November 2007

Random Thoughts

I’ve plenty to say, but with discretion being the better part of valor, I shall not. However, here’s some mind candy to keep you occupied in the meantime:
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Sort of puts things in a different perspective, doesn’t it?

School Biz

The State has ruled that public schools "must waive fees for low-income students to participate in school-day fundraising celebrations." That means that the school has to pay any cost associated, which would sort of defeat the purpose of having a fundraiser at all if any significant portion of the student population falls in that category.

My first question is, why is any school having a fundraiser during the school day anyway (except for the traditional book fair, which is education-related)?

My next question is, just how far does this rule extend? Does it cover the book fair too, if students are allowed to purchase books during the school day?

The concept of buying a $25 ticket for a day of fun instead of a day of school beckons a recollection of the old practice of the catholic church selling indulgences, which led to Luther’s 95 Theses and the Protestant Reformation.

Yes, schools need more than the available funding will provide. But there has to be a better answer.

Ready for December

No, I’m nowhere near ready for Christmas.  That’s not what this is about.  I’m ready to tear the November page from the calendar and be done with it.  Come to think of it, maybe we should just skip it altogether next year.

Last year in November, a friend lost his young wife.  Earlier this month, my daughter lost a friend and classmate in a tragedy that has shaken the entire community.  Just moments ago, I learned that another friend has lost her only son — and not the only sadness she has suffered in recent months.   All three events are tied by the bonds of the Oak Ridge blogging/forum community, and our common interest in our town and our schools that first drew us to become acquainted.

The days grow shorter, and it’s growing harder to brush off the grim tidings of an already difficult season.  That in itself is sad, as I’ve always loved the crisp, clear days and vibrant color of autumn. 

Through the day I appreciated the many things I have to be thankful for; 12 of us gathered for dinner at my house, and everyone had plenty to eat and enjoyed each other’s company.  Having closed that day and begun the next though, I wonder how to comfort those that I very much care for, stricken hard just before the holidays.

I am inadequate for that task.

Counterproductivity

Back in August, I wrote (here and here) about Anderson County’s internet filtering of all computers within the courthouse.  At the time, my primary objection was that the filtering was (and still is) selective — not based on appropriate content, but more along the lines of political thought.

Today, I learned that it’s actually hindering job performance in some cases.  An employee whose primary responsibility deals with overseeing the status and progress of children who are involved with the legal system, was attempting to access the legislative website of our congressman, Zach Wamp.  The employee knew that there was a paper there with information needed to better perform the job at hand.

The legislative site was blocked by the County’s filtering software.

Later, the same employee keyed in another well-known URL inadvertently using the wrong suffix (you know — dot-com instead of dot-org or dot-gov), and a full-fledged porn site popped up on the screen.  Unfiltered.

*  *  *  *  *
Content filters don’t work very well.  There are instances — in schools, for example — where it’s mandatory (i.e., required by the federal government as a condition of receiving e-rate funds) to have some filtering in place, but in the workplace, it’s just as likely to hinder productivity.  What would be far more useful is a tracking system so that it’s possible to see the sites where employees are spending their time.  If recreational web surfing is a problem, deal with the problem.

That just makes too much sense for government, though.

Let’s get it right

An AP story ran in the News-Sentinel yesterday, and in the Oak Ridger today, entitled "School officials reviewing state’s bus policy after death." Unfortunately, the story contains some errors — very slight, perhaps just sloppy wordsmithing — but errors nonetheless.

If people are to effect policy change, they must understand clearly who’s policy is what.

Tennessee’s policy states that all students who live more than a mile and a half from their school are allowed to ride the bus.

That’s not quite right. The State of Tennessee makes no policy about who can or cannot ride the bus. The State’s policy is that they will partially reimburse school districts for the cost of transporting students who live more than 1.5 miles from school; however, school districts are not prohibited from offering more — they just have to come up with all of the money.

What State policy does say is that school districts who accept any state funding for transportation are forbidden to charge a fee to any student for riding the bus, even those students who live within the 1.5 mile radius, for whom the State pays nothing.

Bus service was curtailed in 2006 in order to balance the budget. It wasn’t a political ploy (as many assume, including one of today’s letter writers); is was, quite simply, an unpleasant choice between cutting educational services and non-educational services.

Many people have indicated that they would be willing to purchase bus tickets or passes, and that would certainly be one of the easier options. To do so, though, we need for the State to change their policy prohibiting such. I have inquired, but still do not know, whether that’s a law passed by the Legislature, or simply a rule of the State Board of Education.

