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 OPINION PAGE - JANUARY 26, 2000 - COMMERCE, GA

Editorial
The Commerce News
January 26, 2000

Jefferson School Board Policy Worth Watching
The Jefferson Board of Education has adopted a policy that the Commerce Board of Education should consider copying.
The Jefferson board, as a means of controlling school enrollment, has put into place a policy in which non-resident students must make application to attend the Jefferson schools. Under the policy, such students may be allowed to attend the city school system if they are students in good standing with the school they previously attended. The school system has the option of establishing enrollment limits in all grades, classes and programs, and it reserves the right to levy a tuition to non-resident students. It also enables the school system to refuse to accept non-resident students who are disciplinary or academic problems.
The system is in a growth spurt. It plans a bond referendum to build a new school, a school made necessary, in part, by non-resident student enrollment. Its rapid growth is expected to continue, which is the reason for the new policy.
Commerce should watch how this policy works and be ready to implement a similar policy, because it too is facing rapid growth. At present, 47 percent of enrollment in the city school system is from outside the district, and the board of education is considering the need for a new school to divide grades pre-K to six into a primary school and an elementary school.
Gov. Roy Barnes proposes school "choice" throughout Georgia, which could render the policy moot. But school officials all over Georgia will try to make sure local tax dollars follow students if such a system is implemented. Until that happens, both Commerce and Jefferson systems may have to limit their growth. Jackson County has already faced the issue; it does not allow students from outside its district to attend, except under rare circumstances.
Jefferson's policy gives its board of education flexibility in accepting non-resident students. Commerce will need that flexibility as well. Its resident enrollment seems likely to grow rapidly in the next two years, based just on housing developments proposed inside the city limits. The elementary school is already crowded, and capacity is limited at both of the other schools. The time is not far away when the Commerce Board of Education will need a means by which it can control enrollment. Taxpayers here have generally been supportive of funding schools, but they're not likely to be enthusiastic about building new schools to accommodate children whose parents pay property taxes somewhere else.
Before the Commerce School System builds another building, it should look closely at limiting non-resident enrollment. The time is coming when the city system will not be able to afford to accept every non-resident who seeks admission.


Just For Emergencies?
In the wake of last weekend's storm, E911 director David Murphy reminds citizens that the 911 line is for emergencies only. Don't call 911, he says, to find out if roads are ice-free or schools are open.
That's good advice, but citizens in Commerce, perhaps everywhere else in the county, are being told that the 911 line is for any call to talk to an officer.
"If you need an officer, call 911," Commerce police tell citizens here. That's whether you're reporting a burglar in the house, or discover vandalism. The latter is hardly an emergency, but because an officer is required, we're told to call 911.
Let's get this figured out. Is 911 for emergency calls only? Or do we call 911 to get non-emergency service as well? So far, we're getting mixed signals.

Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 26, 2000

They're Working Up A Storm In A Weather Crisis
What is being billed as "Ice Storm 2000" didn't amount to much in the Commerce area, a minor inconvenience that was over by Sunday morning for all practical purposes.
Oh, it was something Saturday afternoon. As the snow was followed by enough sleet to make the roads slippery, my scanner crackled with reports of accidents. There were so many that the law enforcement people could not keep up with them, but I heard none that seemed serious.
Sunday morning it was all over. The sleet created some interesting landscapes and caused a few trees and limbs to fall down, but this area once again largely escaped a storm that apparently wreaked havoc as far south as Oglethorpe and Oconee counties.
I drove around Commerce first. And the first thing I noticed was that all the major thoroughfares were clear and had gravel, courtesy of the Jackson County Road Department and the Georgia Department of Transportation. I may be mistaken, but it looked like Georgia 98 to Maysville had even been scraped.
I was looking for downed trees in Commerce, and I'm sure there were plenty, other than the poplar that fell across my best blueberry bush in the back yard. But when I found the city electric crew, it was cutting sagging limbs off power lines. Recent attention to its rights of way paid off, I suspect, in very few problems. There may have been individual outages, but the power remained on for the vast majority of us.
I drove to Maysville, then cut west on Deadwyler Road and Marlow Road. Most of what I heard on the scanner appeared to be coming from Banks County, which was severely hit. I took Diamond Hill Road back to Georgia 82, went into Jefferson, then out the Brockton Road, where I found the Jefferson Fire Department getting ready to remove a tree that had fallen onto a power line.
I heard other firemen reporting cases of trees over roads and power lines, but again, nothing serious. I drove on to Cabin Creek Road, where I found neighbors removing a tree that partially blocked the road, crossed U.S. 441, cut over to Georgia 334 and came back to Commerce. It was a nice drive on good roads.
I have a lot to say sometimes about our governments, but it is at times like this when they shine most brightly. Commerce crews were out early, with not so much to do because of preventive measures already accomplished. They cut back limbs that sagged onto power lines, but had nowhere near the problems you'd normally expect from an ice storm. The county road crews and the DOT had been out with gravel and sand to keep the roads safe. The police, sheriff's department, firemen and other emergency personnel found and cut away downed trees before most of us knew they were there. While we slept, men and women were looking out for our safety.
We don't think of our firemen as being responsible for tree removal in winter storms, but they do it, just as they do anything else that needs to be done when a crisis occurs. We don't picture our county road crews working at night, but they do when it's necessary. And we like to make fun of state highway workers, but when a storm threatens, they're out there for us.
Thanks, guys. I'm impressed.


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