Sometimes the best way to pinpoint a weakness in an old, familiar institution is to get an outsider to take a look.

What would objective observers think if they examined the Valdosta City and Lowndes County School Systems?

Outsiders would find two large school systems operated by conscientious people committed to the goal of educating the community’s children. Both systems are rich in tradition — who doesn’t know that “victory” is almost synonymous with the Lowndes High Vikings and Valdosta High Wildcats football teams?

An objective look at the two systems, however, will also raise questions. Why, for example, is there such a large disparity in the racial breakdowns? Valdosta High’s student population is 70 percent African-American and 30 percent white, while the reverse is true at Lowndes. Local residents who are familiar with the school systems may gloss over the statistics. Outsiders may not.

In discussing consolidation, some local officials say combining the two school systems won’t translate into huge savings. Valdosta and Lowndes’ rich football traditions would remain unaffected by such a change. Even in the area of academics, noticeable improvements in test scores may not occur. Consolidation may, however, make the Greater Lowndes community more attractive to businesses who want to locate here.

Education is the No. 1 topic in economic development. Businesses seek locations where local school systems will serve their needs — by educating their own employees’ children and by producing a qualified labor pool. The influx of new businesses and industries creates a rising tide, raising standards for a community across the board.

We wonder, however, if businesses will want to invest in a place where the two school systems appear, from the outside at least, to harbor vestiges of the segregation era. Consolidation may spur more economic development by fixing image problems this community may be too close to see sometimes. If so, that is one more reason to continue serious discussions on the topic of combining the two systems.

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