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OPINION PAGE - DECEMBER 15, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
December 15, 1999

Keep PUD zoning
Jackson County has put a moratorium on Planned Unit Development rezonings following a recent application from a South Jackson developer. Although PUD rezonings have been rare, with only two in recent years, some county leaders fear a flood of such requests in the future. There's even been some discussion of abolishing the PUD classification.
But we think doing away with this type of zoning would be a mistake.
At issue is the fact that PUD zonings allow for mixed-use development. The large Mulberry Plantation project planned for Hwy. 124 in West Jackson is a PUD zoning that allows for a mix of residential, recreational and commercial development. Without PUD zoning, such self-contained projects would have to get individual zonings for every use tract-by-tract. That simply wouldn't make sense.
Although county leaders are concerned about too much residential growth, PUD projects are perhaps the best kind of growth to have. Most PUD projects center around recreational or agricultural themes and maintain a measure of undeveloped land. While housing in these projects may be on small lots, the overall density of PUD projects is generally less than that of traditional subdivisions.
While we believe a review of the county's PUD zoning codes is perhaps a good move, we'd also like to see all the zoning codes in the county reviewed and updated. In addition, we'd like to see county leaders consider some new initiatives in growth planning, such as allowing property tax breaks for significant historical sites and perhaps even implementing a program of purchasing development rights in non-historic areas that need to be preserved for scenic value.
The issue of PUD zonings is only a small part of planning for growth. Let's don't get sidetracked on this tree when the entire forest needs a look.

Playground project was needed
The new playground equipment at the Jefferson City Park is a credit to the town and to the teenager who made it happen. As part of his work toward becoming an Eagle Scout, Bubba Fowler had the old playground removed and new equipment installed. Since then, the park has been used extensively by area children who finally have a place to play that is safe and convenient.
Kudos to young Fowler for his work!


Letter
The Jackson Herald
December 15, 1999

Defends manufactured housing
Dear Editor:
This letter is in response to a recent letter concerning manufactured housing in Jackson County. I continue to read over the past few months a constant assault on good hard-working folks here in Jackson County who choose to live in manufactured homes. The most recent of these letters appeared December 1, under the title, "Concerned that mobile home parks will hinder progress." After reading this letter, I feel compelled to point out to its author a few salient points.
We moved to this county approximately three years ago and bought a manufactured home in Maysville. Prior to this, we lived in Gwinnett and attempted to buy a home there. The real estate agent in Gwinnett got us qualified for a $100,000 - $115,000 home. We ended up purchasing what we could afford. Folks live in manufactured homes because they are affordable. These homes are also energy efficient and meet local, regional and national building codes.
Frankly, I take offense to the statement "...the economic revolving door of selling, repossessing, and then the reselling of land/mobile homes." When I look through the legals in this paper, I see both stick-built homes and manufactured homes in this category. What troubles me is that folks like us living in manufactured homes are being stereotyped by people like the author of the letter.
I guess we each have a porch about to fall in and kill two dogs, two or three cars up on blocks and one foot in the divorce court. Not everyone has the capacity to buy a stick-built home and after seeing the quality of some being built, I'll take a manufactured home any day. Plus, most folks have to start somewhere. At least with a manufactured home, you get the tax benefits over living in an apartment.
Oh my goodness, there is another sore subject. We don't want those apartment people around either!
Let me also point out that economic growth and development is connected to having a workforce that is available and affordable. I strongly disagree with the writer's statements about what developers should do. Our elected officials and the developers seeking to build in the county should have the wisdom to pass zoning laws to allow for manufactured homes, both stand-alone and in parks. Then the developers should embrace these concepts and implement them. The placement of landscaping, privacy fencing and location of parks should be the standard. The limitation of homes by age should also be a consideration. I can take you to Florida and show you manufactured housing parks that would be a benefit and welcome addition to any community.
There are manufactured homes on the market that cost upward of $60,000. Add to that the price of land and preparation, septic tank and water tap and very soon you are looking at $80,000 to $100,000.
For every junky manufactured home, we can go find a stick-built home in the same condition. What stirs my ire most about the recent letter is the underlying theme. To me, that theme is "we don't want trailer people in our community." We just seem to keep drifting further and further from our foundations and heritage in this country. Frankly, I don't want to live in a protective covenant subdivision. I don't want to be told what kind of flowers to plant, how many cars I can have, if I can even work on my car in my driveway, how my garage faces the street and I surely don't want to be subject to the architecture committee meeting!
When I ride around Jackson County, I see a great many homes with manufactured homes on the same land. My guess is that parents or grandparents have given land to children for them to get a start in this life. So I take exception to the statement, "... that the majority of incoming people and long-time residents want built-from-the-ground-up protective covenant home subdivisions...." There no doubt are a great many people moving into Jackson County who are of the writer's ilk. But after living in this county for three years, I think the author of the letter is in the minority. There is a large group of us manufactured homeowners who may just band together to stand up for our rights as landowners, voters and citizens. Let's all work together to make Jackson County a friendly and open place for all people to live.
Sincerely,
Jeff Sheffield
Maysville



