WITH THE passing of the Memorial Day weekend comes summer in Savannah, when the school buses no longer ply the roads and SCAD students are thinner on the ground.
For many of us it’s just a brief transition, a pause before the next grade. In her column this week, Jessica Leigh Lebos muses about the “freedom to roam” that summer brings—or should bring—and its ramifications in these days of helicopter parenting.
For others, myself included, a high school graduation in the family this May marked the end of our personal bond with the local school system.
The word universally used when your child—um, young adult—graduates high school is “bittersweet.”
The word perfectly sums up a parent’s deep, conflicted emotions at seeing the official commencement of their child into a frightening, uncertain world we’ve spent the last 18 years trying to prepare them for, and largely protect them from.
Just as it took 18 years to get this far, it takes more than graduation day at the Civic Center to process all the emotions. I suspect I’ll be dealing with my own empty-nest fallout through the summer, and beyond.
I can tell you this with certainty: I’m relieved to have the local school system in my rearview mirror once and for all.
I’ve put two daughters through Savannah-Chatham Public Schools: my oldest at Charles Ellis Montessori Academy K-8 and my youngest at J.G. Smith Elementary, Oglethorpe Charter School, and Savannah Arts Academy.
As you can see from that list, my family has been one of the “lucky” ones by local standards. We were blessed to get into the schools we wanted to get into. The lottery numbers all went our way.
For other families, it didn’t work out as well.
One of the most heartbreaking ordeals in Savannah is that of a family desperate to get into one of the small number of schools considered “good,” and failing to do so.
I’ve seen entire families collapse into tears when their number didn’t come up. A whole vividly imagined, fortunate future vanishes in the span of a second.
It’s like a singularly horrible and cruel reality TV show, except with much higher stakes.
It’s devastating to those who lose out, of course, but there’s also survivor’s guilt for those of us who get in. We feel a bit unclean in our good fortune. But of course being human, we don’t give up our spots for others.
This essential cruelty at the heart of our public schools—which after all are funded by everyone, even the losers—is a visceral annual reminder that the hill to climb is steep and crosses generations.
When even the parents are in a Lord of the Flies scenario, you know things won’t be much better in the classroom.
After decades of money and meetings and theories and five-year-plans, Savannah-Chatham schools remain among the worst-performing districts in one of the worst-performing states in the union.
The flummoxing fact is that it has little to do with funding.
Contrary to what most people might think, per-student expense in Savannah-Chatham public schools is higher than all private schools in the county with the sole exception of Savannah Country Day.
You can certainly make the case that Georgia as a whole underfunds and undervalues education compared to other states.
But you can’t make the case that local public schools don’t tax us enough, or that they don't pay our superintendent and his vast administrative staff at 208 Bull Street enough, or that they don't build enough new school buildings.(UPDATE: A couple of days after I wrote this, the School Board approved another millage hike on property taxes.)
This November another round of ESPLOST is up for your vote. If passed, the sales tax will pay for more new schools.
But ESPLOST cannot address challenges of teaching, of discipline, of learning. Just new buildings, which make more money for the people who build them.
In other news, the 2016-17 school year will be the first in over a decade that local schools will run the school bus system completely in-house, with no outsourcing.
My guess, given some early clues, is that while this might be the only solution left, it will be a more expensive one—not least because the Board of Education will, if history is any guide, likely hire several more unfireable, marginally qualified six-figure administrators to run the bus system, along with the usual coterie of special assistants and special assistants to the assistants, etc.
Come to think of it, sounds like I’m not done with public schools yet! Especially since I’ll still be paying the same taxes for them regardless.
But tell you what: I’ll sure enjoy taking a little break.