travel a path
Such advertising has helped get us so far down that path that there’s not a lot further to go.
of racial and economic resegregation.

The Chamber is disappointed in the recent actions taken by the two School Boards and also by Dr. Cason and Dr. Smith for blurring the facts in their recent letters to the editor of the Valdosta Daily Times.

That’s pretty rich considering the VDT’s own editorial apologized to Dr. Smith that the VDT had “unintentionally fanned the flames”, and the same editorial provided a list of questions it said consolidation proponents haven’t answered. Tell me again who’s blurring the facts?
Yes, there indeed have been improvements in our schools and for that the Superintendents should be commended — but the overall pattern has not changed significantly and the overall outlook for all of our children is not encouraging. The Chamber also realizes school unification, by itself, will not be the sole answer to every challenge. But the data clearly
Where are these data? All the letter cites is a poll of the Chamber’s own members. That’s not data: that’s wishful thinking, as Sam Allen of FVCS pointed out at the VBOE meeting.
shows that communities of our size with a single, unified school system are more successful in planning and implementing school reforms, have greater parent and community involvement, and build stronger professional programs for teachers and principals — all of which are critical factors in raising student achievement and sustaining academic gains over time.

The citizens of Valdosta clearly want the opportunity to vote on unification.

Too bad the Chamber doesn’t think the citizens of the rest of Lowndes County deserve a vote, or at least the Chamber can’t even be bothered to mention that in CUEE’s scheme we don’t get a vote. Even though the Georgia Constitution says we should. CUEE has made it pretty clear they don’t care about county voters.
More than 7,000 voters — more than those who have voted in recent City elections — signed the petition calling for the upcoming referendum.

As we go forward, the Chamber urges both School Boards to support and encourage an open and fair dialogue about this issue.

          You first, CUEE and Chamber (is there a difference, by the way?). Oh, wait, CUEE did go first, with that dog-and-pony Kick-off thing back in March, in which they conveniently ran out of time to answer questions about how “unification” would improve education for the least fortunate. They don’t have a plan to improve education, and “unification” won’t do anything to improve education.

The only real dialog about school consolidation I’ve seen was at the May Lowndes County Democratic Party meeting, where proponents and opponents gave their positions, and then stood side by side and answered questions from the audience.

More importantly, rather than simply saying no to unification as both School Boards and both Superintendents have recently done,
Did the Chamber read the school board statements? Each of them spelled out their reasoning at some length. Here they are:
the Chamber also believes the community would benefit from the School Boards and their Superintendents coming forward to meaningfully participate in the dialogue of what a unified school system would look like and stating publicly that, should the referendum prevail — a very real prospect — on Nov. 8, both School Boards will work together to ensure a smooth planning and transition process to a unified school system.
          So the Chamber wants the school boards to say they expect the referendum to succeed, right after both boards said they don’t want it to succeed. Kind of like how CUEE told people that if they signed the petition for a referendum, that didn’t mean they were for “unification”. And how CUEE counts anybody who attends its committee meetings as supporters, even if they just went to see what CUEE was up to. Is such Orwellian double-speak what we want taught to the children of our community?

Besides, both school boards said in their statements that they were open to discussion, so the Chamber pretending it is making the first move on this is, ah, disingenuous.

How about if the Chamber and CUEE state publicly that there’s a very real chance that the referendum will not pass, now that both school boards and the VDT have come out against it, and if it doesn’t pass the Chamber and CUEE will give up on “unification” and not bring it up again?

A number of communities throughout Georgia and the South have merged their city and county school systems during the past 15-20 years. Indeed, there are only some 22 separate city and specialized school systems left in Georgia versus 159 county school systems in our state.

          On the one hand Valdosta and Lowndes County aspire to metropolitan status. On the other hand, the Chamber wants to compare us to every county in the state, no matter how small. Yes, Lanier County has a unified school system. No offense to Lanier County, but it also has only about 10,000 people to Lowndes County’s approx. 109,000 people.

However, if “unification” passes, Lanier County, already by far the fastest growing county around here, will grow even faster as bright flight runs beyond the “unified” school system. Unless the Chamber and CUEE plan to drag all of Lanier, Echols, and Brooks Counties into their “unified” school district, the metropolitan area will not be unified.

Also among those cities with their own school systems is Dublin, which landed that MAGE Solar plant. Apparently having two school systems is not an impediment to getting industry to move in, after all.

The results in terms of student performance, tax rates, retaining professional faculty and increased community support, while not perfect, are very encouraging. We would urge the School Boards and other interested parties to study those efforts.
          Once again the Chamber cites no evidence. Apparently the Lowndes County Board of Education did study consolidated school districts, since its resolution concluded consolidated school districts neither improved education nor saved money; quite the opposite: taxes went up. Since CUEE and the Chamber don’t actually provide any information on the “results” they find fit their confirmation bias, LCBOE is more credible on this.

The Chamber Board of Directors itself looks forward to meeting with members of both School Boards to discuss how we might work together on behalf of our children, sooner rather than later. We take this opportunity to formally invite the members of our School Boards and our Superintendents to meet with us. If not now, when?

Where was the Chamber Board at the recent school board meetings? If not then, why not? FVCS was quite visible, but CUEE and the Chamber were not visible. Does “The Chamber Board of Directors itself” only appear behind closed doors, not in open meetings?

Maybe “itself” should stop trying to dictate to everybody else.

-jsq

Sincerely,
Tom Gooding
Chairman of the Board of Directors
Myrna Ballard
President

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1 thought on “Chamber of Commerce berates school boards

  1. Farrah D. Reed

    I still don’t get how unification would benefit the schools but I also don’t get the appeal of county schools either.
    When I first moved here (14 years ago) lots of folks told my parents that Lowndes High was a better school and it ended up being the school my younger brother and I went to for four years, Valdosta must have been really crappy because Lowndes High is not a school I would send my kids to.
    I used to love school prior to moving to Valdosta and attending Lowndes High. The entire school is centered around dress code and football. That’s cool that folks like football and the school has a good team, but academics and other programs are definitely not a priority, and it doesn’t seem like that’s changed at all in the last ten years.
    Unless you work with your kids (or your kids work hard on there own) they will not be prepared for college when they graduate, VSU will still accept them (but they will take anyone that has HOPE and/or can pay tuition).

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