We have our work cut out for us.

City Council, Nov. 19

Following the invocation and pledge, Mayor Beehan read the following statement on the loss of Ashley Paine:

The family of Ashley Paine has suffered a tragic loss. On behalf of this Council, and the city as a whole, I want to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Ashley Paine. This has been a tragic loss for the city, as well, and we as Councilmembers grieve for her family’s loss.

She was not only a blessing to her family, but to her town, her church community, and especially to Robertsville Middle
School.

This loss, on a personal level, has changed us as indivuals and as a community. We have been deeply moved by this event, and the celebration of Ashley’s life.

This was a tragic accident, and in our opinion, not a time to place blame, but an opportunity to make a difference, and to refocus our community to be even better.

We will continue to work in partnership with the Oak Ridge School Board to create solutions to issues of traffic safety. And in the same vein, it’s time now to look at traffic safety issues all over the city, not only in and around our schools, but in our neighborhoods and our main arteries, such as the Oak Ridge Turnpike.

We need to ensure the our town is “walker friendly”. We should revisit our greenways, sidewalks and bike paths systems to make sure they are adequate, accessible, and safe. Our passion will be to make this a pedestrian friendly city. Greenways and bike paths are a great assets to communities that are revitalizing in America.

God bless Ashley, and her family. The entire Oak Ridge Community is mourning her death. And the same time celebrating her life, and what she has passed on to others that they may live productive and fulfilling lives.

May God bless her as she enters to his loving care, and may he comfort her family and friends with the knowledge that even though she was here a short time, by her life and death, she has made a tremendous impact on the lives of others.

Jim O’Connor then presented some of the solutions investigated by the City. The new school zone lights are installed and operational along Illinois Avenue near Robertsville. Speed and traffic light camera enforcement is being investigated. Pedestrian rights of way are being studied for Council to consider. More specific detail on these issues is requested for the December Council meeting, and Mayor Beehan requests that citizens utilize electronic communication (e-mail) on the city’s website to submit specific suggestions and ideas.

A discussion ensued as to the practicality of the pedestrian crossing buttons on traffic lights; the standard design in Tennessee is to have the pedestrian button on the traffic island, such that a pedestrian has to cross the turn lane before being able to activate the crossing signal.

The School Resource Officer is already working with students who walk/bike to school to promote safe practices.

Tom Hayes points out that speed is a major factor in traffic accidents in Oak Ridge. Tom Beehan points out that there will probably be some angry citizens when tickets are issued for speeding and running red lights, but that everyone needs to understand that this is for the overall safety of our residents.

On approval of the agenda, Mayor Beehan added a first reading of a zoning change for a new Tractor Supply in the old Food City East location. Next, he asked if there were any citizens present who wished to speak during the "appearance of citizens" (normally at the end of the agenda). He was prepared to move that to the beginning, but no one indicated a desire to speak. The agenda was approved as amended.

On the issue of rezoning Clark’s Preserve, there were no citizens to speak at the public hearing. Next, they addressed the proposed rezoning of 203 Michigan Avenue (site of the First Christian Church that burned) from residential to office, for a medical office park. Again, no one rose to address Council on the rezoning. The third item for public hearing was the 08/09 Community Development Block Grant plan; again, no one addressed Council on any of these three items.

Next, Council heard the annual report of the Oak Ridge Heritage Railroad Authority. Approximately $1.4M in state funding has been garnered to maintain bridges and railroad lines.

On the rezoning of property at 203 Michigan and west Madison Lane, Ellen Smith noted that council members are in receipt of a petition opposing the rezoning.  However, the petition was never submitted to the City Clerk, so it cannot be included in the minutes from the last meeting (when the petition was presented).

I’m not feeling at all well, so I’m hanging it up for the evening.

Be part of the solution

Trina’s started a virtual brainstorming session over at ProtectOakRidgeKids.blogspot.com, and it’s done in a most tasteful manner. 

Everyone around here knows what happened a week and a bit ago.  It was incredibly easy for some to jump on the "blame" bandwagon (including the local newspaper, via a tasteless poll for readers to throw their virtual daggers), but Trina resisted the temptation to say "I told you so."  Even though she had — many times.

Rather, she’s thrown out a list of suggestions — some expensive, some free, some in between — and an invitation for others to participate.  Collectively, we’re far smarter than any one (or five, or seven), and surely there are some good answers out there.

