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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Let’s Build Ladders

Let’s Build Ladders At a recent professional development conference, the keynote speaker made a comment that really got my attention. He said, “instead of always focusing on and talking about building safety nets in our country, let’s build more ladders.” Is that not what the American Dream is all about? Have we not digressed from a nation that offered complete freedom in pursuing all that a citizen’s human imagination could dream to a nation where millions languish and survive on the minimums its governments dole out? Education has long been a societal ladder offering anyone who worked hard and studied hard, a skill set to pursue vocational and occupational success. The American Public Education system has been called the great equalizer meaning that if one worked hard and earned the educational credentials that are available, they could achieve success far above whatever socioeconomic background one came from. Recently, community leaders from the Dalton-Whitfield community came together and pledged their support for a unified focus on literacy and assisting all our school children in being on OR ABOVE grade level by the end of the third grade. We encouraged the leadership of our school systems to be innovative in making that success possible. Because all of our children enter pre-kindergarten at different levels of ability as it relates to reading, a focus on literacy requires resources beyond the normal school budget. And in a time when education funding is continuously cut by the state of Georgia (and most state governments), local budgets struggle to maintain existing programs much less offer new and expensive ones. “For the first time in 16 years, local governments paid a higher share of the cost of public education than state governments. In 2010, Georgia’s public schools received about 38 percent of their funding from the state, with local government paying about 48 percent,” as reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Executive Board of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically applauds our community’s leaders (especially those of our school systems) for taking a risk in offering our children the help they need at the time they need it. The old model of thinking requires resources be spent on remediation and trying to get students who are failing caught up. But doesn’t it make sense to give our children the resources and assistance that can provide them success throughout their education. It has been overly stated but the saying goes that “we learn to read up through the third grade and read to learn after that.” We applaud the bold action by our school systems to invest in reading and providing all children regardless of background the opportunity to succeed in school. Over time this increased investment in education on the front-end has the potential to drastically reduce resources spent for remediation and drastically increase our graduation rate. Providing innovative educational opportunities is not cheap. The Readers to Leaders initiative will require more teachers in grades pre-k through 3 to provide the one-on-one and small group focus on reading and comprehension. The need for these resources and as stated earlier to provide the funding that the state has cut, our school systems need a stable and balanced revenue base. The most stable and fair revenue base is a combination of reasonable property tax rates and the regular utilization of a Special Local Option Sales Tax for education. The Executive Board of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce endorses the passage of the ESPLOST Referendum on the July 31st ballot. The ESPLOST is a needed component of revenue that can allow our school systems to pay off their construction debt, make needed investments in technology for our schools / students, and reduce pressure on their operating budgets freeing up resources for Literacy Initiatives, etc. As the voice of business and the organization that looks out for the best interests of the business community, we traditionally would oppose increased taxes. But when you compare our community to our neighbors and the state average, our tax rates are and have been significantly lower than most communities in Georgia. Given that we also advocate for a skilled workforce, we feel the combination of both revenue streams will allow for the best investment in our children while maintaining our competitive position versus other communities. All of us need to continue challenging our school leaders to be as innovative as possible in driving educational attainment. And as they offer creative ways to increase our educational success, we must do our part to provide the necessary resources to fund those initiatives. As a community, let’s be about building ladders to success and not more and larger safety nets…

