The Jackson Herald
March 15, 2000
ITBS rules schools
Next week will be an important time in
our local schools. The annual ITBS tests will be administered
to students in a rite of spring that appears to take on more
importance each year.
With the absence of any convenient and objective method for rating
school performance, the aggregate results of ITBS testing have
become THE way many parents rank elementary and middle schools.
(Most high school rankings use SAT and graduation exam results.)
These standardized tests are important, but we're not so sure
they should be the focus of such intense pressure. In some communities,
all local extracurricular activities will be canceled next week
so that students won't be too tired for the testing. Ironically,
however, we don't cancel extracurricular events for regular exam
The difference? Exams affect only individual students while ITBS
results could affect a school's reputation. Frankly, we believe
individual student performance is just as important as how a
school ranks in ITBS results. We're not sure that some school
leaders haven't gotten those priorities backwards.
Another problem parents often complain about is the increased
time devoted to preparing for ITBS. Some schools have been drilling
students for months with practice tests. But is that taking away
from classroom time needed to actually teach students new material?
We can't answer that, but some parents believe these drills have
become a detraction from learning time.
In many ways, the increased focus on ITBS testing is a "chicken-and-egg"
problem. The more attention the test gets from the media and
parents, the more school leaders respond by shaping the curriculum
and class time around preparing for the test. But the more schools
focus on the test, the more legitimacy they give to the idea
that a school should be judged only on ITBS test results.
Of all the standard tests available, the ITBS is probably the
best measurement of how students and schools rank when compared
to their peers across the nation. That reflection, however, isn't
just on how well a school performs, but also reflects the demographics
of where a school is located. A community whose social structure
doesn't value education won't do very well on test scores no
matter how good a school may be.
Schools don't just exist for rankings - they are supposed to
impart a body of knowledge to students. ITBS is just one method
to attempt to measure that.
All of us, from school leaders to parents, perhaps need to be
reminded of that before we get too caught up in ITBS mania.
The Commerce News
March 15, 2000
State Biggest Threat
To Local Water Supply
Even as the county braces for an expected
drought, governments in Jackson County are working hard to make
sure there is plenty of drinking water available in the years
In fact, the area is on the verge of having a wealth of water,
and officials are scrambling to sell some of that capacity. Jackson
County mortgaged some of its Bear Creek capacity so the county
could land the tax-rich Georgia Power generating plant at Center.
Commerce will sell its excess capacity to Jackson County until
Bear Creek comes on line. Jackson County is dickering with Gainesville
and with local communities about buying water from the regional
But the "wealth" could be short-lived, and without
strong water management, it won't be very long before the county
will see those surpluses gone. The rapid growth already under
way and the still more rapid growth to come will eat away at
that surplus. Water is a finite resource and should be managed
and protected as such.
But the larger danger may not come from Jackson County's growth.
Before we begin to run out of water from our own needs, we will
likely be faced by a state challenge to our drinking water. Do
not be surprised to see the state moving more into the regulation
of water resources as Atlanta's problems increase. The state
is already working toward taking away local authority over local
land use matters; it is only a matter of time before it decides
that decision on water are best made at the state level.
The fight between Georgia and Alabama over use of the Chattahoochee
River and the need of a sprawling Metro Atlanta for more water
both have the potential to affect the use of water resources
that have traditionally been seen as local. The situation calls
for constant vigilance by our elected officials and by our water
authorities from now on lest the effort spent trying to secure
water for our futures comes to naught.
No Hidden Tax Increases
Citizens who hoped that the construction
of a $200 million power plant in Center would provide a bit of
tax relief may be disappointed.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has declared that it
will use taxes levied on the plant to fund construction of a
new courthouse annex, a move that will eat up most of any gain
in the property tax digest from the plant. At the same time,
any gain in the Jackson County school tax digest will likely
be needed to fund new school expenses brought about by the "reform"
bill now in process.
By funding the courthouse through taxes from Plant Dahlberg,
the commissioners hope to be able to avoid a "tax increase."
But under recently changed laws, that kind of move is considered
a "back door tax increase" and will require a new process.
When the new and hopefully larger tax digest is prepared, before
the commissioners can set the new tax rate, they must roll the
old tax rate back to show the effect of any growth in the tax
digest. Then, after three public hearings, they can raise the
rate back up to wherever it needs to be to fund the county budget.
So, if after adding the Georgia Power plant to the tax digest,
Jackson County keeps the "same" tax rate, citizens
will understand that the rate really represents a tax increase.
Thus there are two ways to increase property taxes through
increased rates and an increase in the total assessed value of
real property. Too often, those who set tax rates do not consider
the latter method a tax increase; it certainly is.
We are told that the construction of a courthouse will cost $7
to $8 million. If any county commissioner thinks it can be accomplished
without a tax increase, that commissioner is wrong. Hopefully,
the project can be completed without any growth in the tax rate,
but it cannot be accomplished without a tax increase.
The Jackson Herald
March 15, 2000
The article you
A number of people have asked me what
this newspaper would be writing about a certain individual who
was recently hired by the Jefferson Police Department.
His name is well-known, although not for the reasons he would
want. He was a suspect in a major criminal case, but was cleared
of having anything to do with the incident. Somehow, though,
his name was leaked to the media during the probe and he became
the target of intense speculation.
