Public schools are stonewalling their communities on Covid-19

Earlier this week the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s article Families press schools to show  virus data  proved me wrong in thinking that I am the only person bothered by the lack of information being provided to parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers from their local school boards. The lead feature coverage focused on a rural county not too far from Washington County, Georgia, where I am invested in the success of the public schools as a taxpayer and grandparent.

Last month I emailed the Washington County School Board members and Superintendent about where they are providing updates to the community on exposure to the Coronavirus and any confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the schools. To date, all the board office has said is that they have “fluid” benchmarks and are working with the state’s Department of Community Health.

Among their responses to my questions about informing the community about virus exposure, the Board Chair, Chris Hutchings, asked if I might be able to identify and help secure funding for internet connectivity in the rural areas of the county. Currently the system is sending out buses with internet connectivity to serve as hot spots in rural parts of the county lacking broadband service.

Hutchings wasn’t aware of the state’s assessment of internet access published in June of this year. Thirty-seven (37) percent of Washington County residents do not have broadband access to the internet. Many areas in the county lack decent cell phone service, making the use of hot spots for access also unreliable.

I told Hutchings that while I am not well-connected to groups focused on education, I would think about where funding might be available. Having been connected to foundations through nonprofit healthcare and environmental justice work, I do know some funders who might consider a well-crafted request.

The following day I sent these questions to the Board and the Superintendent, Dr. Rickey Edmond, so that I would know where to start and best help. Options B and C encompass online learning options for families.

In making an ask, I think you need to have at hand:

    • Number of students total, and per school
    • Number of students learning remotely- Option B and Option C
    • Number of students who chose option
    • Number of students in class because they don’t have internet access
    • Number of students without internet who are doing options B or C
    • Number of students with internet
    • Number of teachers without internet
    • Number of computers loaned to students
    • Number of computers loaned to teachers
    • Number of students who didn’t turn in final packets in the spring
    • Number of students who simply disappeared in the spring

I received this reply from Dr. Edmond:

Hi.

We have this data and monitor it yearly to assess functional levels, operations, and effectiveness. We are one-to-one with our devices for our students. We have a great IT Team and support staff to address parents’ needs when there is an issue with connectivity. I recommend you and your organization take on the task of helping the rural schools get state and federal funding for connectivity in rural America.

Thank you for sharing,

RE

So to recap, the Superintendent, whose Board chair asked for my help to  secure badly needed funding for internet access, gave me and my “organization” marching orders to secure what they said they need, but without any data. I belong to some environmental groups, and a homeowner’s association, but those aren’t the organizations that are going to pony up to help a rural school system provide web connectivity for the schools.

All of this data should be easily at hand if the system has such a solid grasp on all of its IT needs. I sent my questions to a journalist  beyond the confines of Washington County who has covered issues in the area, and access to school data in other Georgia school systems, to see if they had difficulty securing information. My hunch was right-this data should be easy to compile and readily available.

A few weeks ago I sent a Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) with the same questions I had raised when I was asked to help, with data points from August 7, 2020, the first day of in-class instruction, and September 8, 2020 for comparison. If they wouldn’t voluntarily provide the data Edmond has assured me they have at hand since the pandemic began, I could press the issue with a GORA request.

Edmond replied, “The cost will be an hourly rate of $46.33, minus the first quarter hour. It will take 16 hours to complete all the requested task and total cost will be $729.70. We are requesting the payment be made in advance before the retrieval process is activated because the total amount will exceed $500.”

Do the custodial staff, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, and teachers make anything close to $46.33 an hour, even with benefits? And why would it take 16 hours to put this information together if they are consistently monitoring these things?

I’m steadily losing confidence in what the Washington County School Board knows about how their students are learning, how teachers can support students and parents if/when the schools have to be closed this year, and how they are going to ensure that students receive the materials and instruction they need to stay or exceed their grade level.

My property tax bill is on my desk now, $737.34 of which goes directly to the school system’s maintenance and operations funds. The data I am requesting should guide the system’s budgeting and expectations of taxpayers’ dollar. The system should be making a case for their funding by sharing the data without reservation.

