Jackson County Opinions...

October 3, 2001



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 3, 2001

There Are No Short Drives In Atlanta
I grew up in a Florida county famous for its major north-south artery. Navigating the 30 or 40 miles of U.S. 19 was a nightmare of multiple lane, easy access highway traversed by hundreds of thousands of people daily.
But the difficulty of U.S. 19 in Pinellas County pales compared to the routine horror of driving anywhere in Atlanta. I'd read about the city's inevitable march toward gridlock; I'd call it more of a stampede.
Having spent the last weekend there for the joyous occasion of a niece's wedding, I had the challenge not only of navigating the unknown-to-me streets in the Lenox area, but also that of doing it while in the company of tens of thousands of people, most of whom were conversing on their cell phones to pass the time as we crept along.
Friday night, we were to be at a rehearsal dinner at 7:00. Our savvy hostess advised us to leave at 6:30; the destination could not have been eight miles. We left at 6:25; we arrived at 7:37.
Eight lanes of Georgia 400 were at a standstill. Toll booth operators napped between vehicles. The road narrowed to four lanes and traffic slowed proportionately, so we opted to try Piedmont Road. All Atlanta, however, was en route to a concert at Piedmont Park, most of it approaching from our direction. By 7:00, we were not halfway there; I had visions of arriving at about the same time as dessert.
The following day, it was a trip of similar length from the church to the reception. It took us 40 minutes to go about seven miles down Peachtree Street. All of Atlanta, having discovered culture the evening before at Piedmont Park, had decided to experience some more at the Fox Theater. To make matters worse, in the heart of downtown Atlanta the car radio would pick up neither the Georgia-Arkansas nor the Tech-Clemson game.
These incidents are more the rule than the reception. Gridlock is no longer a distant threat; it is a daily occurrence.
My experience was not during rush hour (why they call it rush hour when the top speed is 10 mph is another story) nor caused by accidents.
God knows how many hours a week the average Atlantan wastes stopping in traffic. Now I understand why they all carry cell phones; cars should be equipped with microwave ovens so Atlantans can fix supper on the way home.
How do Atlantans stand it? I could handle a 40-minute daily commute to Gainesville from Commerce, but a 40-minute commute to drive six miles would render me senseless and drooling in two weeks or shooting fellow drivers in a month. Spending time in the car is one thing; spending it while averaging six miles per hour is quite another.
Here, we're driven to near road rage when the geezer in the car in front of us on Georgia 15 manages but 40 miles per hour on the way to Jefferson. Fifteen miles per hour on many Atlanta streets is a cause for killing the fatted calf and weeping for joy.
There are few places to go in Jackson County, but at least we can get there quickly. There is no such thing as a short drive in Atlanta.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
October 3, 2001

BOC should move beyond the past
If it's been said once by members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, it's been said a thousand times - the county government tax rate is going up this year because it was cut dramatically last year by the "old" BOC.
OK, OK, guys, we get the message. But attempting to shift all the blame for the higher tax rate to the "old" board still misses a couple of very important points.
Admittedly, the "old" board did cut the tax rate too much. While it was time for the county to use some of its reserves for tax relief, the five-mill cut was too much too quick.
In addition, you can also blame the "old" board for having revved up the size of the county government during the last few years. Thanks to a growing tax digest, the county has been rolling in the dough, making it easy to expand county government with double-digit growth rates.
But that was then and this is now. The reserves are down, the digest showed only a modest seven percent growth rate and economic times may become difficult.
But instead of complaining about the situation, the current BOC should look at this 2002 budget as an opportunity to restructure county government in ways that before didn't get a second look. Specifically, the board should look at the following:
1. Combining and downsizing departments. Merge some departments where functions are similar and have one department head and administrative structure instead of two.
2. Seriously study the cost-effectiveness of the correctional institute. Maybe it's time for the county to get out of the corrections business.
3. Study all fees for all county services. Raise fees to make some areas, like the transfer stations, more self-sufficient.
4. Find out why fine income from our courts is dropping. Is the caseload less? If so, where can cuts be made?
5. Except for the lowest-paid employees, freeze salaries and benefits.
6. Look at downsizing some departments where there may be too many people doing too little work.
With all the cutbacks and layoffs hitting private industry, it's amazing to us that government never seems to shrink. Property assessments never drop when the economy slows, although the actual value of property does decline. And unlike private businesses, governments never seem to find ways to make major cutbacks.
Even with additional cutbacks and consolidations, the county government's tax rate would have increased a lot this year. Still, it would have been an easier pill to swallow had the new board taken this opening to carefully evaluate every department of county government.
Instead, there's been a lot of hand-wringing and too much talk about having been dealt a set of bad cards.
Come on, guys, move beyond the past and take responsibility for the future. After all, isn't that what you expect the taxpayers of Jackson County to do?

