Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank the many of you who called and emailed regarding the Jasper School System. There were a number of calls about the Beaufort County School District but, in my view, we need to compare apples to apples and treat what we are seeing in Jasper County as something of an emergency, with all that that status implies. Calling me is one thing, but to truly execute the proper change, you must be on the phone or on the street corner with your School Board representative. You need to call the State Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais (803-734-5800), or the Governor’s office (803-734-2100). Each class that cycles out of a failing school or school system will cost us all dearly. That said, the most profound costs of this failure are paid by those who leave these schools without the tools to achieve success in our increasingly competitive world.

In order to assess our choices of what we might recommend, Rep. Newton and I will meet with Dr. Zais the first week of September. Given the degree and duration of failure, one of the choices will be a state takeover of the system. While this is an option, I feel it should only be the most extreme last resort. My reasons for this have to do with the fact of I believe the parents in Jasper County should be afforded the opportunity to take responsibility for moving their elected officials to reform their system. The more direct the lines of accountability, the better. If the local elected officials are found wanting, there is an electoral remedy. Only if the local stakeholders are incapable or refuse to productively address the issue, then and only then, should there be consideration of intervention. I firmly believe that the parents and other residents of Jasper County, if presented with a clear choice, will do what it takes to make certain their children receive the education they deserve.

In a different but somewhat related area, this representative, along with Rep. Newton, Sen. Davis and Sen. Pinckney, met with Jasper County Council for the latest update on the Jasper Port situation. A group of well-regarded consultants has been examining this issue for some time. Their findings were both enlightening and alarming. They were alarming when taken in a context of the infrastructure deficits we are currently facing with both highway and rail construction. In a mere 14 years, it is conservatively projected that the ports of both Savannah and Charleston will be over capacity. In 27 years, it is projected that the ports of Savannah, Charleston, and the still un-built Jasper Port will all be at or over capacity. Still, we allow parochial concerns to stall the new port, as well as delay the supporting infrastructure.

Perhaps the most startling projection delivered at the meeting was the fact that by 2040, assuming all three ports are operational, there will be around 240,000 jobs directly or indirectly associated with our Georgia and South Carolina ports. Our area of the coast is uniquely situated to take advantage of industries either locating or moving to this relatively snow-free part of the country. On paper, we should be the center of the economic universe.

Unfortunately, we are still arguing over who pays for the new bridge over the Back River. We are facing legislative resistance to bringing our state’s Interstate Highways up to a decent standard. Perhaps most sadly, we are in an emergency situation because the school system near the heart of all this potential prosperity cannot figure out how to teach reading, writing, and basic arithmetic.

Friends, we have some decisions to make. Do we allow our historical limitations and little arguments to consign us to eventual irrelevance? Or, do we forge the agreements and make the investments that will lead to a brighter and more prosperous future? We do have a choice.