October 2006

Attendance Policy

In school, attendance matters. The problems caused or accompanied by truancy are usually more than just academic — there are often behavioral and legal issues, sometimes neglect or abuse.

That’s why I’m delighted that our new Juvenile Court Judge, April Meldrum, and our new District Attorney, Dave Clark, have approached the three school systems in this county to try to standardize on an attendance policy that will enable them to help address the problem in a meaningful way.

On tonight’s first reading though, I voted against it as presented. The first draft, discussed at tonight’s board meeting, is here.

I fully expect a couple of changes to appear before the second reading next month, and if they’re there, I’ll support it. But I think it’s important for parents to read and understand this proposed policy before the second reading goes through, and attend the meeting and provide input if they have significant concerns.

On page 1, line 30, the policy defines the extent to which a parental note will excuse an absence for illness. As written, it’s ambiguous, but the intent is that a parental note is only valid for the first five days missed — whether five days in a row, or one here, two there, etc. throughout the school year. After that, a doctor’s note is required.

One of the problems I foresee is that even more parents will go ahead and send children to school sick, spreading the illness to others — students and teachers alike. That’s not good. There are usually a number of occasions when a child is sick enough to keep at home, but not necessarily sick enough to need to go to the doctor.

The other part that bothers me is on page 2, line 11:

Upon the 6th unexcused absence, a referral will be made to the Anderson County Juvenile Court’s Campus Court.

The problem with this is that the definition of what will be excused is fairly narrow (illness, death in the family, verifiable family emergency, religious observation, severe weather, or court appearance/legal mandate), and it’s likely that a significant number of responsible, conscientious parents would end up with a court referral. You can see in the scanned page that I’ve marked through the word “will” and written in “may,” because this would give school officials the opportunity to use common sense on a case-by-case basis.

Unfortunately, most responsible and conscientious parents would absolutely panic upon receiving that court referral; the sad part is, the small minority of parents who really need to be hauled into court for allowing their kids to skip weeks of school probably wouldn’t even flinch.

If the wording is changed on these two items, I’ll likely vote (grudgingly) to approve the policy next month. Yes, grudgingly, because I still have grave concerns about parents sending their kids to school sick to avoid running afoul of a draconian attendance policy that would force them to the pediatrician for every sneeze or cough, just to get the coveted doctor’s note.

Yes, we must address truancy and attendance problems. But I cannot justify punishing everyone in order to snare the guilty few.

We made the news where??

I’m not kidding — the Tennessee Senate race has now made news in Australia.

Entitled “Australia ‘a nuclear threat’,” the article cites Harold Ford Jr. as a threat to that country:

[I]f Mr Ford, already a US congressman, wins his bid to become a more powerful senator, Australia had better watch out.

Because according to Mr Ford, Australia has an interest in nuclear weapons and is part of the broader nuclear threat to the US.

My parents are on their way home from Australia as we speak — it will be good to have them home again. They always seem to go on foreign vacations when the world is least stable.

The article really made me step back and think: the premise of the Democratic takeover is that, in theory, Republicans haven’t handled international relations very well. So, Democrats who inflame friendly nations are going to promote something better?

I understand the “throw the bums out” mentality, only in my case, it’s “throw the extremists out” — the ones from the far ends of both parties. Put in some closer to the middle, who can work together on the things that really matter to most people.

The Last Long Day

It’s the last “long” day for a while, as the time changes tonight and darkness will arrive before suppertime.

Alpha is home for the weekend, and reports that her English teacher has been all over the racism in the notorious “call me” ad. Alpha had to ask if I thought it racist (I don’t), and why some people think it is.

This morning, I ran across a quote by AC Kleinheider at Volunteer Voters that sums it up perfectly:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Racial appeals do not work on white voters anymore. Whites will respond racially to oversensitivity, however.

Whether there is racism in this ad is almost besides the point politically. White voters by and large will not see racism in this ad and they will view all the talk as such as an overreaction. They will ascribe this oversensitivity to the Ford campaign whether it is Ford or his direct acolytes who say it or not.

The ad was, of course, juvenile and perhaps in poor taste, but it garnered national exposure and hit several issues that resonate with Tennessee voters (death tax, marriage tax, gun control) in a way that got the point across. The only thing the bunny achieved was to make the ad famous, and pick up numerous free airings on national news media.

* * *

The Vols take on South Carolina tonight at 7:45 in Columbia; one can’t help but wonder whether the matchup is more about the teams, or their coaches. In any case, if Tennessee can best the Gamecocks and if Florida loses to anyone (playing Georgia tonight, Vandy next week, and South Carolina on the 11th), Tennessee can still go to the SEC championship.

That’s always fun.

What happened…

TotalChoiceHosting, with a marvelous 99.7% uptime, sort of had a meltdown over the last couple of days. The server that this blog resides on went down yesterday morning, and was back up by noon… but sometime after 8 p.m. they restored all the sites from a backup made a week ago.

So, I lost everything posted between Oct. 21 and Oct. 26. I’ve already summarized the post on Monday’s BEP Review Committee meeting, which was the only really important item of the week.