Democracy Blooms

Democracy Blooms I know it is hard to believe but Democracy is once again in bloom. Political signs advertising the candidates we will be voting for and even the issues we will consider have sprung from the ground like spring flowers. I would say that Democracy is in full bloom, but as a recent story in the Daily Citizen explained, many races were decided even before the first vote was cast due to lack of challengers. But even a less than perfect Democracy is better than the alternative. We as Americans have been so richly blessed with freedom; unfortunately, though, many take our blessings for granted. Given that so many have given the ultimate sacrifice that gave us the freedom to be governed in a free society, it is incumbent upon all of us to continue encouraging all to participate in the democratic process. What is at stake? Why should we care? It is tragic to me that more than a few cannot answer these serious questions. Consider just the last 12 years when our country has been led by both parties. Were we tremendously better off during the years under President Bush’s leadership? Has President Obama improved our nation or made it worse? The extremists who live on the left and right fringe of the political spectrum will vehemently argue that the lives of most Americans were better off when their President was in office or their party controlled Congress. What do you think? Have you studied the issues? Do you listen to and read divergent opinions trying to understand the different dimensions of the serious issues facing our country? I can candidly confess that for many of my years that I did not look at issues from all sides. I tended to believe the party and /or the leaders of the party that I most closely aligned with. Not anymore … I now work hard to understand issues from many angles. I try to listen to people that I know I would disagree with on many issues. And it is my humble opinion that until more of us does the same; we will continue to get what we are currently getting. It doesn’t take years of research or a multitude of degrees to realize that we as a country, and as a people, have real serious issues facing us. Entitlement programs that are necessary and vital to so many but as currently designed are unsustainable. We have an education system that fails more and more children year after year. And for the first time in decades, it is predicted that our younger generations will not enjoy a standard of living that equals that of their parents. All the courses in history and political science that I took in college certainly taught me that this isn’t the first time in history that we have been divided politically. Throughout our rocky existence, there have been times worse than today’s but thankfully better times as well. But what worries me about the times we live in today is not the bickering but the lacking of capacity for true debate. We seem to be electing not our best and brightest, but in many cases the better of two so-so candidates. And the service above self mantra that truly makes the kind of servant leader so desperately needed is becoming harder and harder to find. At the federal level, I would almost argue that any incumbent who has been in office longer than 4 years should be changed. When the two parties and two of the three branches of government have been so dysfunctional in managing our fiscal affairs as the last six congresses have - it is time for systemic change. And at the state level, are we any better? Since the current majority party took control, we are less educated, have degrading infrastructure that needs desperate attention, and continue to lag most states in growing per capita income of our citizens. When Indiana and New Jersey seemed to be making stronger strides in becoming innovative in providing local government that is responsive, efficient, and effective – we could learn a thing or two. America is an amazing place! A destination billions dream of visiting and would give their all to live here. But we as Americans – everyday citizens – are checking out of the very process that makes us so special. Congratulations and thank you to all who have signed your name on the dotted line and offered yourselves up for service. We the citizens of Whitfield County, Georgia, and the United States salute you. It is now our responsibility to do our part in learning about you and the issues you strive to improve. Between now and the first Tuesday in November, we need to exercise true citizenship as we become educated about the candidates and the issues, and cast our votes accordingly. Let us not dishonor the sacrifices given in fighting for government from the people, by the people, and for the people…

Preventing Tomorrow’s Problems Today Through Education

Preventing Tomorrow’s Problems Today Through Education A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Thomas Meredith, chancellor of the University of Georgia System, speak on the importance of education. He stated, “Ask me any question, and the answer is education, education, education.” Although I fully understood what he meant at the time, I am not sure if he knew how truly profound his statement was. Some of our political leaders and most of the Occupy Movement participants believe we need greater laws and higher taxes on some to level the playing field. And that seems an easy solution. But the problem with that approach is it just will not work. When government provides its citizens the means to live by, most of those recipients will not use that assistance to better themselves and position themselves for greater opportunities. They will more often than not simply become more and more dependent of the government to continue providing for them. Case in point, during our nation’s very difficult and extreme recession, the federal government in cooperation with state governments provided almost two years worth of unemployment assistance. Almost two year’s worth of income with no requirement that the recipients do anything. Income over a period of time that an associate’s degree could have been earned if pursued. Furthermore, many states provide low cost and in some cases no cost educational and job-training opportunities. One would naturally assume that many if not most of those displaced by their jobs being eliminated would have sought out retraining opportunities to better equip themselves for gaining employment when the economy improved. A few have returned to school to better themselves but just a few. And even more perplexing, we as a nation have invested trillions in education infrastructure that is producing a dismal return on investment at best. Although our children enter pre-k or kindergarten blessed with God-given intellect and ability, our one hundred year old model of education loses a tremendous number of them along the way who will not graduate or even if they do will not be prepared for post-secondary learning. We have invested trillions more in a higher education system that only graduates less than 20% of those that enter college (technical or bachelors programs). And our career guidance and placement capacity is so minimal; the vast majority that is capable and has the initiative to seek the education needed, waste time and money not knowing what their interests and demonstrated ability will translate into a career field they can be successful in. Education – even as inadequate as our current system is – is still America’s greatest hope for creating wealth and opportunity for its citizens. With Baby-Boomers poised to leave the workforce by the millions, our young people given the proper education and training will have limitless opportunities. But only if they stay in school, work hard, and go on to college and gain the necessary work skills needed by the world marketplace. Just as Sen. Bethel recently remarked that you cannot legislate the heart as he spoke on the tragedy of child abuse. I would also argue that you cannot level the playing field through government action. The system should have adequate checks and balances to prevent the dishonest from manipulating the system, but open enough that hard work and ability can enable success by future generations just as it has historically. America remains poised for greatness and education, education, education remains the ticket to opportunity …

