When I first got wind that state Sen. Cecil Staton planned a news conference to announce a proposal to strip the Bibb County School Board of taxing authority and make it go to the Bibb County Commission to have its budget approved, I saw red.
Back in the day, prior to 2004, commissioners had to put their stamp of approval on a budget document they could not have been expected to understand. Commissioners only concern was to escape blame for any tax increase.
Some people are now upset that the boards reserves are just south of $5 million. When the board had to go to the commission, the reserves were a paltry $2 million, and it had to borrow money to float it through periods of low tax collection. A case could be made that those years, all 134 of them, are one of the reasons we have one of the sorriest school systems in the state. We were the only county school system that had to go begging to a county commission. Do the other 179 school systems with taxing authority have it wrong?
But when I realized what the game was about, my anger started to ebb. This proposal is nothing more than a political publicity stunt to appease Statons base.
My first clue was the delay in dropping the bill in the Senate for consideration. As of Friday, it had still registered on the Senates website as being submitted, only the brief outline given during the news conference.
Certainly, there are those in the community who would agree with Staton, but lets be serious for a minute. Neither Staton or Allen Peake, who stood with his colleague for the announcement of the proposal, are dummies. They remember the annual explosions, the demonstrations and picketing that occurred when the school board had to present its budget requests to the commission before it was granted fiscal independence by referendum in 2004. They remember that the effort to pass fiscal independence was also a Chamber of Commerce initiative. And what would make these two intelligent men turn their backs on their long-cherished idea that demands voters decide such matters?
Can I be frank?
These two veteran lawmakers are listening to some of their constituents whose only interest in the Bibb system is economic. They are invested with their taxes, but emotionally, they could care less. Their children are either going to private schools or did. Staton doesnt even live in Bibb County. In short, they had to do something or risk voters wrath in the next election cycle. Remember, Staton only beat Dr. Spencer Price by 203 votes last July. Price has indicated he would be running again.
The last reason I believe these two are carrying water for some of their disgruntled constituents is because both men know its a bad idea. They know it would split this community just when it needs to come together and support the new government. Its also a bad idea because it would not address the main governance issues in this debate. Now that Superintendent Romain Dallemand has taken a buyout, Id bet this cockamamie idea simply vanishes.
School board members are elected to oversee a system that is predominately black and some constituents chafe at the fact that they cannot tell the black community who to elect, so this effort, if it goes any further, would be an end around without a referendum to disenfranchise voters who elected the school board members.
The present county commission, by a 4-1 vote, passed a resolution opposing Statons proposal, one they didnt know about until they read it in the newspaper.
Doesnt make sense, but it shows the low regard many in this community have for the Bibb systems students. They would rather handcuff the system -- maybe for decades -- than fix it the right way. Consolidation took this community five steps forward. If this proposal is enacted, kiss those steps goodbye and watch the backlash in the next local election.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.