Column
By Mike Buffington
December 15, 1999

Local ways to strengthen schools
By the end of the month, Gov. Roy Barnes' Education Reform Commission will make its recommendations to improve Georgia's public schools. It remains to be seen if the proposals will be small, evolutionary steps or major revolutionary moves.
Whatever the proposals, it's unlikely that we'll soon see any major changes in the state's public schools. There are so many special interests involved in education that the Georgia General Assembly will have a difficult time sorting out even the best of ideas.
So it would be a mistake for local school administrators to await some kind of salvation from above. If major changes are to be made, they will have to start locally with innovative ideas carried out by bold leaders who don't mind taking flak.
Of course, that's easy to say, but difficult to implement. For one thing, much of the structure of local education is tied to state or federal funding. Most school systems, for example, maximize class size to make better use of state funds. Lowering the pupil-teacher ratio costs local dollars, both in money for additional classrooms and additional teachers. Although most parents say they want smaller classes for their children, the reality of paying for that with local tax dollars is much more difficult.
Despite those drawbacks, I'm convinced there are things local schools can do to pull up their performance without help from the state and with minimal local funding:
1. Make it clear to parents that schools cannot do the job alone. A child's first teacher is his or her parents and ultimately, education is a parent's responsibility, not the school's. Make parents part of the public school's efforts, especially with children who need additional help.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. The greatest failing of public schools is their lack of attention to communicating with parents and the community. Schools are always piloting new programs and initiatives, but it is only by happenstance that most parents know about such programs. While most teachers do a good job of talking with parents about individual children, administrators should make the effort to communicate the overall picture to parents. That is seldom done consistently.
3. Set high expectations and work toward those goals. There are many outside factors that cause students to perform poorly in class, but public schools shouldn't lower their expectations just because of demographics. If schools raise the bar, most students will work toward that standard. Too many school leaders attempt to explain poor performance by citing the percentage of free lunches given to poor students or other demographic data. But that attitude leads to an atmosphere of lower expectations which in turn leads to poor performance. Family income is no measure of a child's potential, and it is that potential schools should work toward fulfilling.
4. Set an atmosphere and tone for education in ways large and small. This is done through clear and consistent disciplinary policies that remove troublemakers from the classroom. It can also be done with tougher school dress codes and even the adoption of school uniforms. Schools are not social day care centers but rather institutions of learning. Too often, both students and parents forget that because school leaders don't communicate it clearly and consistently.
5. Have a vision and share it with parents and the community. All too often, school leaders become reactive to problems or issues rather than looking at the larger picture. But someone in each school system should be setting goals for the future, whether that's in standardized test scores, or in facilities, or in some other aspect of school governance. Too many schools lack this vision and the leadership to carry it forward.
6. Finally, school leaders should welcome the trend of greater "accountability." While this is a trendy buzzword that makes some in education cringe, measuring school performance is no different from a school measuring individual student performance. Of course, any kind of measurement is imperfect - no standardized test can measure all of the intangibles of a particular school just as no test can measure all the talents or skills of a particular student. But just because a test isn't perfect doesn't mean it is without value. For one thing, being more "accountable" helps school leaders make the kinds of changes they know should be made. Identifying strengths and weaknesses in a school opens the door for school leaders to act in a positive way with public support.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



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