Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 21, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 21, 2003

Troops, Families
On Memorial Day
There's something special about a Memorial Day when we have troops abroad and in hostile lands. Even though the war with Iraq is considered over, we know we have troops at almost as much risk now as they were when the Iraqi army existed.
My father was an air traffic controller in World War II. On my mother's side, two brothers and a sister saw action, but my generation steered clear of military service, thus avoiding Vietnam and a family tradition of military service.
Thus, growing up I didn't have the appreciation some kids might have had for the sacrifices required and made without complaint by my parents' generation. Memorial Day was more or less the first day of summer.
Barbara's father was a tank commander with extensive World War II action (her mother was an Army nurse) and it was through him that I got a sense of what the troops went through. Along the way, I've read countless books about World War II and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and have watched young men (and now women) head off to conflicts where we really had no idea what awaited them.
Memorial Day is the time when we supposedly stop to remember the fallen, but for me it has become a day to remember the sacrifices made and being made by men and now women on our behalf. I'm not thinking so much about the deaths or the dead, but about the men and women now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan on our behalf.
Readers of this column know I opposed going to war with Iraq, but that in no way diminishes the gratefulness I feel for all the people who stand ready to answer the country's call to arms. We have scores of young people from this community ready, willing and in position to fight for the United States.
The men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan are not just at risk, but they're also giving up time with their families, missing birthdays, first words with new babies, final chances with dying grandparents and all of life's opportunities that the rest of us experience. Their loved ones also suffer in their absence. They worry about them constantly, and miss them as spouses, children or parents. The time they are away cannot be recovered.
September 11 taught us that our firemen, police and EMTs are one act away from death. War reminds us that the same is true for armed services personnel. And while the former group is necessary for public safety, the military is crucial to national security. Somebody has to do that job. Memorial Day is a good time to recognize that in addition to the hundreds of thousands who have died in past wars, we have hundreds of thousands of mostly young people willing to risk death in the service of their country.
We should remember the fallen next Monday, thinking of the lives cut short and suffering endured. It’s just as important, however, to remember that right now we have men and women in hostile lands sacrificing a part of their lives to do their country’s work, and who could at any time join the ranks of those we remember on Memorial Day.
May the men and women of our military know we appreciate the risks taken and sacrifices made for us.

The Jackson Herald
May 21, 2003

Reconsider BOC districts
When the citizens of Jackson County approved changing the structure of their county government, it was with the hope that local government would be more responsive. Moving from three members elected at-large to five members with four elected by district was seen as a way to have a more diverse representation in county administration.
It sounded good at the time, but the reality of its operation has not worked as most citizens expected. If anything, the new five-member board of commissioners has created a more fractured and less effective system than the old three-member board of commissioners.
Some of that is due to the personalities involved. The arrogant attitude coming from the current board is largely due to the arrogance of the individuals who hold office.
But the problems go deeper than just the current five members. The new structure is inherently bad because it pits four geographic areas of the county against each other. Moreover, district commissioners care only about what is happening in their districts, not what is happening county-wide.
Perhaps in a county of 100,000 people, such districts would work. But in a county of 45,000, having individual districts really doesn’t make sense.
For a perfect example of how bad our district system has become, one only has to study the record of current commissioner Sammy Thomason from Commerce. Thomason is blind to any issue or concern that exists outside the city limits of Commerce. He has attempted to split county leaders over a variety of issues, always angling to get something for Commerce. If it doesn’t happen in Commerce, Thomason doesn’t care about it.
That is a terrible situation for county administration. Thomason isn’t the only one guilty of being myopic when it comes to county government, but he is the poster child for everything that is wrong with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
We know changing the current system will take time. Certainly those on the current BOC won’t change the structure.
But in the future, when the time is right, we believe the system should be changed so that we have fewer districts (three districts and two at-large seats), or that district commissioners are elected county-wide.
The narrow focus of small district commissioners is hurting Jackson County. The citizens changed our form of government once before because the old system wasn’t working. There is nothing to stop us from changing it again in the future to fix this new problem.