I’ve learned my lesson about daily backups.

BEP Review 10/23/06 (again)

My apologies for this recap: something happened to this week’s posts. The BEP Review was the important one, so the following is a recap of the meeting, replacing the original post from Oct. 23. Which just evaporated overnight.

Monday’s BEP Review Committee meeting was very long, with protracted discussions about adequacy (lacking a clear definition to everyone’s satisfaction at this point), equity, and whether the committee’s recommendations should be purely in the advocacy of education or should incorporate the Finance Commissioner’s request to delay a recommendation until one can be found that falls within the State’s fiscal guidelines – does this sound familiar?

Bill Nolan and Steve Jenkins were also in attendance from Oak Ridge, along with Dawn Robinson from Cleveland, and several other representatives of municipal school systems. I truly believe that having this constituency present makes a difference – Richard Kitzmiller of Kingsport is the only member of the committee who is a vocal advocate for municipal school systems, and it would be too easy for them to simply outvote him if not for an audience of affected systems.

Comptroller John Morgan was quite critical of the Peabody Alternative, pointing out that it would increase friction over annexation (but could it really get any worse?) and complicates the role of county IDB’s in offering tax incentives. The committee’s listing of positives and negatives for each option is here.

Many voiced discomfort in voting on a recommendation that day, as they’d just received more than a hundred pages of new information at the start of the meeting… it would be like us getting the budget at the beginning of a meeting, then voting on it in the same meeting with no time to study it. However, there were also a few (from the big city systems, of course) that were adamant that some recommendation be sent to the Legislature this year – before receiving Education Summit or the Gates Foundation input on defining adequacy, both of which are estimated to take 12-18 months.

The ultimate outcome of the day was :

  1. BEP Review committee will issue an “INTERIM ” report in response to the Legislative mandate of Nov. 1 that includes recommendations on ELL, AT Risk, Growth, etc. ( things they can agree on as immediate priority), and will continue to work, study and bring a final recommendation on System Level Capacity by Feb. 15th.
  2. They will meet again on Nov. 21 and continue today’s discussions about the pluses and minuses of the various models being considered. In addition John Morgan will bring his model to the table for discussion.
    There was evidence that some committee members are beginning to understand the need to identify “what is adequate” before we determine formulas for system level capacity.

  3. It was obvious that there was no way to take a vote today on system level capacity models, and that there was no consensus about what would be better at this point. So, in essence the motion was a delay for now, but it appeared that the committee is dedicated to bringing a recommendation on this issue during this legislative session. We will need to continue to work diligently to seek solutions that produce a win-win for all districts in the state.

Although this changes from one meeting to the next, it was my sense that they are now willing to give some serious thought to John Morgan’s proposal (which would be good for us, but would result in a net property tax increase for most areas).

The next meeting is scheduled during the week of Thanksgiving, when it’s likely that many fewer interested parties will be able to attend. I simply don’t trust them acting without strong representation from City school systems in the audience.

More Tricks, no Treats

Something is seriously wrong here — all posts from this week (except today’s) have just disappeared. I know it was still up last night, because I modified Monday’s to add a file, and LissaKay commented on yesterday’s post last night. I don’t know where they went.

another pumpkin

I guess it’s just the scary season.

The Commercial Appeal reports this morning that the Homeland Security office was bugged:

Officials became suspicious and had the FBI sweep the office for bugs after a local television station said it possessed “damaging and embarrassing” audiotapes that were secretly recorded and given to the station.

Now that makes you feel safe and secure, doesn’t it?

* * *

The CA also indicates where politicians can buy positive media coverage.

Board & Council Workshop

The Oak Ridge School Board held a work session last night, in preparation for a workshop with City Council tentatively scheduled for Nov. 6. An e-mail from City Manager Jim O’Connor states:

The purpose of the workshop is to have us get together so that City Council can better understand how the school budget is developed, what the expectations are and how the schools see the future funding needs

Cool. The schools’ budget timeline was approved in September, so it’s easy to discuss our process, which is remarkably open.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that there is concern both on the part of Board members and school administration that Council wants actual numbers earlier. There may be a disconnect between what has been said and what has been written, but the meeting should be approached as an opportunity for both to have a better understanding of the timeline and process.

I hope we can convey, calmly, that after six years of living within the restrictions of the City’s strategic plan, our reserves are depleted.  I hope that we will hear that six years of austerity has paid off in growth (I know that it has), and that they can begin increasing funding for education — a vital component in the City’s future prosperity.

We will share with them our concern that no one yet knows how the State may change education funding, and our appreciation for the assistance given by their lobbyist, Bill Nolan.  Hopefully, we will learn that they plan to make their budget process more open (as it used to be), rather than the less-transparent committee process that has marked recent years.

Most importantly, we will communicate how our budget is developed: beginning with zero, each expenditure component is added based upon documented need.  City funding is the only source where we have any flexibility, and it is the Board’s responsibility to communicate the true need and justification for any request.

Wish us luck.

Speak Up

The question of whether to allow the Div. II Sessions Court to move from Oak Ridge (where it has been since its creation 13 years ago) to Clinton was diverted to the County Commission Operations Committee on Monday.