Honoring the Institution of Prayer

Honoring the Institution of Prayer If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). This week our nation set aside May 3rd as the National Day of Prayer. I was blessed to attend two wonderful events as part of our community’s celebration of this significant day. The first was at Grove Level Baptist Church and led by Pastor Charlie Bridges and many of the wonderful members of the Grove Level Baptist Congregation. Each year Grove Level has a special prayer time with most of the leadership of our community. Attendees typically include: City and County officials, State Legislators, Superior Court Judges, Magistrate and Probate Court Judges, Officials of our Law Enforcement and Fire Departments, etc. I have been able to attend dating back to my days as a member of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners. I am always honored to be invited and truly blessed from the experience of taking time to come together as leaders of our community and praying. The second event was the National Day of Prayer Celebration on the lawn of our courthouse. Having the opportunity to come together with leaders from our community and our friends and neighbors was indeed a blessing. I personally want to thank the organizing committee led by Dr. Dale Kidd. What a powerful testimony of our great community and our great nation that we can freely assemble, call on the amazing and loving God of the universe, and pray. As the scripture says, if we will humble ourselves and pray, God will hear us and answer our prayers. America is still a bastion of strength and a light on a hill. As someone once said, “a nation can be measured by which way people move when the gates are let down.” People all over the world still hope for an opportunity to come to America and experience all that our great and free nation can offer. Dr. Richard Lee wrote in the introduction of a book, In God We Still Trust, “While other nations have built their governments upon the shaky foundations of communism, socialism, and countless other anti-God philosophies, only to see those foundations crumble, America stands without equal as a beacon of hope and freedom in a hurting world.” Governments, being comprised of humans, are by their very nature imperfect. But a people who humble themselves, recognize and pledge their love and devotion to a perfect and loving God, can lead a strong nation. Although my belief in God sustains and blesses me, I have not written this column trying to offend those who do not know God or who choose not to believe. But I also make no apologies for sharing my faith and offering that it is my faith alone that enables me to make sense of and to live abundantly in a broken world. My Prayer for our community… Father, I humbly bow and pray and ask that you hear my prayer… You are truly magnificent, holy, loving, gracious, omnipotent, giving, and merciful… I thank you for the over-whelming blessings bestowed upon our nation, our state, our community, and my family. You are truly gracious in providing our daily bread… I lift up the leaders of our governments for our country, our state, and our community. Thank you for good and Godly servants who answer the call to serve. Lead them I pray. Equip them with a heart for those they represent, and the wisdom to exercise fair and impartial judgment. Protect them from the temptations that follow power and authority. I lift up the ministers and lay leaders of our churches. Our churches have so much capacity for good. But that capacity is useless without action. Lead our churches to seek out unfairness, injustice, and hurt within our nation and our community – and lead us to do something about it. I lift up our Free Enterprise System and the corporations, companies, and small businesses that operate fairly and honorably within it. Our free market economy can and does provide our ability to work, invest, save, and provide for our families. I pray that you will bless those that operate honorably and treat their employees and customers fairly. And I pray that you will reckon with those that do not. Father God – you are truly holy and good! Make us a prayerful nation. In your holy name I pray … Amen