By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
All parents want their children in good schools. My parents (pictured above with my sons, Robert Trotter and Matthew Trotter, and a great grandson, Canon Teasley) wanted my sister and brother and me in good schools, and we want our children and grandchildren in good schools. Good schools have less to do with money, resources, and equipment and more to do with good teachers who are allowed to teach and who are supported in classroom discipline.
Money does not equate with successful schooling and learning. Just look at all of the urban school systems in the country. All. I am not exaggerating. All. So, something more fundamental than money needs to be in place.
The money inequities have been around from the beginning. Georgia (and I presume other states as well) have struggled with the funding formula, trying to ameliorate the inequities. In the early 1980s in Georgia, Dr. Michael LaMorte of the University of Georgia and a few others came up with the District Power Equalization (DPE) funding formula. Formulas were imbedded into the Quality Basic Education (QBE) Act under the Joe Frank Harris Administration. If you were around in the mid-1980s, you will recall that QBE was wafted up in every political discussion about public education in Georgia as if it were the newly-found holy grail in the public schooling process. School systems were essentially “bribed” to switch to the Middle School “Concept,” a concept which has since been dropped like a hot potato when it comes to sending monies to the school systems. It has, quite frankly, been a flop.
I remember when Joe Martin brought the COP funding formula to the Atlanta Board of Education. COP. Certificate of Participation. This brought in privatization to the funding. Perhaps ole Joe was ahead of the curve. It took Eli and Edyth Broad a few years to catch up with Joe on realizing the billions of dollars involved in public education. Now the Broads “train” potential superintendents (and search firms — and Glenn Brock — go a’shoppin’ for a newbie supe in their superintendent supermarket) and eventually have their tentacles in large, urban school systems throughout the country. It almost reminds of the BAE Systems (arms dealer) and its dealings with the Saudi Royal Family. Ha. Money galore! When you start sloshing around in big money (in the hundreds of billions), well, the rules are a little different.
Yes, I have seen these discussions about “inequities” for a while now. In the 1950s in Georgia, we had the great ballyhoo over Minimum Foundation. Then came Adequate Program of Education in Georgia (APEG). Then came the almighty QBE. Even ole Roy got into the act with the his A+ Program (which tinkered around the edges of QBE, removing due process for teachers…which Sonny later restored). Now, don’t get me wrong…I think that Fran, Brooks, and Kelly are smart men. I have interacted with them on a bit level through the years. They are as capable of any other group of finding an “equitable” formula. But, they are really looking at the wrong “inequities.” It is this simple, guys. Good school systems support their teachers. They back up the teachers when it comes to establishing and maintaining order in the classroom. They do not tolerate defiant and disruptive students to remain in the regular school environment if these students do not change their ways. We know that no one can really do anything about who the parents are, and good school systems usually have good parents. There is a fundamental inequity in this area, but good school systems simply do not countenance irate and irresponsible parents screaming, shouting, and bullying their children’s teachers. What are we going to do about this “inequity”?
Good school systems also do not allow for “moronic” (yes, I like this candid expression, Fran) administrators to bully teachers, making their lives miserable and running them off to other school systems. Good school systems realize that you cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. Good school systems are law-abiding. Bad school systems are antinomian in nature. They don’t give a rat’s behind what Title 20 of the Georgia State Code or the U. S. Constitution say. They simply do not care. That’s why at MACE we have very publicly and openly these last few years called the Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School System “gangsta school systems.” Good school systems actually obey the grievance law for certificated employees in Georgia (OCGA 20-2-989.5 et seq.) or the sick leave law (OCGA 20-2-850) or duty free lunch for elementary school teachers (OCGA 20-2-218). Systems like Atlanta and DeKalb often ignore these laws, and they take umbrage over the fact that we fight them over this
When overhauling Title 20, I would suggest that the Georgia General Assembly actually put some teeth into the grievance law for certified employees. Penalize the school systems when they egregiously and flagrantly violate this law as they often and routinely do and create an automatic appeal process that works. Don’t allow the Georgia Board of Education to simply dismiss an appeal because “we don’t have a record to examine.” Of course you don’t because the gangsta school systems would never even hold a hearing. Had APS been forced to obey this law, teachers would have had an avenue to air their complaints about the systematic cheating. But, APS just routinely ignores this law. This is one of the several reasons why MACE pickets administrators and/or school boards. We have a simple formula at MACE: Obey the law and conduct a rather private grievance hearing or we will embarrass the heck out of you with a very public (and often “candy ass”) picket. It’s your choice. This usually works. Yes, the General Assembly should tighten up this grievance law. The DeKalb School System shut down a grievance hearing in which I was representing a teacher in the Spring of 2009 who was about to testify about systematic cheating (and he had a list of witnesses). I won’t mention any DeKalb employees responsible for shutting down this grievance because I feel confident that they were carrying out then-Superintendent Crawford Lewis’s wishes. Shortly after this shut down (and the subsequent MACE pickets in which we had “systematic cheating” on our signs), the cheating scandal in DeKalb erupted for all to see…and, sadly, Crawford was indicted.
One last thought for our General Assembly and Department of Education: Establish an office of a School Disciplinary Czar in Georgia with a private, secure, and confidential hotline that teachers can call. A staff of four or five investigators might make a dent on those “moronic” administrators who are bent on allowing defiant and disruptive students and their irate and irresponsible parents to abuse teachers. I am sorry, but the PSC simply doesn’t seem to have the capacity nor the stomach for such investigations. Sending complaints to the PSC over such matters almost invariably go unheeded.
There are many “inequitable” factors which beset the Georgia school systems, and the most important ones have little to do with funding. (c) MACE, August 26, 2011.