Foolproof method for avoiding a traffic fine

Georgia General Assembly members are considering legislation to improve safety on our state’s roads and streets. Sponsored by  Marietta Republican John Carson , HB113 is making its way through House committees as Crossover Day on March 12 approaches.

Current legislation requires that drivers using a smart-phone or other electronic device do that without holding it in their hand or resting it in their lap. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that since the law was put into force on July 1, 2018, Georgia State Patrol officers have written 25,000 citations for violations of this law.

Carson and four co-sponsors proposed increasing the fines for breaking this law. Currently fines range from $50 to a first offense to $150 for a third offense. The bill, in its current version , also includes striking what is referred to as a “get out of jail free card” for first time violations.

David Wickert at the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that close to 7,500 citations were dismissed in Atlanta’s Municipal Court after many of the defendants appeared before the court with a receipt for a phone holder or a hands-free device. The current law requires that violators put in writing that they haven’t used this provision in the past.

Wickert recounts that Cobb County  Solicitor General Barry Morgan told a House committee that the absence of tracking the “get out of jail free card” provision means that people can violate the law any number of times in different counties and get away with it simply by not being honest. The inability to enforce this part of the the law begs for correction making it more effective to enforce.

That leaves the increase of fines as a means of reducing violations. Would  a higher fine discourage drivers from violating the law? If you look around while you motor on city streets and highways, you’ll still see drivers holding a phone as if the law doesn’t apply to them.

State legislators say higher fines may be a hardship for some people to pay. They want the fines to range from $25-$100 for every offense, with the fine imposed being at a judge’s discretion. That reason doesn’t hold water for me.

Putting the phone down while driving is not something impacted by income. Period.

Increase the fines and remove the “get out of jail free” provision. The Hands-Free  law is a common sense, easy-to-follow law that has already demonstrated its benefits for anyone on Georgia’s roads. It’s time to put some bigger teeth in it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

What I’m reading about last night

What I’m reading about last night (link to the address is below from the New York Times):

WAPo: “In describing his bleak vision of a ruined United States exploited by foreigners, Mr. Trump wrote a series of checks he almost certainly cannot cash.”

The ugliest moment in the 60-minute address came when Mr. Trump announced the formation of an office on “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” and then introduced families of people allegedly murdered by illegal immigrants. It was an appeal to raw prejudice and fear that will do nothing to promote the national unity he claims to be seeking. (emphasis added)

WAPO: Fact checking demonstrates that Trump continues to take credit for things he didn’t do, including the sourcing for DAPL pipeline materials

WaPo: Why any glow from last night won’t last very long

WaPo: The word you didn’t hear last night

NYT: Video of the address to Congress and NYT Washington correspondents comments and analysis during the speech and the Democratic response

NYT: Did Bannon and Miller talk Trump away from a pivot on immigration during lunch yesterday?

NYT: Five takeaways from last night’s speech

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution on pouring money into the military,
“In short, this is not a carefully thought-out strategy from the Trump administration, based on consultation with the experts and our allies. Instead, the man who took five draft deferments to avoid fighting in Vietnam, the man who says that he knows better than the generals how to defeat ISIS and who claims he understands the military because he attended a military-themed boarding school, is offering a military strategy fueled largely by his own deep personal insecurities.”

Calling his bluff

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto refused to fall victim to Trump’s childish demand that Mexico pay for a wall that Trump insists on building on the Mexico-United States border. Instead of tolerating the behavior of a spoiled child, Neito said he’d just stay at home.

Every business threatened by Trump’s insistence that he would impose tariffs and taxes on them if they don’t do exactly what he wants, should be watching. If they are smart, they also know that Trump doesn’t have the authority to do that- Congress levies taxes and tariffs.

Bullying is breaking a good relationship with a continental ally. Will it prove to embolden American companies to follow their own course, leaving Trump to look like the fool he is proving himself to be?

The cancellation of this working meeting comes on the heels of senior State Department officials leaving their jobs en masse, according to the Washington Post.

Jay Bookman at the AJC has an outstanding column today on the first six days of Trump’s administration.