Because of that history, a lot of television stations and newspapers
have done pieces on the fact that he was hired recently in Jefferson
as a patrolman. CNN, People magazine and other news organizations
have called the Jefferson Police Department for background and
a story. Wire stories have appeared in newspapers all across
We may be missing a great story, but this newspaper has no plans
to do an article about this particular individual having been
hired by the JPD. To do so would be to participate in the kind
of personality-driven media frenzy that we abhor.
But more importantly, we believe it is time this man be allowed
to resume the kind of private life the rest of us take for granted
- a life that allows him to work without a pernicious tag line
attached behind his name.
We in the media are often viewed by the public as jackals feeding
off the problems of others. Some of that comes with the territory.
This newspaper is fairly aggressive in covering court and crime
news, and that by its nature means that we report news of other
people's problems. The difference, however, is that those problems
have risen to a level that makes them an issue for our society,
and hence legitimate news.
But the media's reputation isn't entirely undeserved. Over the
last 20 years, the focus of much media coverage has shifted from
being issue-oriented to being personality-oriented. Presidential
candidates rise and fall not on issues of policy being reported,
but rather on their image and personality.
To an extent, it is a dumbing-down of news reporting. Rather
than taking the time to explain complex issues with many shades
of gray, we in the media tend to focus on the people involved,
usually with a black-and-white, good-and-bad slant.
Perhaps that's just a response to our entire society, which has
itself become obsessed with cults of personality. Sports, entertainment
and politics each have their individual pantheon of demigods
who are worshiped by the masses. We in the media are not only
the conduit for that relationship, but are too often active participants.
So perhaps it wasn't too surprising that the individual in question
found himself in the middle of a media frenzy a few years ago
following an international incident here in Georgia. But there
is a difference from that event which many have forgotten: This
man never sought the spotlight, never pursued a career or cause
that would put him in the news, and certainly never expected
to have his reputation tainted by international news stories
that linked him to a crime he didn't commit.
He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only because
of that did his name become a household word. And even now, after
having been perhaps the most intensely investigated man in Georgia
history, the tag line of his accidental past follows him.
Except here, in this newspaper. We know that our refusal to participate
in this story is mainly symbolic - everyone reading this column
knows both his name and his history.
But frankly, it's time we stop putting this person under a microscope.
He's done no wrong and does not deserve to forever walk in the
shadow of a large tragedy which overtook his life four years
That's not to say you won't ever read his name in these pages.
You might read of an arrest he makes, or a school class he talks
to, or some other event in which he participates as a local policeman
But you won't read about him on these pages because he became
an accidental "celebrity."
That's titillation, not news.
And this newspaper won't exploit him for the sake of a story.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
March 15, 2000
Why Not A History Month
For Every Group?
February was Black History Month. March
is Women's History Month. Black women get double covered, but
that makes up for the fact that all non-black males can now claim
to be victims of discrimination by those who declare the official
"months" for worthy causes.
It's a shame there are only 12 months of the year, because there
are a whole lot of other groups who are equally deserving of
a month dedicated to the study of their accomplishments in history.
Some are obvious. We need a Native American History Month and
a Hispanic American History Month to take care of the two next
biggest minorities, though it could be argued that the women
of those cultures have already been covered under Women's History
Month. But there are other minorities whose contributions are
not celebrated by the calendar makers. It might be feasible to
combine all Asian cultures for one month, at least until the
number of immigrants from those countries increases or the ACLU
threatens a suit because one or more groups is under-represented.
Asian History Month will suffice until then. But we also need
months to mark the contributions of other groups. What about
European American History Month, Jewish History Month, Irish
American History Month, and Polish American History Month? Naturally,
someone will argue that having a Jewish History Month puts other
religions at a disadvantage, so it will be necessary to placate
the major religions with months devoted to studying their histories.
At the least, we'll have to add Protestant History Month, Catholic
History Month and Islamic History Month. Somewhere along the
line, it will be proposed that we add Gay and Lesbian History
Month, and Pat Robertson will lead a movement to create a Conservative
Christian History Month, but we'll be out of months by then,
In fact, to provide equal treatment of every minority group,
every religion, every culture, we could divide the year into
52 weeks devoted to focusing attention on the historical contributions
of 52 groups, and you can still figure some group will be left
out, even if someone has to make up a new group so it can claim
its historical contributions are not sufficiently well known.
You would think that with all of this interest, Americans would
be knowledgeable about all kinds of history, but you would be
wrong. Most of us can't name three people who signed the Declaration
of Independence, are totally unaware that the United States ever
went to war in Korea and think Lee Harvey Oswald killed John
F. Kennedy, whom 54 percent do know was once married to Jackie
Most people aren't really interested in anybody's history, including
their own. The kind of knowledge that is cherished today is along
the lines of "For $1,000, which of the following is not
a Smurf? A, Papa Smurf, B, Clumsy Smurf, C, Gimili the Dwarf
or D, Smurfette?" Today's culture appreciaes knowledge of
trivia, not history. One is far more likely to need the name
of the shortstop for the 1954 Yankees than to know the incident
that led to World War I.
No, I'm not kidding; there really was a World War I. It was fought