The school system in Fayette County is stumbling through a governmental version of constant traumatic stress disorder. Exceptionally poor decisions from the Fayette Board of Education have caused significant problems for all of us.
Newly appointed Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Leonard Presberg and recently hired Superintendent Jeff Bearden can see what incompetence at the board level can do to your system and employee morale. They are the latest two fish dropped in the hot frying pan of the Janet Smola and Terri Smith era of poor planning and catastrophic decision-making.
The third vote in that infamous voting block with Smola and Smith, Lee Wright, opted to wisely bail out in the last election cycle.
The April 16 FCBOE meeting was a perfect example of just how bad things are in the system.
A proposal has been prepared to close three schools, all in Fayetteville. The particular schools are all Title I schools (meeting certain federal levels for the free lunch program) and they are close-knit neighborhood schools. It is relatively easy to close those schools because the lower income parents do not put up as much of a fight as you would get in the more affluent areas.
The sad part is we would not have had to close any schools had Smola and Smith not foolishly spent our tax dollars for new schools that were unwarranted. The embarrassment along with the high cost of the new empty schools has now prompted a slash and burn capitation effort on our established schools and districts.
In reality, East Fayette Elementary was closed a while back because there were no students to put in Smola and Smith’s new empty Inman Elementary School.
Please keep in mind that these are the same schools Smola and Smith invested millions of our tax dollars in for building upgrades over the last eight or so years. In essence, we are being forced into trashing valuable facilities and upgrades because a couple of people got carried away spending a train load of our tax dollars.
What happens to those students moved to Rivers Elementary when the land begins to develop around the West Fayetteville Bypass? The answer is they will simply be shipped somewhere else convenient to the FCBOE as they are the expendable Title I kids of Fayette County.
I am going to be very blunt. Both Smola and Smith say they did not know student numbers were falling when they built those new schools and they are lying. Every indicator including census data, county home building numbers, Atlanta Regional Commission data and their own FCBOE data gave a crystal clear depiction of student numbers falling.
Read this quote from the FCBOE Construction Advisory Committee Meeting from Feb. 26, 2007:
“For proposed elementary school #1 (at Inman Road and Hwy. 92), construction documents are being planned by the architect, and advertising for the bid for the school will begin next week. Mr. Darnell reported on many new code changes that are taking effect with new construction and the increase in pricing for new construction. He expects that steel prices will continue to increase, and lumber prices will decrease, AS NEW HOUSING CONSTRUCTION IS DECREASING” (the upper case emphasis is mine).
Long before the FCBOE ever bid out construction or planning of Inman or Rivers schools, they knew for certain they were not going to have the necessary increase in volume of students.
Rivers Elementary was constructed and another high school site purchased nearby as a special interest gift to certain development interests along with the construction of the West Fayetteville Bypass. All you need to do is look at the immense amount of development proposed in the plans for that area.
We the taxpayers have tens of millions of our tax dollars wasted on schools and roads, creating profitability assurances for local developers and land investors along the West Fayetteville Bypass.
Do you remember when the first E-SPLOST had to be passed to save the jobs of parapros and teachers? The referendum passed and they let the parapros, teachers and staff go anyway.
Do you remember how Smola and Smith campaigned for re-election the last time talking about the financial strength of the school system, but then said more tax increases were necessary soon after they were elected?
We went with bond issues to fund school improvements as a way to help our low income senior citizens avoid increased taxes. Smola and Smith turned around and used the E-SPLOST sales taxes to pay the bond debt, totally lying to the seniors who voted in favor of the two bond offerings.
We are doing it to our teachers, nurses, custodians, bus drivers all over again. The FCBOE is cutting their pay and having them pay an even larger portion of their health coverage mainly because they have managed the system so poorly.
Parents, the morale of the faculty and staff is low. You can build all of the empty buildings you want, but we had better be able to maintain and motivate our quality school staffing.
As many teachers expressed on Monday, they are being forced to look at other options. Terri Smith failed to properly disclose over $12 million worth of property and business interests due to a “paperwork error,” a problem our teachers and staff only can only dream of.
Massive school redistricting is coming. Smola’s and Smith’s actions have given us no choice. Of course, most of these decisions will be delayed until after the FCBOE elections. Remember this when you go vote: The last people you want making any decision of importance related to your children, your schools and your community are Janet Smola and Terri Smith.
Fayette County Commissioner, Post 4
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Brown is a former school council president and PTO president at J.C. Booth Middle School in Peachtree City.]