CUEE demolishes its own case

CUEE still doesn’t have a plan for improving education. When asked for any concrete examples of education improving because of school consolidation, not one person could come up with one: not CUEE, not the Chamber, not their invited experts. Their invited experts established that consolidation in Troup County not only didn’t save money, it required a bond issue. And it took four or five years of the hardest work they’d ever done, even though they couldn’t give any evidence that it improved education. It was like that on almost every point: the Chamber and CUEE either couldn’t answer the simplest questions, or even more frequently demolished their own case.

The last question asked to give an example of any company that had declined to come in because of multiple school systems. Not only could nobody give an example, but someone, I believe it was Walter Hobgood, stood up at the podium and said when he was working for a large company he had never encountered a case where they looked at the number of school systems.

Early on Chamber Chair Tom Gooding went on at great length about problems of education. Yes, we know about all that. But he and CUEE Chair Rusty Griffin and all the other local speakers (of whom I think the only actual educator was Mrs. Ruth Council) failed to provide any plan to improve education. They said CUEE’s education committee was still meeting and would at some undefined number of weeks in the future produce a plan. They complained that the two school boards had not done their homework for them, because both the Valdosta Board of Education and the next day the Lowndes County Board of Education already voted to oppose consolidation.

One of the questions from the audience later was about what it would take to get the Chamber to get out of education and back to bringing in business. Tom Gooding said he didn’t accept the premise; he thought education was essential to business. True enough, but he still didn’t present any plan to improve education.

CUEE’s invited speaker, Terry Jenkins, who was superintendent in Troup County during consolidation, admitted that it was four or five years of really hard work to make it work at all. He didn’t know how much more they spent on bussing because of it. He didn’t know what Troup County’s AYP figures were now, and when asked proceeded to argue that AYP wasn’t valid for any school system. Maybe so, but he could not come up with any single example of how consolidation improved education in Troup County.

Terry Jenkins didn’t mention that eighteen years later they’re still arguing about it in Troup County. He did say that votes only in the cities in Troup County were arranged to force the issue by preventing people in the county from voting. He referred to people in the county who were mad because they didn’t get to vote as “haters”. He referred to people who didn’t like losing their high school as “those people”.

I wonder if “those people” include Mayor Ferguson of West Point, Georgia, home of the Kia plant, who complained to USA TODAY 25 March 2010,

“We have a wonderful elementary school.” But there is no middle or high school in the city limits. “The current formula for education funding is not working,”
West Point, Georgia, used to have a high school, mascot Red Devils, opened 1903, closed 1986. That’s right, consolidation took away West Point’s high school, education is still a problem, and the mayor is complaining. Is he just a “hater”?

Remember, nobody in Lowndes County outside Valdosta gets to vote on the local “unification” referendum in November. Are we just “those people”?

But don’t feel neglected, people of Valdosta who oppose consolidation, you, too, can be “those people”. CUEE and the Chamber enumerated some things they thought were misinformation, and among those was the potential sale of the Valdosta High School stadium. The counter-argument was that only the Lowndes County School board after unification could sell the stadium. But that’s exactly what the last speaker at the 29 August 2011 VBOE meeting said! So CUEE and the Chamber actually validated his argument. Rest easy, Wildcat fans: if you oppose consolidation and point out potential adverse consequences, you, too, can be “those people”!

Terry Jenkins did mention that Troup County had to float a bond issue to pay for costs related to consolidation. An audience question later wondered who would pay the $5 million it will cost to level up pensions for Valdosta faculty to match those of Lowndes. The Chamber and CUEE said that would be the unified Lowndes County School Board’s problem. The crowd gave the real answer: “the taxpayers”.

Speaking of the Kia plant, nobody on the podium did. Even though Troup County’s Kia plant used to be the only example CUEE could come up with for an industry that they could claim moved in because of school unification. Maybe that’s because there’s no connection: Troup County didn’t mention schools at all in their announcement about the Kia plant opening; there’s nothing about school unification in their strategic plan; and their county history web page says nothing about schools in relation to the Kia plant. So instead of admitting they were wrong, CUEE and the Chamber just don’t mention Kia any more.

Speaking of Chattanooga, oh, wait, they didn’t! Even though back in March at the CUEE Kick-Off CUEE’s paid consultant Steve SpPrigohzy from Chattanooga spoke a lot about Chattanooga schools “unifying” with those of Hamilton County, Tennessee as CUEE’s main example of a “unified” school system. SpPrigohzy was conspicuously absent last night. Maybe because in March he said things like this:

“If you believe in the end that running one system is cheaper than running two school systems. If in the end you are going to cast a vote for a single system because you think it would save money, I wouldn’t cast my vote. I do not think it will save money.”
Maybe because, as David Mullis keeps pointing out, Hamilton Co. TN is a high priority school district, and
“That means they had two years of bad results.”
Once again, when one of their talking points is disproved, CUEE and the Chamber don’t stand up and admit they’re wrong: they just stop talking about it.

Now CUEE and the Chamber may try to get everyone to believe that all the people there were for “unification”. Look closely: many of the shirts people were wearing said “NO CONSOLIDATION”. The anti-consolidation group Friends of Valdosta City Schools (FVCS) sells those shirts. I don’t know what the proportions of con vs. pro were, but I do know there were far more people wearing no consolidation shirts than there were wearing pro-unification shirts. And on several occasions when the speakers let out a good one, the laughter from the no consolidation folks indicated they were a quite large proportion of the audience.

Such occasions included when moderator Lee Henderson read a question asking how much the Chamber or CUEE had spent on paid consultants. Chamber Chair Gooding referred that one to CUEE. CUEE Chair Rusty Griffin enumerated the consultants (the only time SpPrigohzy was mentioned). But Griffin failed to say anything about how much the consultants were paid until the crowd reminded him. Then he claimed not to know. The crowd laughed loudly. At least the no consolidation folks did.

CUEE’s only real argument?

“I believe!”
It wasn’t just the preacher who went on about that at great length, it was every pro-unification speaker. No evidence, no examples, of education improved by consolidation. Just “I believe!”

Sorry, CUEE and the Chamber: you need more than that before you demolish our school systems.

Also, CUEE: there were multiple video cameras there. You can see at least four in this picture, not counting the ones not pictured Gretchen and I were holding for LAKE. I would bet at least one of them was paid for by CUEE or the Chamber. Let’s see it, CUEE! Let’s see video of the whole meeting put on the web by you, so everyone can see. If you can afford all those consultants and all those signs, you can afford that.

LAKE will be posting video of this event.

Meanwhile, according to the Chamber and CUEE’s own invited experts, consolidation wouldn’t improve education, it would raise taxes, and it would be at the very least four or five years of the hardest work anybody involved has ever done. Why on earth would anyone want that?


1 thought on “CUEE demolishes its own case

  1. Etta Mims

    Thank you for this article. I was present at the “forum” and I am amazed at the lies told by the individuals (CUEE) who spoke. I look forward to viewing the video from last night. Thank you for everything you do to keep us informed!

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