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The Rinaldi Report

       by Peter Rinaldi



            There’s nothing like going on a vacation to renew the spirit. That’s what some of our local politicians believe, especially when they go on taxpayer-funded trips. There are all sorts of bogus reasons given for going on those trips. The one used most often, “We’re going to D.C. to get grants.” Often, the trips are scheduled for weekends, when most of Congress leaves town for Thursday-Monday. It’s not much of a surprise that few grants are obtained through these vacations, as grants, like other subsidies, must be applied for in writing, months in advance. The grant application process does not normally require a visit.

            Just this past month, Mayors Copeland and Brown traveled to D.C. to attend a Mississippi River conference. I am sure the meeting was helpful to their stature, making them feel like big shots. But what did the thousands of dollars do to help the folks back home? Progress from the river is the topic of the day, as it has always been. Usually, there’s little accomplished, but you enjoy the camaraderie of the like-minded and like-spending.

If you remember last year, a plan was hatched to take a bunch of buddies to Rotterdam for a Chevy Chase-style summer vacation to look at the port facility there.

          Rotterdam has the second largest port in the world and supposedly our big shots would learn how to run our piddly ports here in the Miss-Lou. That was a total laugher, of course. The politicians and their cronies decided not to go, in part, because our papers and the general public mercilessly attacked this stupid idea.

           It’s hard to forget the Rentech travel saga, when Adams County Supervisor Darryl Grennell and his traveling bud, then County Attorney Bob Latham, spent thousands going to visit a Rentech plant in Illinois. Nothing was gained and taxpayers’ money lost. And in case you haven’t heard, Rentech never quite made it here or anywhere. And now supervisors decided to saddle taxpayers with the old plant property. If only Grennell had gone on that trip and then decided to not come home. That would have saved us 9 million clams.

           Quite awhile ago, a delegation from the Natchez CVB traveled to England and had a nice and fancy vacation on the taxpayer tab. Again, the idea was to bring dollars back to little ole Natchez. And again, that didn’t happen. We get few foreign tourists but practically no English tourists. Big Ben struck zero, if that’s possible.

           Taxpayers understand that these trips are bogus. They know baloney when they see it. So whether our bigwigs are traveling to D.C. for grants or visiting fly-by-night industrial prospect, the folks know the truth.

In the end, the travel abuse is self-defeating for the politicians. They gain free vacations and then lose community respect. Instead of making themselves look “so big,” they end up looking so very small.


School reorganization

           The Natchez Adams School Board and Superintendent Dr. Frederick Hill have proposed reorganizing the local schools, a last gasp of activity before the state takes over the local schools for their failing record.

           Hill’s idea is that smaller schools, academies within schools, might do the trick and perform some kind of miracle, raising student performance, which has been declining for more than a decade.

           It’s hard to tell whether the proposition has merit or not. Certainly, we’re at the stage where the community is ready to accept any idea in hopes of a turn-around.

           However, one idea absent from Hill’s scheme is a change in personnel. Apparently, we’re going to try a new system with the same leadership (teachers and administrators) we already have in place.

           The premise is that we will reach new heights of accomplishment with the same crew that’s put us in the mess we’re in now. Can that really happen?

           When a company has non-performing personnel, it is likely to have bad service or create poor products. Eventually, it will go out of business. Since public schools are government-funded, once failure is “achieved,” the workers and their leaders simply ask for more money to make things right. And things never get right.

           The Natchez schools have hired a recruiter to cruise the state’s colleges looking for new teaching personnel, a good idea. The quality of our local schools has declined so much, the district finds it hard to attract experienced teaching personnel from outside the area.

          Such is the state we’re in. We need better, experienced teachers and we can’t get them, as those experienced teachers don’t want to be a system full of rot and failure.

           I believe Hill is sincerely interested in performing a turn-around. And if he can pull it off, he’ll be a true miracle worker. But the answer to “reforming the schools” is probably going to be found at black public charter schools across the nation. Some, not all, have achieved remarkable things and attained measurable success (such as John Marshall Academy in D.C.)

           The ones that have been successful include inner-city, poor and minority schools. They stand as exceptions to the rule. So what are they doing that we’re not doing?

           To create a good or excellent product or service, you have to have good or excellent personnel. I am convinced that the leadership of the Natchez schools has been bad for years. Cronyism, political hiring and promotions, and a failure to concentrate on the basics of education have had a tremendous and negative impact.

            What we need is a revolution in thinking, management and restaffing. I don’t believe half measures will work. But Hill is the only designated magician of the moment. Can he pull the rabbit out of the hat? My fear is that in a year or two, he’ll just give up and move on to a better and higher-paying job. And we’ll be stuck with the mess created by his predecessors.





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