Tea Party turns up heat on BoE’s Terri Smith

Fayette County Board of Education Vice Chairman Terri Smith makes a point during her presentation to the Tea Party. Photo/Ben Nelms.

It was a meeting featuring Fayette County Board of Education member Terri Smith, but it essentially amounted to questions about school board Chairman Leonard Presberg. Smith spoke to a group of nearly 90 people Feb. 28 at the meeting called by the Fayette County Issues Tea Party at the Whitewater Creek Country Club.

Smith came with a presentation that covered a range of issues pertaining to the school system. But that presentation essentially transformed into a question and answer session on Chairman and District 5 school board member Leonard Presberg.

Smith began her remarks on Presberg by explaining the process by which he was appointed to the board after the death of former board member Sam Tolbert. Presberg was not elected by the public to fill the vacancy nor could he have been since local legislation from previous years required that the school board appoint someone to fill the vacant position, she said. Presberg received a unanimous vote to fill the position.

Though he served without much fanfare since his appointment in late 2011, it has only been in the past few weeks that Presberg has gained notoriety when a previous post was found on the Fayette FreeThought Society website.

“It never occurred to me until others complained that he was any less a board member than the rest of us,” said Smith.

Noting the remarks by the seven candidates vying last fall for the District 5 seat, Smith said none of them talked about religion, but centered their comments instead on what they wanted to do on the school board.

An audience member asked about the vetting process for the school board seat. Smith in response said the board asked for and received applications and resumes for the position.

Smith was asked if she had been aware of Presberg’s posting on the Fayette FreeThought Society website prior to his selection. Smith said she had not been aware of the posting, adding that she had Googled Presberg but did not see the posting.

That question was followed by another, asking if she would have voted for him if she had been aware of the posting. Smith in response said she did not know.

“I haven’t seen him be rude or un-Christlike. He has not been demonic or mean. I think if you knew him you wouldn’t react this way,” Smith said to those in the room expressing their concerns with Presberg’s appointment to the school board. “Based on what he’s told me I don’t think you need to be as scared or worried as you are. I don’t think Leonard wishes any one’s children harm.”

As for her vote for Presberg to be elected as the school board chair, Smith said, “It’s important for the board chair, as a school system representative, to be someone working to build support for the school system instead of criticizing staff. I was impressed with what he stressed over and over, to stop arguing and bickering and move forward.”

Presberg in his Oct. 31 letter of intent for the District 5 seat referenced the need to move forward as a school system rather than focusing on the negatives.

Pertaining to the 3-2 vote in January to make Presberg board chair, Smith said, “Primarily what I was looking for, I was satisfied that he could accomplish the task and do the job. I think he’s smart enough to learn things like parliamentary procedure. I’m not worried about him being able to do what the chair does, although he does have a PR problem.”

Smith’s remark on the function of the school board chairman might not have been clear to some in the audience since most people do not attend school board meetings except perhaps during the opening minutes of a meeting if their child is being recognized.

Those unfamiliar with those meetings would not know that, unlike some boards, the school board chair is largely ceremonial. The remaining four board members have a multi-year history of interjecting their thoughts and opinions at-will during meetings. This accounts for the sometimes lively board discussions and split votes in recent years.

At one point Smith suggested that the group might want to ask Presberg to speak since she was unable to answer questions that dealt with his personal beliefs.

Another question centered on Presberg’s history with Montessori education. That history was included in his application for the school board seat.

“I know about his history (with Montessori) but I’m not aware of a problem with Montessori (education). It’s on the approved list for (Georgia school) models,” Smith said.

Among the members of the audience that night was Fayette FreeThought Society founder Julie Williams who, in a brief comment near the end of the meeting, said she had children in the school system, that she loves her children and that she pays taxes and votes. Asked by someone in the audience if she is an atheist, Williams said she considers herself to be.

Both the Fayette County Board of Education and the Fayette County Commission were served in early August with the federal lawsuit brought by the Fayette County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Addressing the lawsuit was on the agenda for Smith, though she spoke about it only in brief because the questions and comments continued to center largely on Presberg. Meeting moderator Bob Ross at one point had to interrupt several audience members posing simultaneous questions and comments, asking them to let Smith continue with the presentation.

Smith referencing the lawsuit noted that the school board discussed the matter in executive session in meetings on Aug. 29, Sept. 19 and Oct. 3. Smith added that the fourth executive session where the meeting was discussed was on Dec. 12, also the date of Presberg’s first board meeting and the first time she spoke with him about the suit.

During her remarks on the suit Smith told the audience that she brought 20 copies of a handout that outlined the lawsuit, questions and answers pertaining to it and her subsequent decision to vote to settle with the NAACP. Only two people requested a copy of the handout after the meeting.