 

Galloway and Wingfield weigh in on the outcry over proposed mosque in Newton County

Jim Galloway and Kyle Wingfield are spot on in their Atlanta Journal Constitution columns today.

Wingfield begins with, “Plans for a mosque in Newton County — and some loudly negative reactions to those plans — pose some uncomfortable truths to people on both sides of Georgia’s religious-liberty debate.”

Jim Galloway, the leader of Political Insider at the AJC, writes,’White Christian Protestants, the religious demographic group that has dominated American history and culture for nearly four centuries, are losing their grip on the machinery of this nation. Even in the South, we WASPs are being supplanted by multiracial Catholicism, old religions brought newly into our midst, and the rise of the unaffiliated and unchurched.”

Newton County’s county seat, Covington, is a popular location for movie and television filming. The uproar over the mosque, plans for which haven’t been submitted, or a construction permit granted, as Wingfield points out, looks like another episode of angry white Christians in any given news cycle. The cameras on location in Covington aren’t there to film stories of fantasy and fiction. Instead, the cameras have been turned around to expose a fear that brings out the worst in people.

Newton County woman too cowardly to claim her own words

The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s coverage of yesterday’s public hearing in Covington, Georgia, about a building permit request for a new mosque in Newton County, brought out the worst in many local citizens, according to an article by Meris Lutz.

Lutz quotes a woman who said, “To say we wish to disallow this project based on religious discrimination … is ludicrous and hypocritical,… They are discriminating against us by calling us infidels who do not believe in their religion.”

Lutz includes that the woman did not give her name.

Think about that- an adult woman took time to go down to the county’s public hearing on a building permit, she said that Muslims discriminate against “us,” but she refused to tell the reporter what her name is.

In today’s America, and especially in the South, when people show up like this over anything to do with a mosque, I’m confident that the “us” she’s talking about are right-wing Conservative Christians. They qualify as one of America’s most paranoid groups.

What I find curious, is that if you aren’t willing to put your name on your convictions, then what are your beliefs and convictions worth anyway?

Sunday reads

Just some of the news I’ve been catching up on today:

Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraph  has an article about last Monday’s carbon pollution rules and the shift already underway towards renewal energy sources in Georgia.

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out that the world didn’t come to an end years ago when Atlanta’s air quality was classified as “non-attainment” and the city was required to take action to reduce smog and other problems (the article concludes behind their pay wall).

The AJC is doing a series of articles on climate change and the impacts already seen on Georgia’s coast called “A rising tide of concern.” The articles are behind a pay wall and include this: “David Stooksbury, the former state climatologist, said the unwillingness of leaders to address climate change is dangerous.’I don’t think that most of our elected officials understand the long-term seriousness of what climate change will do to the agricultural economy, public health and the environment,’ Stooksbury said. ‘It will be much cheaper and better for the state if we follow a well-developed plan starting now rather than waiting until we must respond.’ ”

Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources is quoted too, stating, “Last month the wildlife resources division of the Department of Natural Resources issued its State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, which states unequivocally that “climate change presents unprecedented challenges.”

The AJC reports that Governor Nathan Deal had no statement on climate change. Senator David Perdue, who lives in a mansion on one of Georgia’s Barrier Islands, Sea Island, told the AJC, ““the scientific community is not in total agreement about whether mankind has been a contributing factor.”

The rising tides will eventually wash away the sand Perdue and others have their heads buried in on this subject and many others.

 

Don’t let child abusers and marital rapists hide behind religion

Sam Teasley
Sam Teasley

The AJC Political Insider reports that the Georgia Baptist Convention met last week to support a bill floating in the Georgia General Assembly sponsored by Marietta Republican Representative Sam Teasley. HB 29 will allow people accused of child and spousal abuse to use their religious beliefs as a justification for their violent and abhorrent actions. (The bill would also legislate discriminating against a person because of race, sexual orientation, their religion.)

Legislators who support HB 29 made an exception that doesn’t allow child sexual abuse, but beating a child, perhaps to death, could be claimed as justified by the abusers and/or murderers. Anything short of child sexual abuse is fair game under the law. Rape happens within marriage. When a woman says No, even to her husband, then it isn’t sex, it is marital rape. HB 29 legalizes it.

