The Promise Neighborhoods program was set up by the Obama administrations Department of Education in 2010 to build a complete continuum of cradle-to-career solutions of both educational programs and family and community supports, with great schools at the center.
The program was designed in light of the Harlem Childrens Zone, popularized by 60 Minutes, the documentary Waiting for Superman, and President Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. That Harlem program is built on the back of three solid charter schools led by charismatic Geoffrey Canada, who decided to quit waiting for Superman and just assume that mantle himself, a role also apparently fancied by Bibbs Superintendent Romain Dallemand.
Even assuming that Dallemand is up for Supermans job, and that you buy the idea of a cradle-to-career role for government as surrogate parent, there are glaring design problems with Bibbs proposed Promise Neighborhood Center.
First, great charter schools arent at the center of Unionville, Tindall Heights or anywhere else in Bibb. Those neighborhoods regular public schools, Hartley, Ingram-Pye, Ballard-Hudson Middle and Southwest High, arent great, either, being among the worst in Bibb County, and so also among the worst in Georgia and the nation.
Second, Bibbs Promise Neighborhood Center, which was rejected for funding by the U.S. Department of Education in December, isnt designed to change the local school landscape.
Instead of transforming the old Ballard-Hudson elementary school into a charter school, the plan takes that building and cuts it up into a rabbit warren of offices for welfare-type bureaucrats primarily serving welfare-recipient parents. So much for the kids. Any parents or kids who wind up in that maze risk getting lost forever in a Kafka-esque bureaucratic fun-house.
Third, Harlems program was created in a walkable locale, originally one New York City block, now a zone of about 10 blocks by 10 blocks. By contrast, most people in Bibbs target neighborhoods would have no easier time getting to the proposed Promise Center than to other existing welfare-type offices. So even as a matter of efficient welfare service delivery, theres scant advantage to the center.
The co-principal grant writer for Bibbs Promise Neighborhood Center, Mercers Peter Brown, sticks by Bibbs plan to let welfare bureaucrats cannibalize a school even after the DOE declined to fund the center and The Telegraph revealed the leases cost to have been wildly inflated. I offered Brown the chance to explain, qualify, or back off from his and his partnerships inexplicably-continuing support for the plan. Brown declined to be quoted.
So what are we to do now after even Obamas DOE rejected this absurd plan?
Construction should be halted immediately on renovations. The school systems lease, worth $5,750,000 over 10 years for just half of the building, should be unwound with the help of independent counsel.
That whole building was purchased four years ago from the system for less than 4 percent of the temporary lease cost, raising overwhelming legal questions about the leases enforceability.
Many Bibb kids do need extra help. Their family support is lacking. But there are more effective programs to help them at a fraction of the cost, like our local chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. That chapter has already been acknowledged as the best chapter nationwide.
More long run, to cultivate the great schools identified by Obamas Promise Neighborhoods initiative as the essential programmatic backbone, its first important to get a great charter school going here in Macon, just as they did in Harlem.
Itd be wonderful if Unionvilles and Tindall Heights schools were already great. But its foolishness to pretend that well fix those schools by building more offices somewhere else for welfare bureaucrats.
Bibbs Promise Center proposal is fatally flawed, and should be abandoned. Even if radical changes could be made to the proposal now, the feds will likely deny any operating grant because of Bibbs now-notorious real estate rip-off.
Bibbs promise was broken from the start, because it was to welfare bureaucrats, not kids. Lets start again, this time with the kids interests first.
David Oedel teaches contract law at Mercer University Law School. Hes the parent of a public school student.