Bottom line, the handout cited numerous court decisions nationwide, leading Smith to believe that the school board would be in a losing position if the lawsuit had been fought rather than settled. And the cost to do so, though only estimated, would nonetheless be substantial, she said.

“It is impossible to say precisely but estimates from our attorney to defend the suit were around $500,000. If we didn’t prevail, we would have been required to pay the plaintiff’s legal expenses. With the full support of the national NAACP we wouldn’t be paying local lawyers, but we’d be paying Madison Avenue lawyers. Those expenses have been estimated at around $2 million,” Smith said in the handout.

“Remember that every expense in the school system budget should either directly or indirectly support student achievement. How much should Fayette’s school children be expected to sacrifice to fund a defense in a lawsuit that we would most likely lose and would only change us to a voting system that mirrors those already used (in 75.3 percent of Georgia counties) around the state? My answer to that question is ‘Nothing.’ Fayette’s school children shouldn’t have to sacrifice one single thing to fund a defense in this suit,” Smith said in the handout.

Referencing the lawsuit, Smith in the handout said school board attorney Phil Hartley would not have moved forward with negotiations without a consensus of the four existing board members.

Though it did not surface during the meeting, there exists the potential that Presberg’s place on the school board could be a moot point later this year. That is because the lawsuit settlement requires that a special election for the District 5 seat be held in November.

The school board’s newly drawn reapportionment map based on the 2010 Census puts District 5 close to being a majority-minority district where nearly 49 percent of the population of the north Fayette County district is black. The inclusion of the special election was specified by the NAACP in the settlement language that was agreed to by the school board.

Smith at the beginning of the evening reviewed a number of issues such as the status and quality of the school system, current and potential initiatives and financial issues. Smith also spoke briefly about local control issues along with unfunded and under-funded mandates, noting that such mandates are constantly changing and are generally not for the better.

Smith fielded the few questions posed on those topics, also recommending that Superintendent Jeff Bearden be asked to address those topics in greater detail if the group wanted additional information.

YourGoodPalMike
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I know a place with no atheists.

There are no atheists in Hell.

None in Heaven either.

Gort
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While the Teaparty busies itself tilting at the BoE windmill,

Republican Matt Ramsey conspires to increase taxes on Georgia consumers.

http://www.thecitizen.com/blogs/matt-ramsey/02-28-2012/jobs-announcement...

Davids mom
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What is the attraction of Atheism?

Why are so many young people embracing Atheism? I'm sure there are many answers to this question. Some parents and grandparents are concerned. One reason may be the intolerance that is exhibited by believers. Are we, believers, regardless of organizational religions, practicing what we preach? Some Atheists are doing a better job of practicing the Golden Rule - IMO.

mudcat
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Immaturity is the main reason, DM

Young people automatically deviate from parental influence and those that are in strong families survive that phase. Weaker families such as the ones who expect the school system to raise their kids produce more kids who extend their rebellious phase for years resulting in pregnancy, crime, tattoos, smoking, nose rings, etc. Atheism is just one more way for young losers to stick their thumb in their parent's eye.

Even so-called good kids who go to college are subjected to new and unusual ideas because of the extreme liberalism of the college professors, graduate students and staff. I clearly remember one particular sorority at Penn State that really pushed the atheist/agnostic agenda. Back then there was pushback from the administrators, but nowdays I suspect they just look the other way or worse, actively support that point of view.

To me atheists are in same category as gays and that is you have every right to believe or disbelieve anything you want, but when you cross that line and start the in your face promoting of your particular agenda - I'm tuning out. That also applies to devout Christians who want to save me. And you might be right DM, strict adherence to a religious doctrine that overreaches could well contribute to teens and older seeking extreme freedom from religion - aka atheism.

Davids mom
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Children. ( mud cat)
Quote:

that are in strong families survive that phase.

I think this is a key concept. Parents who are not afraid to allow their children to be exposed to 'liberal' ideas - and listen and discuss these ideas are most likely to survive with positive results. The man Jesus, when living in his mortal form, did some very liberal acts for his time. Strong families model love, principled living and the golden rule.

PTC Observer
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Just Curious

How does this meeting advance the mission of the Tea Party Patriots?

From their website they state three principles that guide their actions:

"FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY means not overspending, and not burdening our children and grandchildren with our bills.

CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED GOVERNMENT means power resides with the people and not with the government. Governing should be done at the most local level possible where it can be held accountable.

FREE MARKET ECONOMICS .....An erosion of our free markets through government intervention is at the heart of America’s current economic decline, stagnating jobs, and spiraling debt and deficits."

