To distract myself from all of the drama unfolding around the Gainesville City School Board, I turned my jaundiced eye toward Clayton County. I have no vested interests in Clayton County. I don’t know anyone in or with the school system there. I’ve never lived or worked there. Heck, I’m not even absolutely sure if I’ve ever been there except to possibly drive through on the Interstate.
What I do know is that its school system is run by a bunch of the most pompous, arrogant, self-aggrandizing goofballs the good Lord ever blessed with belly buttons.
Last February, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools voted to revoke the system’s accreditation unless drastic changes (mostly related to policy and ethics practices) were enacted by September 2008. The clock was ticking. Starting in 2009, graduates would not be eligible for the HOPE scholarship and would have difficulty getting admitted to many colleges.
So what did the board do? They hired a new superintendent, John Thompson. During the consideration process, he demanded a $2 million consulting budget, a Lincoln Town Car with a driver and money to pay a personal bodyguard. A real man of the people.
He started work (to the tune of $284,000 plus some pretty amazing perks) on April 28th. He immediately got busy. He kicked an established mentoring group of over 200 parents out of the county’s schools, ostensibly because they had not all had criminal background checks. Excuse me, but I’ve been volunteering in public schools for 18 years and I’ve yet to be asked for my fingerprints. I suspect it didn’t help that some of the parent volunteers were also vocal critics of Thompson and his dingbat Board.
Mark Twain said, "First, God created idiots. That was just for practice. Then He created school boards." Case in point: in the midst of all the ruckus, the Board decided to spend about $120,000 to change the seating arrangement in their meeting room. They apparently felt the elevated table made them seem aloof and out-of-touch. Well, duh. I seriously doubt a new table will make a bit of difference.
And then there were the diplomas. Now remember, Thompson’s been on the job for what? A month? The 3,000 diplomas were ordered in December. They were printed with the signature of the former superintendent. So Thompson ordered them destroyed. Destroyed and reprinted at a cost of between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on whose estimate you choose to believe. That’s not counting the cost of packaging and mailing out the new documents since the students who graduated were given blank sheets of paper instead of their hard-earned diplomas. Why? Because Thompson felt it was imperative that his name appear on the diplomas. Like anyone gives a rat’s...neck. Don’t they have Wite-Out in Clayton County?
A few days later, it was announced that the diplomas weren’t destroyed after all. I guess Thompson was just kidding about that part. He’s a real joker, that Johnny Thompson.
Subsequently, a national printing company offered to reprint the diplomas for free. But that’s not the point. Their offer wasn’t on the table when Thompson threw his hissy fit and trashed the original documents. As far as he knew, the taxpayers were footing the bill.
I took it upon myself to perform a very unofficial survey. I spoke to fifteen people. The youngest was 22; the oldest was 67. They were all high school graduates. They had also earned a total of 18 college degrees. No one could recall a single name on their diplomas other than their own and that of their school principal or college president. Nor did they care. The only name on the diploma that concerned them was theirs.
So here’s Clayton County, facing an educational crisis that’s the equivalent of DEFCON 1 and they’re worried about tables and signatures. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns.
It puts what’s happening in my own county in perspective. Despite the ongoing intrigues and daily disappointments associated with the Gainesville City School Board, they pale in comparison to our neighbors to the south. At least they have so far. That could change any day now. Stay tuned.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.