Members of the Operations Committee are:  Mark Alderson, John Alley, Robin Biloski, Mike Cox, Scott Gillenwaters, Robert McKamey, John Shuey, and Tracy Wandell.  Addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses (those who have them)  for all commissioners can be found here.

I found it interesting that Judge Murch’s reasoning differed between the News Sentinel story last week and the one in the Oak Ridger yesterday; it seems that one focuses on security concerns, while the other highlights inadequate office space.  The contrast does make me wonder if either one is the real reason, or if it might be a matter of jockeying to put political allies in closer proximity to one another.

In any case, I am opposed to a move that would prove more costly and less convenient to Oak Ridgers, and have contacted those commissioners on the committee with e-mail addresses.

Annexation: the judges rule

At some point after the Anderson County Commission meeting on Monday (where the commission voted NOT to drop the lawsuit against Clinton), local officials received the ruling from three administrative law judges who heard the dispute between Clinton and the County over a parcel of land adjacent to I-75.

The Sentinel report includes this statement:

If the county and its cities don’t buy into the judges’ proposal, the matter would go before another panel of jurists. Those new judges would have the power to adopt a growth plan without local input.

County officials have thus far proven quite stubborn in their insistence on keeping the matter tied up in court; at this point, the options appear to be to either give in, or send it to another panel of judges who are under no obligation to consider local input at all.

A couple of years back when the two were still trying to mediate, Clinton presented a rather generous revenue-sharing agreement (even though the County would benefit through property and sales taxes from any development anyway), but the County turned it down. Now, it seems like Rex Lynch wants to go back to the trough:

Clinton’s offer to split sales tax revenue with the county has been taken off the table as far as [City Manager Steve] Jones is concerned, he said Tuesday. The final say-so on that issue, he added, rests with City Council.

“I would hope that the city would be willing to share a portion of that (sales tax revenue) with the county,” Anderson County Mayor Rex Lynch said Tuesday.

If the Clinton City Council is smart (and I think they are), they’d add up their legal costs for the past two years, along with the lost tax revenue from a large commercial developer who walked out when the suit was filed, and ask themselves if the shread of goodwill is worth what they’ve already lost.

Then, adding injury to insult, remember the damage done to Clinton (and Oak Ridge, and Lake City, and Oliver Springs) when the County superseded the sales tax last May, and throw that in, too.

Seems to me it’s time to let the County take their loss and think about how they might work more cooperatively with their cities in the future. Remember, we’re part of Anderson County, too.

Sage Advice

David Coffey was our State Representative from 1986-1996, and likely one of the best who ever served in Nashville. He always did his homework, communicated well with the folks back home, and remains knowledgable about a variety of political (and other) issues.

A physicist by training, David began working at ORNL and left early to pursue an invention. The invention grew to a company, then several. He knows what it’s like to take the big risk and start his own business (with young children at home), pay for his own insurance, meet a payroll, then retire and live well. Except that he’s no less busy in retirement — just busy doing other things, especially encouraging others engaged in worthwhile pursuits. There’s a very good reason his name is on the building of the Roane State Oak Ridge campus… without his efforts and his personal commitment, it wouldn’t be there at all.

He’s one of the folks I really listen to, because he knows the difference between brilliance and BS. Every time. So, when I received the following note from him this evening, I thought it worth passing along:

I know Bob Corker

I’ve tried to avoid my old political life, but this senate race is too scary. During my time in the legislature I worked with Bob Corker and found him to be honest, humble and more energetic than any other. The contrast between him and Ford is so great that I’m amazed the race is close. Ford would be a super TV personality. Corker will be a great senator.

Bob Corker says he is a product of his Tennessee life. He has worked as a construction laborer. He built a major business – and jobs – from the ground up. He felt called to charity work and developed an innovative inner city housing program that has built thousands of homes in Chattanooga.

After his state government service, he was an outstanding mayor of Chattanooga where he accepted the challenge to turn the inner city schools around. He did it in record time with another creative program that has brought national attention.

My respect for his achievement with the Chattanooga schools is such that when he indicated his plan to run for the Senate, I volunteered immediately to help, not knowing what primary or general election competition would appear.

Bob is a family man with mature judgment. He will bring our sensible Tennessee values to Washington. I think there is no question but that Bob Corker should get your vote in this close race. I trust Tennesseans; he will win!

David

P.S. I would love for you to pass this on to others who may not have had a chance to get to know Corker. I would be glad to help them meet him.

I’ll personally vouch for the “more energetic than any other” part, because I have a vivid picture in my mind of Bob when he was the State’s Finance Commissioner, running down the hallways of Legislative Plaza with his tie flapping over his shoulder. When he chose to run for Senate, he started with the people he sought to represent — not the Hollywood crowd, or the Washington crowd, as Harold Ford Jr. has.

Without question, this is a tough Republican year. There are some in my party who will not get my vote — and don’t deserve it, because they don’t understand the real issues and don’t have a clue about the real solutions.

Bob Corker does, and he has my full support.

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