I just can’t find a way to be tolerant of beating or killing a child, or beating, raping, or murdering a spouse, because your god told you it was ok. And our legislators shouldn’t either.

Only 276 pages left

only 276 pages left
only 276 pages left

One on the highlights of the year for me is joining a group of women, most of whom I see only once a year over lunch, for conversations encompassing a wide range of topics. The only time there is quiet around the room is when we share noteworthy books we’ve read in the past year.

My list is always the shortest (these women are serious about reading). Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit” was on my list, to which my friend Sue kindly pointed out, I’ve been reading that one for years (She’s right, it was on my list last year. I’ve still got hundreds of pages to go).

Rural and Progressive came up in the discussion last Saturday, and I made a point of saying I haven’t been posting much recently as I continue to dive into a new job. That doesn’t mean I’m not following politics, so don’t count me out on posting about politics, especially while the Georgia General Assembly is in session.

GPB has added three in-house produced programs focused on state politics and issues that are worth a listen. “Political Rewind” on Friday afternoons includes a balanced group of pundits/consultants/journalists/former politicians. I’ve heard it in full more than “On Second Thought” and “Two Way Street.” All three programs cover a range of issues and topics pertinent to our state. They are worth a listen.

It is worth noting that GPB has added these programs since disgraced Georgia State Representative Chip Rogers was fired last year. Shame on the network for producing good content and failing to make it available by podcast.

I’m a stickler for fact checking and supporting data. Consequently I really like Fact-check Friday on the AJC. 

If you are curious about what I am reading that is newsworthy, from my perspective in rural Georgia, like Rural and Progressive on Facebook. I share things there almost every day. My Twitter feed includes links to news items too (events like the State of the Union address are ideal for Twitter). Those platforms, in addition to the comment section here, provide a chance to weigh in on the posted items with your thoughts.

Please join the conversation.

 

 

Gov Deal and Chip Rogers know how to put the public back in public broadcasting

Governor Nathan Deal and former state Senator Chip Chip Rogers and Will "The Winner" Rogers Rogers, aka Will “The Winner” Rogers, sure know how to put the public in public broadcasting.

Yesterday Governor Deal’s staff spent the day telling reporters that the Governor didn’t hire Rogers and appoint him to work at Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) as an Executive Producer.

The denials aren’t very convincing, because another public radio station, Atlanta’s
WABE, has an interview with Rogers spelling out exactly how Deal “reached out” to him for this job. Now Better Georgia is calling Governor Deal a liar.

But that isn’t all.

On January 31 GPB will have  a real job vacancy to fill, and it includes producing Lawmakers. a daily news report on the Georgia General Assembly, where Rogers already knows everyone!

While Deal was denying his December appointment of Roger’s, GPB Senior Producer Ashlie Wilson Pendley was submitting her resignation effective at the end of this month, and she spelled out exactly why she is leaving her job as the Senior Producer of GPB’s Lawmakers.

Wilson Pendley describes Rogers’ salary as “unconscienable” She also wrote, “This was the wrong decision for GPB. It has the appearance of the political manipulation of the public airwaves. This stinks of cronyism. I believe that this decision was in fact made at the highest political levels and forced upon this organization. In the interest of my own personal integrity, I find I must leave.” (Her letter is included in Creative Loafing’s coverage.)

GPB just can’t get a break from all the Deal/Rogers fallout. Today the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that GPB donors are cancelling their donations to the public radio station. The AJC also reports that in response to a donor’s cancellation, GPB Vice-President Yvette Cook emailed a donor and said that Roger’s salary is funded by taxpayer dollars (as if that makes it any better in the end) .

Cook’s email isn’t a confidence builder for Roger’s ability to be an Executive Producer. The AJC reports that Cook wrote Rogers “may or may not be the best spokesperson” for the programming that has been created just for him.

So Deal hired Rogers, gave him a salary almost nine times higher than what Rogers got as a state senator, and now the station where he works says Rogers may not be the best spokesperson for what he is supposed to produce? Wow.

I bet Deal and Rogers are glad this is a short work week. We aren’t even through three full days and it has already been a doozy.