July 2007

Computer Shopping

Alpha needs a new computer this year (the laptop she’s been using is now five years old, not meeting the specs of UT’s College of Engineering), so I’ve been surfing around Dell’s website thinking I should order one this weekend.

Unfortunately, there are a very limited number of machines available that can be purchased with XP.  There are simply too many Vista nightmares out there now… beginning with a serious lack of drivers for existing hardware (printers, card readers, etc.).

The temptation to order one with a Linux OS is palpable, but I do have to meet the COE’s requirements.

On a brighter note, a letter arrived a couple of weeks ago notifying her that her stellar academic performance last year has earned her another scholarship — more than enough to offset whatever computer she needs.

Request

Take a moment this morning to put in a prayer for Katie, Jon, and Charlotte.

Edit:  All’s well!  After about six days of genuine labor and a lot more medical intervention than they’d hoped for, Miss Charlotte has arrived.  And she’s just beautiful!  Katie is an amazing woman who really stands out as a role model as a mother.  I understand and admire her desire for a natural birthing experience, but sometimes, it’s good to have the option of a hospital when absolutely necessary.  In this case, it appears that it was.

Where the sun doesn’t shine

Tennessee’s Sunshine (open meetings) Law is said to be one of the toughest in the nation.  While I am strongly in favor of a high standard of open government, I’ve seen evidence that it may be frequently misunderstood by the public to incorporate far more than government legislative bodies.  This morning’s paper indicates that some who should know better are feeding that misconception.

Private tax policy meetings led by the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce probably should have been open to the public, a Knoxville media attorney and Nashville open-government advocate said last week.

The Sunshine Law is intended to cover governmental entities — City Councils, County Commissions, School Boards, etc. — with the ability to enact laws or policies affecting the public.  It does NOT cover private companies, volunteer organizations, private schools, chambers of commerce, etc., even if those groups are meeting for the purpose of discussing public policy. 

As long as they can’t make public policy, they can discuss it all they please.  In private.

In this case, members of the Chamber of Commerce met to discuss tax policy (probably tax abatements or tax increment financing).  But, they can’t enact such policy — only give an informed opinion to our City Council, who must then deliberate and decide upon such policy in a properly conducted public meeting.

Of course, I was not surprised at the opinions given the source: attorneys for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Tennessee Press Association

Let’s look at it a little differently, just for the sake of perspective: if the Oak Ridger had an editorial board meeting to discuss the city’s tax policy, would it conduct the meeting in accordance with the provisions of the Sunshine Law (published advance notice, meeting open to the public)?  Would it welcome representatives of the News Sentinel and the Oak Ridge Observer to listen in and perhaps give their own opinions during the public comment period?

I don’t think so. 

Anyone who is interested in tax policy will certainly have the opportunity to not only hear the Chamber’s recommendation (if they give one, which I would expect), but to comment publicly and listen to every word of deliberation amongst those who will actually decide these matters.

Joy of Reading

I’m finished.

After a full day at the farm and a long, relaxing bike ride around the lake, I settled in for some serious reading time last night with the book.

"Serious reading time" has been a challenge, sandwiched between the farm chores and three other people in my family (Gamma, Delta, and HWTFM) who are also reading the same copy. But I snagged a few hours last night, and a few more today. Now, I know how it ends.

I refuse to be a spoiler, but absolutely marvel in the ability of JK Rowling to spin a tale — a series of tales — that thoroughly enchant so many, from early elementary school students to retirees. Before the Harry Potter series, many children had lost the enjoyment of chapter books. Thanks to Rowling’s magic, so many have rediscovered the sheer joy of losing themselves in the printed works, and have recognized why movies, while entertaining, are no substitute.

Riding around the lake (12 miles or so), I was really grateful that I gave up smoking some 5+ months ago. Although it wasn’t particularly hilly, we traversed pavement, gravel, dirt, and even sand. Riding a bike in deep, soft sand is a LOT of work, not to mention slippery.

After taking a day off from the farm today, I feel ready to have some fun!

Sunday Morning

Gamma feeding a susie and three ducklings early this morning.

