Ruled By Fear

When I first heard about Class Size Chaos, I went and read the law mandating new, small class sizes.  My heart leapt when I read its enforcement provision — in any school system that failed to comply with the new law, the superintendent would lose his or her salary.

“Bingo!”  I thought.   Here was the solution to the whole problem — superintendents in districts that lacked the money or the space to comply with the class size law without damaging the overall quality of their students’ education could simply say “no, thank you” to the NCGA.  And I would be happy to be the first one to line up to donate money toward replacing the salaries of the superintendents brave enough to take such a stand stand.

But when I suggested as much to my school board representative, he shut me down quickly.  His response indicated that he feared something far worse than the unfunded mandate currently hurting our children:  the NCGA has the power to dissolve and destroy individual school districts, and there is no indication that they’d hesitate to do so.

At the time, I didn’t quite believe him.  Surely, even if a few of the NCGA’s leaders were demonstrably hostile to our county and its school board (remember this?), the larger body wouldn’t just sit by and let those few individuals be so vindictive?

Then I started visiting legislators.  And they kept saying variations on the same theme:  “I’d like to help you, but HB-13 won’t go anywhere until Berger, Barefoot and Moore want it to.”  It became clear — despressingly, enragingly clear — that my school board representative was right.  If the NCGA’s leadership decided to destroy our public schools, this batch of cowards wouldn’t just sit by and let it happen; they’d help.  Sure, they might mewl privately that they were on our side, but they would take no action that would anger the folks they clearly thought they served:  Phil Berger and Tim Moore.

And sure enough, no sooner than we had started gaining traction on class size than the NCGA created a commission to study breaking up our school system.  It was an effective threat — one school administrator specifically asked me to stop working to fix class size, because the very existence of our school system now hung in the balance.

All of this points to a few conclusions.  First, this General Assembly cannot be trusted.  They are and have been willing to use their power in ways that harm our state, in service of their own whims and fits of pique.  No member of the currently ruling party deserves to keep his or her seat, unless they have been standing against the leadership’s abuses in both word and deed.  And, as the research for our voting guide indicates, few such souls exist.

Second, no governing body in this state should have the unilateral power to destroy a local governmental unit without a compelling reason.  In North Carolina, our balance of power is way out of whack — while we have three separate branches of government, the branches are not equal.  The legislature enjoys a supreme position over the executive and judicial branches.  And while that’s concerning in the normal course of business, in the hands of a vindictive, petty, power-mad legislature such as our current one, it’s downright dangerous.

Our school systems  are (justifiably) afraid to say “No.”  And too many of our legislators are  are unwilling to say “No” to their own party for the benefit of their constituents.  So it’s our job as parents and as citizens to stand firm in their stead.    Say “No” to any attempts to further expand the legislature’s power (that means voting “no” on the Constitutional amendments on the ballot).  Say “No” to further attempts to harm our schools.  And when faced with the opportunity at the ballot box in November, say “No” to all candidates who has served their party, not their constituents.  Let’s let them fear us for once.

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