That’s no way to assure the region or nation’s future, but that’s an old story about which declining numbers of taxpayers seem to worry, although parents probably have increasing concerns.
What’s a new story, for Greater Rome at least, is that before the Thanksgiving break arrives it will be the Rome and Floyd Boards of Education who will have passed or flunked the most important tests they may ever face.
Both veteran Floyd Superintendent Lynn Plunkett and Rome Superintendent Gayland Cooper have announced they are retiring as of Dec. 1.
Elected school boards, quite wisely hereabouts at least, set policy and then let veteran appointed pilots steer public schools safely into graduation port. To lose both pilots at the same time in the current reef-filled waters constitutes an emergency.
WHILE BOTH Ms. Plunkett and Cooper have had highly successful, life-long educational careers in which student achievement has been their primary focus and accomplishment — not necessarily the administrative norm nowadays — it is sad to see both go. Don’t be surprised to see both soon pursue “second careers,” perhaps at the college or even state levels.
Ms. Plunkett perhaps hinted at her reason some weeks later, during another budgetary bloodletting, when she remarked: “Being a superintendent nowadays is just not fun anymore. It is not fun.” Most educators view what they do as a calling and something they enjoy. No sense doing something you don’t want to do if there is a deserved pension ready to start banking.
However, those pensions shortly won’t be quite as nice thanks to state-level reneging on past promises made to its most veteran employees.
The Teachers Retirement System of Georgia recently repealed a layer of earned pension benefits for those with 30-plus years that kicks in after Jan. 1, 2013. As a result, the Hall County and Gainesville systems, like Floyd/Rome two separate operations dividing up a single turf, recently reported a wave of about 70 retirements involving their most-experienced employees — double the previous year. Stick it out and earn a smaller pension is hardly a carrot. Might as well get out before this game of take-away gets worse.
INDEED, an action the Floyd school board recently took is along the same lines. It voided, as of Dec. 31, a payout for unused sick/vacation days up to 60 upon retirement/departure. That actually ceased to be offered back in 2003 but still covers those hired earlier. Depending upon position/pay, that means the loss of many thousands of dollars for veteran employees who stick around into 2013 and in effect, wind up having “worked for free” to cover emergencies in the past by not taking vacation/sick days.
Even granting that school superintendents “make good money” — why, they earn almost 15 percent of what a local public hospital administrator can earn! — this does not make a good “sales pitch” in wooing applicants, particularly from out of state. Indeed, local top salaries have been going down (superintendents get docked for all those furlough days, too) and, in Cooper’s case, he’s even been working without an assistant superintendent for two years to try to protect classroom resources. He’s been doing two jobs for one salary, in effect.
Which means the Rome board in particular can’t even afford to dawdle in finding a new superintendent. There’s nobody in central office trained to even “fill in” for a while.
Not that this will happen, nor with the county search either. This is Greater Rome where, always and forever, when a top appointive post goes empty — police chief, fire chief, county manager, whatever — a “nationwide search” is held, with obligatory winnowing of applications and interviews of top candidates, leading to the selection of someone already employed locally as “the best in the nation.”
The only time this hasn’t happened, in the past quarter century at least, the “best” was found … 40 miles away.
THIS ISN’T necessarily bad because, frankly, anyone trying to operate in public service in Greater Rome who doesn’t “know the ropes” risks being hung by them. There’s some tricky terrain of attitudes to navigate in these parts.
Additionally, the strongest argument for “going outside” for any key position is that it should bring new ideas and new methods of operation. While this region is actually somewhat progressive in its thinking when contrasted to some immediate neighbors, it is not entirely welcoming to new ideas unless they are introduced very, very slowly. That’s something outsiders tend not to do, being in an all-fired rush to “make their mark” and then move on to something even bigger. Greater Romans will only accept a slow immersion in new notions from those who are lifelong natives, as both Ms. Plunkett and Cooper are and have done.
One such ignored notion, of course, is consolidation of the two school systems and it is a great opportunity missed that may never occur bloodlessly again. To have both superintendents leaving on the same day and not being able to replace them with one single captain for the educational ship is sad. There is zero difference between the potential and needs of a child in Rome or one in the unincorporated area. They are even both good at football.
However, Greater Romans are now left with two school boards (when there should be one) having to pick two superintendents (when there should be one) at a time of stormy financial seas in which both a hurricane and ship sinking are not impossible.
INDEED, THAT is the real danger and test for both the boards. They can concentrate on finding a good sail-trimmer comfortable with throwing passengers overboard to stay afloat or one whose primary interest was safely landing all occupants on the shores of the land of opportunity even if the ship is taking water.
Both Ms. Plunkett and Cooper were clearly of the latter variety, as steadily rising standardized test scores constantly prove.
Any replacements not cut from the same mold should be considered unacceptable and, should such be chosen, one or both school boards will have failed their most important test.