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Rural superintendent: Dysfunctional districts justify Opportunity School District

Allen Fort is the interim superintendent/interim principal of Taliaferro County K-12 schools, a 163-student system in east central Georgia. Fort is the former superintendent of Quitman County Schools. He's also been a school improvement specialist with the state Department of Education and principal of schools across the state.

In his capacity with Quitman Schools in 2012, Fort made a statement to the AJC that I rank in my top 10 educator quotes. In talking about equalization grants and disparities in school funding, Fort compared the school systems to car owners.

"What we have is a Ford Pinto," Fort said. "What Fulton and Cobb have are a Cadillac and Ferrari. What Gwinnett has is a Lamborghini. When their Lamborghini has a flat tire, they get an equalization grant. When our Pinto has a flat, we get nothing."

Today, Fort is not talking about equalization grants or cars. He explains why he supports the Opportunity School District.

The debate over the OSD is vigorous this week with Gov. Nathan Deal speaking about it tonight at Impact Church in East Point. Taking an offensive posture, Deal told the crowd he and the Legislature have given school districts more flexibility and funding than they've ever had "in the history of this state" and they have not used it to improve student learning.

Fort is a bit more nuanced in his endorsement of the OSD.

I am a firm believer in the local city or county governance of the educational system, with the state providing leadership, guidance, and support under a common set of rules. Through my experiences in education around this state, I understand each and every system has its own unique set of circumstances under which it operates, demographically, financially, and politically.

It is a proven fact these systems, with boards and administrators who exhibit common sense in leadership, have a consistent track record of understanding ever-changing educational issues, then addresses those issues with sound processes of examination, analysis and judgement and then governs and leads the system by always keeping the welfare of the child foremost in their decisions made are successful.

Many of the decisions may be controversial, politically charged, or financially burdening, but the future of the child is always the No. 1 priority because these children will grow up one day to be productive citizens, hopefully in that same county and in our state.

However, I need to ask these questions:

•Has your system had two or three superintendents who have served in the last three to five years and then been fired, non-renewed, or has left for another similar position?

•Does your community tend to make decisions based on adult concerns rather than justifying them for the good of the students in the system?

•Do you believe your taxes paid to run your system are mismanaged and ill spent?

•Has your county not gained or even lost population because you have a school system that is unattractive or failing, and has been for some time?

•Has your system been failing for the past decade and have that same bleak outlook for the next decade?

•As a citizen of this state, do you want to see more of your tax money spent on failing schools where local control is abysmal at best?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you, as a local community, have lost control of your local system. While a majority of our systems in Georgia are of high-quality, there are several that can answer yes to every question above. Through the years they have proven they cannot and will not govern and operate a school system where the good of the child influences 100 percent of their decisions.

Thus it is time, on behalf of all of the students in these systems, to have the opportunity to receive a high quality education, free from petty politics, soap opera drama, and bitter controversy, which create chaos in local school systems.

While one may have an argument over “state takeover,” when you have answered in the affirmative any of the questions above, someone needs to step in, create a fundamentally sound plan tailored to the needs and issues of that system and then set out to provide a world-class education for these boys and girls of this failing system and for the good of this state.

It is time to provide Opportunity for these kids who have no choice in the matter and demand quality education for all our children in Georgia.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.