(Editor's note: The author, Jeff Annis, is a former member of the Richmond County School Board.)
I HATE WRITING a guest column that will make a few folks very unhappy with me. However, it is important that, when an untrue statement is made, or an opinion is out there which was based on no facts or made up facts that a correction is offered. Sometimes good people say things that are not correct without even trying to check facts. It took me less than 10 minutes to check these facts.
Andy Baumgartner is a wonderful teacher. If everybody in the teaching profession put forth the energy and enthusiasm toward their work that Andy does, this would be a better world.
HOWEVER, Mr. Baumgartner wrote an unfortunate guest column on July 11. Two letters since then have served to misinform the public concerning some of the issues raised by Mr. Baumgartner in his guest column. The unfortunate part is that some of the facts put forth were untrue. Sadly, Mr. Baumgartner tried to tie school class size, lack of counselors, social workers and other support personnel to the Littleton, Colo. slayings. Mr. Baumgartner then touts the congressional action to hire 100,000 additional teachers to make class sizes smaller. How come Mr. Baumgartner did not write that the same grant would provide 26 additional teachers for Richmond County? Why didn't he mention that Title I will provide another 13 positions? Why didn't he mention that Richmond County Schools have 900 fewer pupils this coming year than it did two years ago? The school population will continually shrink over the next few years by around 400 per year. The taxes paid by our neighbors have gone up by millions over a period of time when the number of pupils is shrinking. How does this take place? Mr. Baumgartner never explains that.
The fact is that Richmond County pupils have a better teacher/pupil ratio than it has had in many, many years. There is not a single first, second or third grade class planned this fall that has 20 or more pupils. That used to happen all the time. When it does, a teaching aide is provided for that classroom. Not a single kindergarten class is planned which is large enough to qualify for a teaching aide. Should the taxpayers fund positions in classrooms that are not necessary just so pundits can't say the School Board "cut teaching positions?" Is the Richmond County Board of Education an employment service existing to guarantee more government employees have a paycheck? Nobody was laid off; all cuts were from attrition.
FORTY-FOUR local allotted positions were cut from the local budget. Then 45 were added after the dust settled. That is a net of one more teacher compared to last year, with over 500 fewer students and six schedules. How is that a cut? Incidentally, the Board of Education based the staffing on estimated projections of enrollment. If the actual number of pupils is higher, they hire more teachers as necessary. As frustrating to manage as that sounds, that is the way it works every year. The feeling has always been that it was better to under-staff by a few and add some, instead of hiring too many and putting some on unemployment if they are not needed. Why did Mr. Baumgartner not mention in his guest column that he has a fully paid position, paid for by the taxpayers for two years, while he travels around the country being the poster boy for public education?
The bottom line is that the good people of Richmond County have shown a great deal of confidence in the local school system. They voted a $115 bond issue and then a $150 one percent local sales tax to pay off the bond in five years. The current milage rate of 18.61 was as high as 19.23 back in 1990. While there is much to be troubled about in the annual operating budget, the allotments regarding classroom staff has always been right on track in recent years.
OPTIMISM SHOULD be higher than ever for our local public schools. The first new comprehensive high school in Richmond County since Westside High School opened in 1970 will open this month. Overcrowding is no more at Hephzibah and Butler. The permanent classrooms built in the bond program will do away with over 100 insecure and expensive portables.
Penny Strader's July 17 letter agreed with what Mr. Baumgartner put forth and she asked, "Trustees are you listening?" Sadly, while I was on the School Board for four years I never received a call of concern from any constituent regarding the budget. The only calls I received were from classified school board employees asking for increases for their particular department's salary or improved retirement funding. These calls never were from certified staff (teachers-principals-central office). Mrs. Strader criticized the addition of a public relations director and an assistant superintendent. We have had a public relations director for a few years already in the way of a shared job and assistant position. There is no "new" assistant superintendent's position.
IT IS SAD that at a time when the School Board has taken many pro-active, positive steps to improve our school environment that there are so many folks out there ready to jump on the bandwagon against our well-meaning and dedicated teachers, principals, bus drivers, custodians and other staff. Opinions should be expressed freely, based on truth and facts, not on half-truths and non-facts.