Interim Bibb schools superintendent speaks at Rotary Club meeting

alopez@macon.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Steve Smith, Bibb County’s interim school superintendent, speaks to members of the Macon Rotary Club on Monday at First Presbyterian Church.

ANDRES DAVID LOPEZ — THE TELEGRAPH

Bibb County’s interim school Superintendent Steve Smith reflected Monday on his tenure and addressed the state of Bibb schools.

Smith spoke in front of nearly 100 members of the Macon Rotary Club who gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Macon.

Smith told the crowd he declined when school board member Susan Sipe first asked him if he was interested in the interim superintendent job in March 2013. He said he was hesitant to leave the beach, where he was living on St.Simons Island while working as an assistant professor at Valdosta State University.

“For the next week, two weeks, three weeks (after the call) I felt awful,” Smith said, “because I felt like as much as this community and this school system had done for me in building my professional career, I had let them down.”

Smith lived in Macon during his high school years and later became principal of Central High School. He also taught at First Presbyterian Day School.

Feeling like he made a mistake, Smith said, he decided he would accept the job if the school board called again.

“There’s no way I can turn the school system and the community down,” he said.

He was sworn in as interim superintendent in May.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.

Monday, Smith talked about being asked if he regretted his decision to cancel classes during last week’s cold spell.

“Heck no, I didn’t regret it,” Smith said. “I’m not going to put our students’ safety in jeopardy.”

“I’m going to always operate in the interest of the children,” he added.

To address the state of the school system, Smith presented the results of a December school, home and community survey, which included 1,032 responses mostly from teachers and parents. The results were positive, with his administration receiving high marks in effective leadership.

Smith confirmed that the survey was partly a response to the system’s accreditation agency giving it low marks in leadership and governance in May, before his tenure began.

“We need to show evidence that we are making progress toward closing the achievement gap, and we need to show evidence we are making progress toward achieving our goals,” Smith said.

On state funding for public education

As state lawmakers return to the Gold Dome for the start of the 2014 legislative session, education will be a top priority.

As of 2012, the state covered 49 percent of the cost of public education, with local funds covering 42 percent, and the federal government picking up about 9 percent.

State funding fell more than 15 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2002.

The loss of state money also has been compounded by a decline in local funding since 2008 as a result of recession, according to a 2013 report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.

In 2014, lawmakers have the opportunity to remove some of the spending cuts made in education in response to falling state revenue that have been in place since 2002.

“I understand they have a job to do and that when state revenue is down they don’t have adequate funding to be able to fund education at the levels they once funded education,” Smith said. “But now the revenue is back up.”

If he was in Gov. Nathan Deal’s position, Smith said, he would provide funding for a 1 percent pay raise for teachers and use other revenue to remove some of the impact of a decade of austerity cuts.

Smith, who was approached Monday by several Rotary Club members and asked to stay as superintendent for a few more years, said that with any luck, the school board would find the right candidate for a permanent position by July 1.

He said he needs to step down in order to keep a promise to his wife.

“My wife has followed me for 38 years,” he said, “and I told her when I retired I would follow her. I made that commitment and I want to honor that commitment.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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