Dear Gov. Deal:
I suspect you, like most Americans, are anxiously awaiting an analysis of last week’s political races from Junior E. Lee, general manager of the Yarbrough Worldwide Media and Pest Control Company, located in Greater Garfield, Georgia. As you know, Junior is a highly-sought after political analyst as well as a certified pest control professional — a combination of George Will and Otto the Orkin Man. I am very proud of him.
Junior asked me to let you know that he is going to wait a week before releasing his patent-pending Wikiwinkwink Political Report. He wants to let all the self-important political pundits go first and give us their opinions (as if we care) and then he will provide us the real facts. That, plus the fact that he is currently busy spraying for ticks at Arveen Ridley’s place.
In the meantime, Junior suggested that I go over with you the Opportunity School District Amendment, which sunk like a rock last week despite your pedal-to-the-metal efforts. Sixty percent of the voters said “no” to the amendment. That is a rout. Junior says whoever was in charge of formulating strategy for the passage of the amendment should be sheep-dipped. (Junior likes to throw in pest control jargon whenever he gets the chance.) Somebody totally misread and underestimated the opposition.
Let’s start at the beginning. I believe the amendment was unnecessary. You could have accomplished your goal of rescuing failing schools within current law. If I am not mistaken, you replaced six members of the DeKalb County school board a few years ago for a lack of leadership and your predecessor, George E. Perdue, removed four members of the Clayton County board after that school system lost its accreditation. Do that to a couple of more school boards and I suspect you would have gotten their undivided attention.
And then there was the wording of the amendment. It came across as deliberately deceptive. Amendment 1 stated its passage would provide “greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.” That was like describing a butterfly when talking about a butter knife. This was about state-control of public schools.
Your side was out-hustled by those opposing the amendment. I reach more school teachers in the state through this column than anyone writing on the subject of public education. Yet, I never heard from anyone supporting Amendment 1. I had a lot of contact with those opposing it. Also, if any newspaper in Georgia supported Amendment 1, I am not aware of it. Even your hometown paper, the Gainesville Times opposed the measure. Where were the advocates? Who were they talking to?
I personally did not like the idea of being able to hide the names of those supporting the amendment, even though it was perfectly legal. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was able to determine that AT&T, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the politically-inept Students First crowd (or whatever they call themselves these days) as well as Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus were putting up some big money for the effort. I suspect Alice the Walmart Lady and the Koch brothers were also involved, despite the fact that we don’t need these interlopers telling us how to operate our schools in Georgia.
The worst gaffe was when your staff filed an open records request, looking for details on how local school districts handle payroll deductions for educators’ membership dues in the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Association of Educators, two of the groups most actively in opposition to the amendment. Your team can spin it any way they want, but coming right before the election, it looked like pure intimidation and it backfired. I wish you had called me first. I would have told you not to do it.
I have no doubt that you and the first lady are working hard to make public education better across Georgia and I support your efforts. But Amendment 1 was not a positive step in that direction. Hopefully, you can get your administration and the education community to move past this episode and develop improved communications and mutual respect going forward. If I can help make that happen, let me know.
Now, if you will excuse me I need to see what progress Junior E. Lee is making in preparing his patent-pending Wikiwinkwink Report. If he asks if your political strategists have been sheep-dipped yet, I’ll tell him I don’t know, but they should be.
You can reach Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.