Education and transportation are high priorities with the public and Governor Sonny Perdue should be disappointed in Georgia’s accomplishments in these two critical areas during his seven years in office.
There are two simple principles which apply to any meaningful remedy of these shortcomings.
First, improved student performance depends on attracting better teachers. Second, metro area traffic problems can best be solved by building more roads in the right places.
The governor stepped up to the plate with bold legislative proposals that are consistent with both principles. His legacy will be judged partly by his ability to get his agenda funded by the legislature and crafted by bureaucrats into successful long-term programs.
Perdue obviously recognized that throwing money at education bandwagons such as charter schools, voucher plans, school report card programs, School of Excellence designations, and fragmented alternative learning programs is not the answer to Georgia’s problem. He introduced a budget package that includes the development of a teacher merit pay program designed to attract and reward outstanding teachers.
Student academic performance will determine at least half of the teacher’s evaluation under Perdue’s plan. Veteran teachers will be given the option of participating in the new merit pay program or staying on the old salary schedule based on years of experience and level of certification.
It is likely the best teachers will select the merit pay track while marginal teachers will seek the security of an established salary schedule. This problem needs to be addressed by the General Assembly before finalizing the enabling legislation.
There is also evidence that genetics, educational level of parents, economic status, and the pupil’s academic starting point strongly influence test scores regardless of the quality of instruction. Since all students don’t have the same potential, a merit pay program must be based on pre-determined measurable levels of expectation that vary from student to student or class to class. This will insure that teachers compete on a level playing field.
The merit pay initiative depends heavily on the results of state criterion referenced tests and national standardized tests to judge teacher performance. These tests should be administered on site by an outside agency. The need for independent testing is not an issue of trust but an issue of public perception and credibility.
Perdue’s merit pay proposal has considerable promise if these critical issues are properly addressed by the legislature and state Board of Education. His legacy may depend upon it.
The governor has likewise seen the light in transportation. He is proposing adequate funds for new roads and appears to be jumping off the bandwagon that calls for more rapid transit and pie in the sky plans for commuter rails that will never be used extensively as long as we have gasoline.
He attacked the transportation problem two years ago by dismantling the disorganized leadership structure in the state Transportation Department. Despite the dispute between Perdue and the transportation board over accounting procedures, he appears comfortable with the new leadership and ready to move forward as evidenced by two proposals.
First, the governor wants to use bonded indebtedness to make available $300 million annually for 10 years to subsidize the construction of roads. It is a good time to issue bonds because interest rates may never be lower. The legislature will have the option of raising the motor fuel tax in lieu of issuing bonds in the event interest rates begin to rise during the 10-year period.
His second transportation initiative will divide the state into 12 regions with each consisting of several counties. A regional referendum will be held for voters to determine if a new one cent sales tax may be levied to fund pre-determined road projects within the region.
The plan calls for Fayette County to be dumped into a region with Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Cobb counties, among others. Fayette has little in common with counties like Gwinnett or DeKalb and their large populations of citizens will certainly dominate the vote. Fayette will be short-changed unless the legislature writes an opt-out provision for counties with little to gain from the increased tax.
It is doubtful that Perdue’s education and transportation proposals will play well in Adel and Willacoochee but they can be passed with the inclusion of the needed changes to insure fairness to all concerned.
I think in the end we will see that the country veterinarian from Bonaire booked a winner at his last rodeo and this will bode well for his legacy.
A few unrelated and irrelevant thoughts:
• State Senator Valencia Seay, who represents part of Fayette County, was identified by the AJC as one of seven legislators who didn’t take the five furlough days expected of members of the General Assembly last year. She should immediately reimburse the state for those five days and follow the guidelines set for legislators in 2010. This act of arrogance was an insult to the teachers and state employees who were forced to take furloughs.
• I appealed Fayette County property tax assessments on seven parcels of property this year. My hearing before the Board of Equalization was held last month. Members of the Board are appointed by the Grand Jury and are supposedly independent of the Tax Assessor’s office.
The board members were extremely polite and listened attentively while I presented recent MAI appraisals and other evidence proving beyond a doubt that the value of the appealed parcels is significantly less than the county staff’s opinion.
It was a slam dunk. I left the hearing assuming victory on seven of seven property tax appeals. It was stunning to receive a certified letter informing me I lost six of the seven appeals. The opinion of the county appraiser prevailed over two more qualified appraisers who hold the prestigious MAI certification.
The Board of Equalization is a rubber stamp of the Tax Assessor’s office and members of the Grand Jury which appointed them should be ashamed of their part in this ridiculous travesty.
• Former Peachtree City Mayor Harold Logsdon’s campaign for state Insurance Commissioner is not getting traction. Logsdon raised $48,160 in contributions as of Dec. 31 with most coming from Fayette County residents and businesses. His campaign reported $14,979 on hand at the end of 2009. Ralph Hudgens, Logsdon’s top opponent, received $360,359 during the same period and has a balance of $285,422 on hand. Which candidate can buy the most campaign ads?
• The new Peachtree City Council made a costly mistake by not overriding Mayor Don Haddix in his refusal to permit public input on Capital City Development’s (CDC) request to increase the size of a store in the new Ga. Highway 54 shopping center. Everybody including the developer knew the request would be voted down. The request was officially presented by the developer for a reason and Rick Lindsey, the CDC attorney, will skillfully use the record of the meeting to the developer’s advantage if and when the issue goes to court.
• My final thought is a tip for female readers: If your husband or partner tells you he plays golf several times a week for exercise, strongly suggest to him that a gym membership is less expensive! He will change the subject in a New York second and never play the exercise card again. Golf is always played for fun.
[Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]