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
October 3, 2001

Push-button education?
I had no intention of continuing the recent column about New-New Math again this week. But the issue is of such critical importance to our schools, and by extension our children, that it merits further comment.
What we're dealing with here is nothing less than a major shift in what we as a society will pass along in the way of mathematical skills to future generations.
The New-New Math programs which are in vogue now stress the teaching of process over the teaching of specific computational skills. Proponents argue that this method is more inclusive of all students and that understanding math is more important than mastering calculations.
Critics of these new programs argue that the fundamentals of math are being ignored and that students are not being taught to master basic math concepts.
In a 1994 education magazine article, a math consultant with the Connecticut Department of Education argued that American schools should abandon the old pencil and paper math computations which have long been the staple of grade schools. The consultant argued that unlike just a few years ago, our society no longer relies on pencil and paper computations to run businesses. Instead, we have calculators, computers and cash registers that do the work for us.
"A few short years ago, we had few or no alternatives to pencil-and-paper computation," he wrote. "A few short years ago, we could even justify the pain and frustration we witnessed in our classes as necessary parts of learning what were then important skills."
Although that obscure article wasn't the start of New-New Math, it does summarize the basic tenent of its proponents - that computational skills are no longer important in today's technological world. Why teach children how to add numbers by carrying digits when in the real world, they will use a calculator to do the algorithm?
Although these arguments didn't get much attention among the general public, they did gain footing with education professional around the nation. Textbook publishers, education professors and state education officials have responded to the New-New Math concepts by embracing its basic tenents.
Ironically, a concurrent trend during this time was increased public pressure on public schools to be more "accountable" to parents and citizens. Thus was born the increased emphasis on standardized testing as a tool to measure how well both students and schools are doing.
But the rise of New-New Math and more standardized testing resulted in an odd outcome - New-New Math is the basis for which students are being tested, but math test scores have flattened because New-New Math hasn't been taught in many classrooms.
And that's where we are today. Local school systems are piloting or adopting New-New Math textbooks because state and national standardized tests are New-New Math oriented. If local schools want math test scores to rise, they believe they have to more closely align their instruction to the test questions.
For an example of that trend, you only have to look at the Georgia CRCT test from last spring. I recently downloaded questions from the 4th grade CRCT and did a quick analysis of the math section. Although some of the questions are blank because they will be used again in future tests, there's enough old questions shown to get a feel for what students in that grade are being asked.
Overall, the 4th grade CRCT math section is nothing but New-New Math. Out of 47 questions shown on the test (23 others were marked out), only a handful required actual computations. The majority of the questions revolved around math processes, such as estimating, rounding and place values.
The truth is, state-mandated standardized testing is driving local curriculum decisions. By gearing the CRCT toward New-New Math concepts, the state department of education is actually imposing New-New Math standards in every school in Georgia.
Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I believe there is still some value in having students master pencil and paper math computations. While as adults we depend on technology to do the math legwork for us, there's something to be said for training a student's mind by actually working math problems with a pencil.
If we accept the argument that technology has made paper algorithms obsolete, then we would also have to accept the argument that technology has made other education subjects obsolete as well. Why learn to read, for example, in our video-based culture? Why learn history or geography when we can get the information we want from the Internet? Why learn to spell or sentence construction when our word processing programs will do that for us?
Indeed, why do we even have public schools if the process of education has become nothing more than teaching students how to push a button and get an answer?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
October 3, 2001

Attack Should Bring New Defense Priorities
With the evidence from Sept. 11 still fresh in mind, the Bush Administration should scrap its full-speed-ahead approach to a space-based missile defense system. While the effectiveness of such a program is debatable, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, show our vulnerability to less conventional means of attack.
The so-called "Star Wars" defense system is hugely expensive, and money spent in its development could be better invested in making the United States more able to prevent, deal with and respond to terrorist attacks.
Bush and Congress should first:
·seriously upgrade the capabilities of both the FBI and the CIA for intelligence gathering, hunting down terrorists, and even, in the case of the CIA, covert operations against them. It will require substantial funding to not only track individuals, but to sift through massive amounts of data.
·acquire the manpower and equipment needed by the military to deal with forces not aligned with any particular country. Our most dangerous enemies now are low-tech, well-financed and mobile to the point of being incredibly hard to track, and they are scattered. Conventional military techniques are difficult to bring against terrorists.
·take over security at the nation's airports, ports, nuclear power plants, major dams and other likely terrorist targets. The airlines are incapable of providing the level of security that must be consistent, day in and day out, even when no terrorist activities are expected. The government must also give attention to monitoring all general aviation airports, pilot training schools and may find itself needing to protect mass transit systems, ports and many federal facilities that could be targets.
·provide more resources for protecting our borders. It is estimated that there are three to five million aliens living in the U.S. on expired visas alone. When that number is combined with the number of aliens who entered the country illegally, the security challenge is enormous. The National Immigration Service needs the manpower and budget to keep a watch on such individuals.
·provide more funding to keep track of financial transactions of suspected terrorists and to follow suspicious transactions in general.
·develop systems, methods, manpower and materials to respond to one or more incidents involving chemical or biological weapons. Already suspicions are high that terrorists have hopes of mounting such an attack and while prevention is the first line of defense, America must be ready to provide the care, treatment and cleanup should the terrorists prove successful. No community can be fully prepared to handle the devastation of such an attack, but plans must be devised for a rapid massive federal deployment should the need arise. During the Cold War, the Civil Defense system was developed; a new version might be appropriate for the 21st century.
In fact, it is impossible to determine exactly what will be needed and how much it will cost, but after Sept. 11 it is apparent that this nation must devote more thought and resources to the whole scope of terrorism. President Bush may be philosophically opposed to "big government," but it is very clear that while state and local governments will have roles to play, the federal government must assume whole new areas of responsibility. Sept. 11 changed everything.
We may one day face a nuclear attack from a Third-World nation if the radicals take over Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq or some similar country and have the same suicidal devotion exhibited by the Sept. 11 terrorists. It seems far more likely, though, that major attacks will come from within, where traditional defenses are ineffective. After Sept. 11, the concept of a space-based missile defense system seems much less important than mobilizing against action by terrorists.


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