After attending Saturday’s “Vote No for School Consolidation” march, I feel like I have a better understanding of one of the biggest, and most controversial, issues that our local community is facing.
A board has recently formed backing consolidation of the local public school systems, Valdosta City and Lowndes County Schools. This board, Community Unification for Education Excellence (CUEE), is the organization behind the white “Vote YES!” signs and billboards around town. Their website, voteyes4ourchildren.com, states their mission.
“While CUEE strongly believes that children and the community will be best served by a single school system, the work of this Committee is unrelated to the issue of merging districts,” it reads.
OK, next question. If it’s not about merging districts, what is it about? “Vote YES!” is a direct reference to the referendum on the ballot open to registered Valdosta voters who have been residents for at least six months.
Said referendum reads: “Shall the City of Valdosta, Georgia annul and repeal their independent school system so that the City of Valdosta public school system shall become a part of the Lowndes County public school system?”
What about this is supposed to give the impression that CUEE’s work is unrelated to merging districts?
According to its website, CUEE’s actual mission is “to demonstrate the worth of educators, community members, business and civic leaders coming together, sharing ideas, agreeing and disagreeing and forging a framework that can be viewed as a ‘voice’ for the children.”
The children have shown that they already have a voice. So have their parents, teachers, counselors, friends, family and fellow community members.
Recently, a commercial featuring a Morgan Freeman sound-alike perverting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream to unite all people hit local radio stations. The voice proclaimed that Dr. King’s dream had been forgotten and that our local schools had once again become segregated.
That, dear audience, is highly arguable. I saw Brian Law, a white Valdosta High School counselor, told about the love he developed for the city school system after taking a job there.
I saw another white man, who didn’t give his name, stand up with his story. He grew up in Nashville, Ga., and later moved to Jacksonville. He remembered coming to town when he was very young to watch Nashville’s football team play Valdosta’s. Nashville lost, but on their way back through his hometown the team was greeted with celebratory honks and shouts. He asked his dad why there was so much excitement when their team had lost.
“Son, you don’t understand,” his dad told him. “We scored on Valdosta.”
Based on Valdosta’s winning tradition, this man knew that he wanted his three boys to play sports for the city school. When he and his wife got a chance to move to Valdosta, he took it.
He admitted that he didn’t know a thing about the county school system then and told the realtor to show him a house in town. The realtor told him that he might not want to live in the city. He asked why. The realtor replied, “Well, that’s the black school.” The man stood his ground. He said that they were Wildcats and wanted to be shown a house in the city.
These are just a couple of the stories I heard on Saturday from citizens with love for their school system—and rightfully so. Word around town is that neither school system is in favor of consolidation. The turnout Saturday showed that the community is clearly opposed to it. So, why is CUEE pushing so hard? And why is CUEE making this a racial issue? Dr. King’s message is now being used to promote something that he would not have been for at all.
CUEE is trying to do whatever it’s doing for all the wrong reasons.
One of my issues with CUEE is that these people are not educators. These are business people, for the most part, or people who would not be affected by the merger. There is no plan in place for what will happen to the kids currently in the school system. Valdosta has an IB program and Lowndes has AP. What will happen to these programs?
SGA President, Deandre Jones, also spoke at the MLK Memorial. He stated that his hometown school systems consolidated and he was a member of the first class that went through the process. By the way, the consolidation process can take months or even years to work through. Jones spoke from first-hand experience and stressed that he had seen how students, especially minority students, fall through the cracks during consolidation. What about that sounds best for our children?
Currently, the Valdosta area has two public school systems. I went to Lowndes High, which was a very good school with loving and devoted teachers and counselors to guide us. I didn’t go through primary or middle school here, but from living in the area and getting to know people, I know that positive role models can be found in all Lowndes County schools.
Before the march, I didn’t know much about the Valdosta City Schools, but after seeing the outpouring of support from the Friends of Valdosta City Schools and other community members, I know that Valdosta City students, parents and alumni feel the same sense of pride in their schools as I do in mine.
Valdosta, get out and vote. Vote early and vote no for our children.