Because it’s Sunday, the campground is emptying somewhat; many folks live nearby and camp only for the weekend. As such, this evening should be quieter — the noisy neighbors with three yapping snack-size dogs (and a two year old granddaughter, whose mother’s voice carried for acres) are already gone.

Delta is trying her hand her hand at fishing. She’s squeamish about baiting the hook (using mayflies, which are plentiful), but it’s part of the deal. No batey, no fishey.
* * * * *

Life in the Trees

Life in the trees… you know, we’re missing out on something in the ordinary, work-a-day world.

The daily grind provides the resources to buy most of what we need, and even what we perceive as happiness some of the time, but then there are days like this one: no sound but the wind, no task but the firm ripe globes of goodness hanging from the trees.

Missing lunch is no big deal; I had cherries for lunch (on the top floor).  There is no elevator, as the bed of a pickup, a ladder, or the very limbs of the trees themselves provide ample altitude.

It is in many ways a simpler life, and in other ways more harsh: much of a year’s income for the farm depends on these two weeks — whether the weather is kind, absent rain and wind that can destroy a crop, or if the temperature remains mild long enough to complete the harvest.  Too much heat, and the fruit over-ripens before it can be harvested.

This year, all has gone well so far.  Whether I can bring any of these beauties home will depend on continued cool weather.

The blueberries are just coming ripe, and there should be plenty to share when I return.

Harvest

It’s harvest time, so NM and company have been busy in a world where there is no internet, TV, video games, etc.  The crop is a good one this year, and mechanical failures — a given challenge in farm life — have been minimal.

The days are long, both literally (darkness arrives about 10:30) and figuratively (we finished the last delivery to the plant about midnight last night).

Bad news arrived early this morning from home: my uncle Nelson finally succumbed to the cancer he’s battled for several years.  It is a blessing for his sake, but a loss for the rest of us.  I spent quite a bit of my summer time with his family as a child; it was he who taught me to catch crab with a string, chicken parts, and a net.

Picking sweet cherries this morning alone in a distant orchard, I thought about the nature of life, loss, and renewal.  Some of the trees were blown down or damaged by an earlier windstorm, but even with major branches gone, the rest of the tree survives and produces.  Even a few whole trees blown down, still manage to draw enough from the remaining strands connected to their roots to blossom and bear fruit.

I miss my father-in-law, gone six years now.  The very trees I harvested this morning were those he planted and nurtured throughout his life.  I cringe that I will be unable to comfort my aunt and cousins this week as they bury Uncle Nelson; the distance is simply too great for me to get there in time.  I think  of others who struggle to thrive in the face of tremendous loss, but know that, like the trees, they will persevere.

There are more stars here, both due to clearer air and a total lack of light pollution.  Sunsets last an hour or more.  It’s an excellent place to re-set the compass from time to time, and that’s what is happening in the midst of completing real chores with a real purpose.

I can’t bake a pie on the campfire, but I bet I could make fried pies.  It may just be time to try.

Windfall or Lifeline?

Although some, including the media, have been referring to additional state funding for local school districts as a "windfall," it would probably be more accurate to call it a lifeline.

With the first implementation phase of BEP 2.0, Oak Ridge Schools will receive $1,966,000 additional state funding over last year. However, $997,410 of that had already been included in the FY08 budget in anticipation of growth and new at-risk funding. So, only $968,590 of the new state funding is not already included in the budget passed in April.

After additional mandatory expenses, $300,063 remains for the School Board to allocate.

The administration’s recommendation (which will be posted on the ORS website) for that money includes:

  • Salary equity reclassification for secretaries: $11,310
  • Changing textbook allocation to reflect actual cost: $146,668
  • Changing equipment allocation to approximate actual averages: $67,085
  • Creating a recurring dollars line item for furniture: $75,000

The appropriations for books, equipment, and furniture simply bring the base recurring-dollar allocations for those items up to (or close to) what they really cost, meaning we don’t have to pull from the savings account (fund balance) to pay for them next year. This decreases the likelihood that we’ll have to go to City Council, hat in hand, begging for a greater increase as has happened for the last few years.

However, the Board was advised that the Anderson County roll-out presentation by state officials included an explicit warning: these new state funds are to be used for classroom and instructional items — NOT for buildings or transportation.