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By Mike Buffington
The Commerce News
May 21, 2003

NCLB rules a crazy way to evaluate local schools
It’s the last week of school and parents and students are gearing up for the summer break.
But here’s an assignment for the summer that parents should bone up on: How should you evaluate your child’s school?
It’s no secret that many parents now study standardized test scores from public schools. Some people even buy homes in districts that have above-average test results simply to get their child in a particular school.
Of course, such tests aren’t always accurate. Some parents believe the tests are seriously flawed. Even if they are reliable, standardized test results tend to bounce all over the chart. The results vary depending on the grade tested and the subject matter tested. A particular group of fourth graders may do well in reading scores, but poor in math. How are parents supposed to judge the quality of a school based on that narrow focus?
But the result of that parental pressure has had huge consequences on how public schools operate. Schools now adopt curriculum based on the questions being asked on standardized tests. Some would argue, including me, that test-writers have a hidden agenda in driving curriculum by manipulating test questions.
Moreover, most schools now “teach to the test.” Learning has taken a back seat to test prep skills. A lot of class time is wasted in doing practice tests and test drills.
But as bad as some of that is, it’s about to get much, much worse. Under new federal rules designed to carry out President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, schools are expected to do the impossible.
Here’s one example of what’s about to happen: Under the NCLB act, schools are expected to show Adequate Yearly Progress. That AYP (don’t you just love all the education acronyms) is a set of test goals that students must achieve.
But here’s the kicker: Not only will the entire student body have to make progress each year, but also various subgroups of students must also make progress.
Under that plan, even the most mentally challenged children will have to make a defined level of progress each year. And if any one subgroup fails to make progress, the entire school will be labeled as “needs improvement.”
Consider this: In a small subgroup, a handful of students can make or break the test results. That means that based on the results of five “challenged” kids, an entire school can get labeled as “needs improvement” even if the other 700 kids in the school are the state’s top scholars.
A lot of states have studied this plan and project that 60-90 percent of their schools will get the “needs improvement” label.
It’s a crazy system, one designed to ensure failure. No school can meet the standards being set by the federal and state governments under the NCLB act.
Some observers believe that’s the point. If a school gets the “needs improvement” label, parents are free to pull their children from that school and put them in another school. That would be one way of creating backdoor vouchers without ever having to use the politically-hot word “voucher.”
I don’t know if that’s the underlying issue or not, but I do know that for schools to be labeled “needs improvement” based on a handfull of test scores is crazy.
Parents want schools to be accountable and they want some objective data to measure how well a school is performing.
But the NCLB act and its resulting regulations and rules won’t do that. Indeed, it will have the opposite effect of further eroding citizen confidence in public education. Even the most casual observers of public education know when they’re being sandbagged for political purposes.
And as confidence in public education decreases, home schools and private schools will reap the benefits.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
May 21, 2003

State’s Medical System
Lurching To Disaster
The medical business, from physicians to nursing homes, is in a crisis in Georgia and is just a step away from disaster. The combination of reduced state and federal reimbursements and increased malpractice insurance rates threaten to close hospitals and nursing homes and force doctors to move out of state.
So far, nobody is doing anything about it.
The General Assembly, which found time to consider legislation requiring the serving of iced tea at all restaurants, could not bring itself to take a hard look at a situation that will affect the quality of medical care – and its availability throughout the state.
Without action, it is anticipated that a third of doctors now delivering babies will quit that practice. A similar number will give up working in emergency rooms, and a like percentage of radiologists will refuse to read mammograms. Why? Because these "high risk" but crucial practices generate the greatest number of malpractice insurance claims and physicians can no longer afford to buy malpractice insurance in those areas. Other doctors face similar challenges; Dr. Donald McFadden of Commerce has closed his local practice because he cannot justify paying insurance rates that increased 300 percent in two consecutive years.
Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes cannot pass those increased costs on to their patients. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are actually being cut, so not only are costs going up, but income is going down.
The reason malpractice insurance rates are going up is because damage awards are increasing and the number of companies offering insurance is falling. Medicare and Medicaid cuts are the result of efforts by the federal and state governments to trim spending. Both areas need attention.
The General Assembly needs to get to work. Not only must it find a palatable method of tort reform to reduce pain and suffering damage awards, but it must also cease the practice of cutting Medicare reimbursements to balance the budget. Even the trial lawyers in the Senate and House should realize that without significant reform, the availability of health care will diminish. People will suffer and die because the General Assembly lacks the courage to act.
The federal government is part of the problem. Medicaid spending is too easy a target for reducing government spending, especially in a recession. Senators and representatives have to understand that in reducing reimbursements for treatment of the most vulnerable citizens, they jeopardize health care for everyone. Yet even as the ratio of reimbursement to cost falls, the cost of meeting ever-increasing government regulations increases. The cycle can continue only so long before the system collapses.
Today the American medical system, Georgia's in particular, is in a crisis. Without action, it's sliding toward disaster.

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