Give them permission

Close observers of the Washington scene say Congress and the president may never tackle the nation's impending entitlement-spending crisis until they feel the American people have given them permission.

We urge you to give your senator and congressman permission.

Likewise, local government officials won't take on inefficiencies in their own bailiwicks if they think voters will baste them for it.

Nowhere is that more certain than in the schools.

Americans love to complain about the size and reach and cost of government, but when push comes to shove are we willing to make any sacrifices to trim it back?

Richmond County school officials have begun a methodical, long-term look at the district to determine what must be done to make it more efficient. An audit last March indicated the district is operating some 6,000 students short of capacity.

That's horribly inefficient. It's like turning the lights and air on in an 80,000-seat dome for a middle school football game.

One of the efficiencies the district has to consider is what an outside audit recommended last March: closing some schools.

The audit, by MGT of America, said that, at a minimum, the district should close five schools: three elementary, one middle and one high school. The district could save close to $12 million by doing so.

Those savings could be shifted to improve the remaining schools or -- gasp! -- returned to taxpayers.

So far, the school system has brought in not only the outside auditors -- which we don't disagree with -- but also hired a consultant for $57,000 to aid in the current "rightsizing" discussions. Couldn't the district have brought in someone from the University of Georgia, the state Department of Education, the school boards association?

For the most part, though, the school district is going about this the right way -- slowly, with input from a community focus group that is helping officials look at all the alternatives to make the district more efficient.

The key will be whether the community will buy into the eventual recommendations -- and whether school board members have the guts to find out.

Fortunately, the process should last beyond the November elections, in which five school board members are up for re-election. Hopefully that will give them a little added gumption to do what's necessary, including closing schools if need be.

By the end of this painstaking process we'll know what needs to be done.

It remains to be seen whether we'll want to do it.

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