"NOT for transportation." It’s almost like they knew what we had to cut from the budget last year, and that their warning was directed specifically to us. Of course, Loudon County is facing the same issue this year, so maybe we weren’t singled out, but nonetheless, it still means that if any changes are made to transportation services, the money has to be cut from some other part of the budget.

However, also in last night’s work session, cost estimates were provided for three additional transportation options, all directed to providing service within the mile radius for elementary school students. The least costly of those would provide service to designated bus stops for elementary students (not the door-to-door service that used to be provided for K-2). The operating cost of that plan is only $25,000, which seems like it could be found, but the kicker is that the Board would also have to begin setting aside an additional $200,000 annually for bus replacement beginning next year.

That’s on top of the $175,000 that we’re already going to have to allocate for bus replacement, even if none of the bus service cuts are restored.

So, providing even bus-stop service to elementary students represents a $25,000 expense this year, which becomes $225,000 beginning next year.

* * * * *
The last item of discussion was in regard to citizen requests and communication. Generally, it was an effort to discern whether the Board is comfortable with the existing procedures for citizen’s requests, and the consensus appears to be that we are. Absolutely, reasonable questions should be answered. And they are.

It was also patently obvious that when answers are provided that do not suit the motives of the person asking, the tactic du jour is to complain and cast dispersion.upon board members and staff for being unresponsive. I’m sure the discussion was confusing to most people, but I hope that at least a few Oak Ridgers understood the message.

Review: Harry Potter V

Disclaimer: I love books, and movies made from books seldom measure up in my estimation.  There’s just no way to fit the hundreds of pages of rich detail into a couple of hours of film. and any story with a plot is lessened by the omissions.  However, as a family of serious Harry Potter fans, we donned our character wigs (Tonks and Ginny Weasley) and headed out for the show.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (or Odor of the Phonics, as I’ve sometimes teased) is a marvelous tale — the fifth in a series about a teenage wizard engaged in a witty but perilous battle of good and evil.  There’s a noticeable change in the fifth book, as Harry begins to exhibit the first real signs of teenage angst.

The Sunday Mirror has a good, non-spoiler review.  Among the highlights are Dumbledore‘s battle in the Ministry of Magic, Imelda Staunton’s portrayal of Dolores Umbridge (very much as I had imagined her from the book), and the inimitable spectacular pranks of the Weasley twins.  The blending of this group of teens behaving very much like real teens with the taking on of hefty life-and-death responsibilities is priceless.

On the downside, too much was left out for the movie to be the only segment of the story.  There were no quiddich matches, an integral part of the story since Harry’s prowess as a quiddich player is very much a part of his character, and the games a key element of his life at Hogwarts.  Tonks plays only a bit more than a cameo role in the movie, but held a somewhat higher profile in the book — as the youngest of the Order of the Phoenix (a group devoted to battling the evil forces), there seemed to be a greater bond between Tonks and Harry in the book, influencing who or what he will become in the future.

Definitely see the movie, but if you have not read the book, read it afterward.  After all, it’s summertime — what better do you have to do?

Zoned Out

The problem of better school districts attracting students from outside the designated zone is not a new one — even when I was in high school, there were students whose parents lived outside the city. Some paid tuition to go to Oak Ridge High School; one that I know of moved in with his grandmother (inside the city) and visited his parents in Clinton over the weekend.

The Tennessean carries a good article this morning about Williamson County’s efforts to deal with the problem:

A Maury County family paid $16,251.50 to square up with Williamson County Schools for sending their teen to Franklin High School.

It’s the most costly example among cases in which the school district has sought tuition payments for the 2006-07 school year. The school board gave WCS attorney Jason Golden the authority last year to take people to court when they are caught sending their children to the county’s public schools but do not live in the county.

A few years ago, the State Legislature gave school systems the authority to collect back tuition amounts from families that fraudulently claim residence in a school district for the purpose of avoiding tuition payments. Simply owning property in the school district is not enough — it’s a matter of where the family sleeps at night, the primary address claimed on federal tax returns, utilities service, and other measures.

Oak Ridge does accept tuition students on a select basis as enrollment permits; the application is online (but doesn’t seem to work in Firefox for me — IE tab does).

 

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