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The Rinaldi Report

       by Peter Rinaldi


Fayette and Natchez

            Fayette is one of the poorest communities in Mississippi and the nation, with few resources. But something has happened in Fayette that locals there have noticed and visitors should notice.

            Main Street is the main thoroughfare through town. That street and adjacent commercial and residential properties are much cleaner than in years past. Thanks to town and county work crews and inmate labor, thereís practically no trash along the roadway. Itís clean. As I traveled yesterday from the turn off on Hwy. 28, past the hospital, and then to the supermarket, there were just two pieces of litter on the entire stretch. I go to Fayette twice monthly. And Iíve noticed this remarkable change compared to years past.

            And while it would be hard to call Fayette a beautiful town, since so many buildings are in need of repair (the economy is just so tough), the community deserves credit for cleaning up.

            As I traveled down Highland Boulevard in Natchez last night on my way home from work, I noticed litter everywhere, included dumped bags of trash. Today, I went down MLK Street toward Cathedral and beyond and noticed more of the same Ė papers, drink cups, soda bottles, beer cans, etc.

            Fayette may not have much to crow about because of its poor economy. But at least, itís clean. And thatís worthy of commendation.


Another alder-manic move

            Natchez aldermen voted 3-2 to remove their school board appointees because aldermen donít like whatís happening to the local schools.

            You would think Natchez leaders might be in a panic because our schools have dropped from earning credible ratings to failing status. But thatís not the reason for their vote.

            Our leaders didnít raise a peep when the schools sunk into non-performing and failing status. Whatís got their ire up is that their friends and buddies at the local schools have lost their jobs for failing to do good work.

            When the kids donít get a good education, thatís not a crisis. When the aldermenís friends lose their jobs, then itís time to act. According to our city leadersí philosophy, once an employee gets a cushy government job, it should be a job for life, regardless of performance.

            Thereís also a bit of a race component to the aldermenís complaint (similarly echoed by supervisors.) If you hire a black person to a government job, theyíre never supposed to be fired, no matter what. That was one reason why the trustees of Natchez Regional sunk their own ship. They wanted ďfull employmentĒ despite revenues, costs or job productivity. That philosophy doomed Regional.

           Understand that some of those losing their jobs in the schools are white as well as black. But most of the complaints are coming from black people and black leaders whose black friends have lost their jobs.

           If only these leaders were as supportive of the school kids who are the real victims in this political play. Most of the adults in this affair already have their formal educations complete. But the kids need a good quality education to compete in todayís marketplace. And theyíre not getting it.

         The aldermen are willing to champion their crony friends and relatives working in the public schools but are unwilling to go to bat for the kids themselves. Otherwise, positive changes would have been made long before now.

         Again, this is a legacy of our long-standing race conflict. For years, the schools were managed by white administrators and a nearly all-white school board. Blacks wanted more representation: more black administrators, black teachers and black school board members. Push, shove Ė they got that representation and then they sat on their collective butts while the schools deteriorated precipitously over 20+ years. It was all about getting the jobs and the power and not the educational results. The final product was of little interest.

            Unlike Natchez Regional, in the case of the public schools, the schools will not go out of business because of failure. They simply increase taxes and spend more money to pay for the failure year after year. But the insistence on maintaining non-performing people on the payroll is just as detrimental as Regionalís debacle.

            Of course, Natchez aldermen found out later (after their foolish 3-2 vote) that school board members could be removed for malfeasance, felonious criminal activity, non-attendance at meetings, moving from the district or serious mental incapacity. But the board members may not be removed simply because the aldermen donít like the fact the board has endorsed and continues to endorse Dr. Frederick Hillís personnel policies and placements.

            Most of us donít have any evidence whether Hillís revamp of the school system will be the beginning of a turn-around or just more of the same. Many of us also fear that it will be more of the same because of recent history. The problems seem so deep and insurmountable: bad teachers and administrators, bad students, bad parents, and bad esprit dícorps. The only thing going for the district seems to be it has way more money per pupil than most Mississippi school districts and is about to get $800,000 more from supervisors.

If weíre subsidizing failure, weíre doing it in grand style.

            It is interesting to observe that while Jefferson County and Wilkinson County also have some failing schools, the state says their districts are slightly better performing than our Natchez District. Our poor neighbors to the north and south of us appear to do a slightly better job. Why?

Remember, the real debate should be how we engender average or above average student achievement. Personnel are only the means to that end not the end in itself.

            The aldermenís vote to remove school board members without the authority of law behind them is one more instance of city governmentís profound incompetence. Reminiscent of the Jimmy Breslin novel and movie, the aldermen are Ďthe gang that couldnít shoot straight.í





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