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OPINION PAGE - JANUARY 12, 2000 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
January 12, 2000

Time to settle attendance issues
When the Jackson County Board of Education decided to close the door to out-of-district students, it solved one problem, but created another. As evidenced by a recent board decision that overturned an administrative recommendation on one child's status, the attendance requirements are a muddled mess.
No one can fault the board for attempting to get a handle on its growth problems by adopting some kind of attendance policy for out-of-district students. It is reasonable to say that Jackson County taxpayers shouldn't have to build classrooms for students whose parents pay taxes in another district.
But the matter isn't quite that simple, as the board has since discovered. For one thing, Jackson County has three school districts, Jefferson and Commerce being two independent city systems. As people move around in the county, is it really fair to disrupt their children's' education just because they cross some invisible line?
In addition, the matter isn't an isolated issue in Jackson County. Jefferson has seen such growth in the past few years that it, too, is considering some kind of out-of-district limitations. That could have a profound impact on the county school system, especially at the elementary school level.
So it behooves all three school systems in the county to arrive at some kind of resolution to the district question that both limits the amount of out-of-district students, but that also takes into account the unique situation of three school systems in one county.
We believe the matter should be addressed not by these difficult individual board decisions, but rather by putting into place a tuition system for out-of-district students. Such a move puts the decision-making on the parents, not the board. If a parent wants his child to attend an out-of-district school, then he has to pay for it. That's fair to both the school district's taxpayers and to the child.
We hope the leaders of our three school systems will work together to adopt some kind of out-of-district tuition plan that will resolves some of these lingering questions. Without such a resolution, the problems will only multiply as the county continues to grow.


Letter
The Jackson Herald
January 12, 2000

Thanks to firemen for help with cat
Dear Editor:
My husband, Stan, and I would like to thank the Jefferson Fire Department's Doug Waters, Randall Reed, Tommy Healan and Don Elrod. They came to our house the Sunday before Christmas. It was a cold, gray, windy morning, yet they came to rescue one of our cats from a risky branch high up in one of our pecan trees.
Being big cat lovers, we have had cats in trees before, but never like this. Kitty was almost hanging by his front legs and crying. The trees were swaying in the wind and the clouds were threatening rain. Stan got out our longest ladder, but it proved too short.
We made some phone calls and Doug Waters and the three firemen came out, asked for a pillowcase and then Randall Reed climbed the tree and brought Kitty safely down.
I was born and raised in Commerce, then lived in the Atlanta area for about 30 years. We were fortunate enough to be able to move back to Jackson County five years ago. Many events have made me extremely grateful to be home again. The kindness and gentleness of those four firemen earns a top spot on my list. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
Dorothy, in "The Wizard of Oz," probably said it best - "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."
Sincerely,
Bobisue Strickland
Jefferson



Column
By Mike Buffington
January 12, 2000

Problems of community decline
worse than growth

I
f you are one of those people who believes the problems of growth and economic prosperity are bad, take a trip to Southwest Georgia. That's what Gov. Roy Barnes did last week to announce a $1.6 billion program designed to help Georgia's poor counties, areas the governor said were "islands of poverty in a sea of material wealth."
It's a noble effort to bridge the "two Georgias" - one wealthy and thriving, the other poor and declining. But however noble the idea, spreading economic prosperity evenly across the state is an impossible task.
The governor went to Terrell County to announce his plans, a county that is in the heart of Georgia's poverty belt. Some 31 percent of that county's people live below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in the state. It is one of the top counties in the state in the percentage of residents receiving food stamps and Medicaid. It has few job opportunities available for those able and willing to work.
Perhaps the governor's efforts will eventually help Terrell and other poor counties. But one has to wonder if any amount of money will help communities that have broken social structures. In Terrell County, for example, 64 percent of all births are to unwed mothers, the highest rate in the state. Its drug and alcohol abuse rate is in the state's top 20 counties, as is its murder rate. Only 14 percent of its local school system's budget comes from local tax dollars. (In Jackson County, it's 37 percent.) Terrell County residents spent more on lottery tickets in 1996 than they did in local school taxes.
So how does the state help a community that is unwilling to help itself? What employer wants to put a factory in a county where there is such a carnage of human values?
But the problems of Terrell and other poor counties go beyond their lack of self-discipline. In part, they are the victims of a changing economy. All across the nation, communities that were traditionally agricultural have seen a decline, unless they were close to major population centers. In the Midwest, there are many agricultural communities that are far above the poverty line, but are still in decline because of a changing economy and shifting workforce.
No government can control those economic forces. No government can make employers invest in Terrell, or any other poor county. And while government can help with better education and health, such efforts won't succeed unless there is some type of fundamental cultural change in those communities where there is currently a serious lack of self-discipline and self-respect.
It wasn't too many years ago that Jackson County was a poor community with little economic activity or investment. It is only by the fate of our location near Atlanta that we are in a growth cycle today. While that has been helped along by some local efforts, such as investment in infrastructure, the opportunity to grow came about from our location.
And therein lies a message for Gov. Barnes: Concentrate the state's resources into building strong regional communities in those areas that are poor. Rather than spreading the money around in a lot of communities for the short-term, help build dynamic centers for long-term investments. Help create communities that generate jobs and wealth so that as those towns grow, the surrounding area will also get the benefits.
There's a lesson here as well for those of us in faster growing communities. We complain about the additional traffic and the loss of rural land to development, but we seldom think about the alternative.
Terrell and other poor Georgia counties have little traffic and lots of rural land. I'll take our problems of growth over their problems of decline any day of the week.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



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