Roy Exum: How Fairyland Is Punished

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It makes absolutely no sense that Fairyland Elementary School is the only school in Walker County, Ga., that receives no federal funding. And only because the percentage of children who receive reduced or free lunches is not higher, it literally costs the school and the 203 children who go there hundreds of thousands of dollars each year that taxpayers in the same Lookout Mountain community pay to help other Georgia schools.

Fairyland was named as a “Model School” by the state this August, an honor that decrees Fairyland is once again the top performing elementary school in the northwest part of the state, yet the PTO is believed to be the only one in the state that pays for salaries and services no other elementary school has to worry about.

“Our entire educational system is broken,” said PTO vice president Caroline Williams yesterday. “Walker County’s budget for education was cut $7.5 million this year – 10 percent – and that directly affects our children. Until the state realizes that education is important, Georgia will remain one of the worst states for educating our young in the entire country.”

But nowhere in the state is the pain as severe as at Fairyland, a beautiful school in a healthy community that annually produces test scores that are among the best in Georgia. “It’s as though we are punished for being good,” said PTO president Melanie Mercer, “and Walker County education superintendent Damon Rains will agree with that.

“He can only give federal money to schools that qualify. A state law forbids our Town from supplementing the school like the Town of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee does for Lookout Mountain Elementary, so our hands are tied. We have no place to help pay for a school nurse, a full-time secretary or many other needs that are essential to education,” the former University of Georgia tennis star explained.

So what Melanie and Caroline have done is appealed to the community. The PTO has started an Education Fund but, instead of supplying perks for the school like most PTOs around the country, Fairyland is constantly struggling to makes ends meet. Other elementary schools in the county are able to use federal funds to offset the county budget cuts but at Fairyland the parents’ organization is now scrambling to fill those needs.

The two PTO officers feel the blame clearly belongs to its state representatives, state Rep. John Deffenbaugh (who once had a child attend Fairyland) and state Senator Jeff Mullis. “We believe any state representative who doesn’t stand up for education shouldn’t be in office. Nothing is more important to our future and when the county budget is cut 10 percent that is pretty serious.”

Educators across Georgia are heartened that Governor Nathan Deal will be challenged by state school superintendent John Barge in 2014. “By Barge being in the race, education in Georgia will play a prominent role at the polls,” Williams explained, “and anyone with a child in school will watch the state and local races closely. All we are asking is that our children be considered; nothing is more important than their education.”

She explained when Austerity Cuts took place in Georgia in 2003, the state’s Department of Education took such a hit the state now owes the department one billion dollars. “Can you imagine doing that to the state’s children?” said Mercer. “Right now teachers in Walker County are forced to take eight furlough days a year and they have cut the school year from 180 days to 168 days. That’s illegal but they got a waiver. How do we get a waiver for federal funds?”

An election will be held in Georgia this Nov. 5 to determine how “Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax” will be disbursed and, according to Mercer, the outcome could be a Godsend. “Right now it can only be used for capital improvements. Not long ago they came and renovated our gym, which was nice, but we need teachers and staff much worse. We hope for a good turnout at the polls.”

More than that, the Fairyland mothers want Georgia voters to focus on who gets elected next November. “We have to study those who are running and determine their commitment to education. Politicians will say they give 56 percent to education but we aren’t talking about the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. We are talking about our elementary and secondary schools.”

The fact Signal Mountain now has a junior and senior high school has hurt both Lookout Mountain communities because both Tennessee and Georgia students must go to middle and high schools elsewhere. “We dream of starting a middle school at Fairyland, going through the eighth grade and inviting interested families who live in Tennessee to pay a small tuition,” said Mercer, “but right now we are being slammed because we don’t quite qualify for federal funding.

“That’s not fair to our children. We are at a disadvantage yet we pay taxes just like everybody else. We are proud to live in Walker County, but we aren’t being treated fairly and that is wrong.”

royexum@aol.com


Remembering Brave Soldiers Who Died Under The Confederate Flag

One hundred fifty-four years ago over a million men, aged 12-70, took up arms and left their homes and families to defend their way of life as they knew it.  Accurate records didn't exist back then, but as many as 500,000 would die from fighting, disease, starvation and an almost total lack of medical treatment.   Most of those who fought were farmers, blacksmiths, ... (click for more)

Time For A Bilateral Session

Congressman Jim Cooper recently called on state lawmakers to “reconsider the Insure Tennessee plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee.” He said that the U.S. Supreme Court has now cleared all obstacles for the state to proceed. Medicaid expansion is a prime example of where state and federal solutions compete.   The Supreme Court’s recent decision redefining ... (click for more)

Healy Says Bass Pro Shop At East Ridge To Get Underway Next Month, New Hotel, Restaurants Planned Nearby; Sewers Are An Issue

Commercial realtor John Healy said Thursday that construction is set to start next month on the Bass Pro Shop at Exit 1 in East Ridge. He said it is due to open next May. Mr. Healy also said Wolftever Development that is carrying out the project has also bought additional land near the Bass Pro Shop site at the entrance to Camp Jordan Park. He said one purchase is America's Best ... (click for more)

Work Set To Start In October On $28 Million Retail, Office, Apartment Development At The 700 Block of Market Street

An Atlanta developer said work will start in October on a $28 million retail, office and apartment complex in the long-vacant middle of the 700 block of Market Street. Boyd Simpson of the Simpson Company said the project was made possible because his firm also owns the adjacent SunTrust Tower and can use some of its excess parking for occupants of the new building. He said ... (click for more)

Tickets Sell Out In 1 Day For U.S. Women’s National Team Soccer Match At Finley Stadium

Tickets sold out in one day for the U.S. Women’s National Team’s match against Costa Rica at Finley Stadium.  There will be over 20,000 fans in attendance on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 6:30 p.m. The match will be on ESPN2. Officials said it is just the fourth sellout in the history of the 18-year-old stadium. It sold out faster than the prior three sellouts. ... (click for more)

Chattanooga FC Playing For Division Championship Saturday

The Chattanooga Football Club final home game will be played this Saturday.    With a 4-2 win over the Knoxville Force, Chattanooga controls its own destiny for a 1st place division finish when it faces off against that Nashville FC this Saturday, July 4 at Finley Stadium.  A win secures the division championship for the CFC with a home-field advantage for the ... (click for more)