Just curious......

pips1414
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Tea Party Meeting with Terri Smith

At the meeting I asked Ms. Smith who nominated Mr. Presberg for the BOE Chairmanship and who seconded the nomination. She replied "I nominated him and Ms. Smola seconded the nomination."

While religion has been taken out of the Public School System, there are those who still try to raise their children with religious principles. As Chairman of the BOE, Mr. Presberg is in a position to influence the education our children will receive. When it became widely known that Mr. Presberg is a member of group that subscribes to atheistic principles, it seems understandable that concern would follow, especially in view of the fact that he has thus far not addressed questions about his own religious beliefs.

Here we have a case where the air needs to be cleared.

lion
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Religion and Fayette schools

The Tea Party and the other super Christians in our community need to stop harassing Mr Presberg about his personal beliefs. His personal beliefs should not be a public matter.

Who gave them some mandate to "protect' the religious purity of our public school system?

What is next? Checking teachers to be sure they have the "right" theology?

The Tea Party wants the air cleared? It should start by understanding that in America personal religious beliefs are just that--personal.

RKS
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Well said....
lion wrote:

The Tea Party and the other super Christians in our community need to stop harassing Mr Presberg about his personal beliefs. His personal beliefs should not be a public matter.

Who gave them some mandate to "protect' the religious purity of our public school system?

What is next? Checking teachers to be sure they have the "right" theology?

The Tea Party wants the air cleared? It should start by understanding that in America personal religious beliefs are just that--personal.

I think the right wing wackos would prefer that their religion were taught in school, prayers said and anyone who thinks differently go elsewhere. Very backward thinking.

pips1414
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Let's see if we understand what Lion is saying

Are you saying that anyone who is concerned that folks who express concern over a likely atheist directing the Fayette School Board of Education is "a right wing wacko?" Who said anything about teaching religion in school, anyway?

Like it or not, we live in the Bible Belt, and many, many people want to know what they're getting in a newcomer suddenly being placed in a position of influence over the education of our children.

Presburg and his allies need to realize that failure to address major public issues results in a public opinion that providing the answers may be detrimental to the interest of the person failing to disclose the information. Here,certain folks feel acknowledgement of a personal religion should not be a school board public issue, yet it would be hard to deny that this instance has become one. Simply stating that the answer is "none of the public's business" has not made it go away.

This controversy will not go away regardless of what the public should or should not do.

RKS
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MYOB
pips1414 wrote:

Are you saying that anyone who is concerned that folks who express concern over a likely atheist directing the Fayette School Board of Education is "a right wing wacko?" Who said anything about teaching religion in school, anyway?

Like it or not, we live in the Bible Belt, and many, many people want to know what they're getting in a newcomer suddenly being placed in a position of influence over the education of our children.

Presburg and his allies need to realize that failure to address major public issues results in a public opinion that providing the answers may be detrimental to the interest of the person failing to disclose the information. Here,certain folks feel acknowledgement of a personal religion should not be a school board public issue, yet it would be hard to deny that this instance has become one. Simply stating that the answer is "none of the public's business" has not made it go away.

This controversy will not go away regardless of what the public should or should not do.

I don't think it is anyone's business what religion a teacher or school adminstrator is. I don't care that we are in the Bible belt...it's none of your business what religion another person practices. What would you think if you were in a non-bible belt state and the tables were turned and you were being harassed for being a Christian?

Davids mom
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Thought provoking question!
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What would you think if you were in a non-bible belt state and the tables were turned and you were being harassed for being a Christian

Davids mom
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Davids mom
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Robert W. Morgan
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Air clearing not likely, pips

We are not likely to find out any more than we already know.Purpose of that meeting was to tell us all we were ever going to hear. Won't be another meeting. Smith and Smola have circled the wagons with Presberg and even though it is clear that they arranged this whole thing ahead of time, it is equally clear that they won't break ranks and talk about it. But all 3 are up for election in a few short months and the district voting thing they gave birth to will not be much help in getting any of them reelected (or in Presberg's case, elected for the first time). Best we just press them for budget solutions, school closings and teacher layoffs and when they hem and haw and do nothing - elect someone or 3 someones who can actually get something done.

Presberg's beliefs are completely irrelevant because he won't have the time of inclination to do much of anything with curriculum or book banning. He's under a microscope and probably is thinking of his very first election, so he'll behave.

suggarfoot
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I'm not for or against district voting

but in this case it will work against Smola. People in Tyrone will not vote for her. What has kept her in office is apathy, one simple sad little word.

Robert W. Morgan
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Hope so, but the Tyronese can be apathetic too.

She has to have an opponent in order to lose and of course with district voting that person will have to emerge from a district of only 20,000 people. Then there's only about 6,000 of those registered and with our spectacular 20% average turnout a couple of hundred people are going to decide this one.