Jackson County Opinions...

 March 15, 2000

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 weeks.
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 to come.
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 reservoir.
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.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 15, 2000

The article you won't read
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 the country.
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 ago.
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 or citizen.
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

Mark Beardsley
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, thank goodness.
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 Onassis.
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 in Korea.

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