Some entail personal responsibility; others are decidedly public.  If you have an idea, throw it in there.  Your decision-makers are listening.

Not meant to be.

Some things just aren’t meant to be:  kids and a clean house, teenagers and unbroken chairs (or laptops), HWTFM and tools in their proper place.  You get the picture.

My teenagers have been rough on the ten wooden chairs around our kitchen table.  They don’t fare well being rocked back on two legs, so a couple of my chairs have gotten pretty wobbly —  to the point that no one actually sits in them anymore.  But, expecting 12 for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, I have to have all the chairs in usable condition.

I figured that a couple of small L-brackets strategically placed under the chair would adequately stabilize them, and searched Downtown Hardware, K-Mart, and Home Depot.  Unfortunately, no one carries anything small enough.  When I described what I need to the nice fellow at Home Depot (who used to be a custom metal fabricator) and realized that they don’t have any such thing, I asked if it might be possible to make one from a very small piece of angled aluminum, which they do have.  He said that would work.

We have the proper drill bits for metalworking, and a hacksaw.  So, I bought the piece of metal, and set out building the thing I need.  Getting the holes done, sized to fit the wood screws I already had, wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it might be.

(Finding the drill bit was easy, because I keep them in MY toolbox.)

Getting them cut to the right length and filed down so that they aren’t dangerous didn’t take long either.  (I keep the file, too.)

Actually installing them was where the trouble began.   HWTFM had somehow misplaced the phillips bit for my cordless drill — the second one he’s lost.  So, after a cursory search in the old Radio Flyer (where he keeps many of his tools, despite having at least three large, quality toolboxes and a couple of others that are older and dirtier), I gave up and remembered that I won a set of screwdriver bits by answering a question at the recent Y-12 Safety Fair.  Those were in my purse.

Armed with the correct bit, I began.  The cordless drill, for which I have two batteries (one had been charging all afternoon), quickly ran out of juice.  So I switched batteries, only to find that the alternate was completely dead.  After switching them out a time or two, I realized that the charger simply wasn’t charging.

HWTFM suggested that he could troubleshoot it if I could get his multimeter… which he had misplaced somewhere.  Sigh.  Next, he asked for Delta’s multimeter (yes, our 13-year old daughter has her own multimeter), which was not working.  He took it apart, finding that it needs some odd-sized battery that we don’t have one of.

I can’t fix the chair because the drill batteries are dead (and neither of us can turn it hard enough to tighten it by hand).  I can’t charge the battery because the charger is broken.  He can’t fix the charger because his multimeter is lost, and Delta’s has a dead battery.

So, I asked to use HIS drill — the one that actually plugs into the wall.   But he doesn’t know where it is, and it’s not in the Radio Flyer.  Or the boat (don’t ask).

The chairs are still broken, and we’re one day closer to Thanksgiving.

Please be careful

It was an act of carelessness that caused no harm, but carried the potential for irony of the worst sort.

Yesterday afternoon as I drove west on the turnpike, there were several people gathered at the corner of Illinois Avenue and the turnpike — the site of a terrible accident that took the life of 12-year old Ashley Paine just days ago.

As we approached the intersection the light turned yellow, but the vehicle traveling next to mine apparently had his mind on the gathering rather than the road.  As the light turned red I stopped, only to watch that vehicle honk his horn to the gathering (mourners?  protesters?) and cruise on through the red light at the busiest intersection in town.

Nothing happened.  Thank God nothing happened.  But that simple, careless moment of distraction could have been another tragedy.

*  *  *  *  *
People are dealing with this loss in differing ways.  One of those ways, for some, is searching for something or someone to blame.  It is not my place to decide who’s grieving and who’s just looking for something to bolster their own civic protest, nor to dictate how anyone should mourn or show support for those who are.  If gathering at the corner brings you comfort, by all means do so.  If honking your horn at those gathered makes you feel camaraderie with them, okay.  But there’s surely no comfort to be gained in risking the safety of yourself and others in your distraction.

So please do be careful.  A second tragedy would be difficult to handle right now.

No Words

There are no words for this day.

Today, I had to tell my youngest child that her 12 year old friend and classmate has died.  A child that everyone loved, who was kind, whom everyone in the rough-and-tumble middle school world considered a friend.  That’s a rare thing, but Ashley was a rare child.

It was incredibly hard to tell her.

A year ago, I engulfed myself in prayer each day for GAC, to no avail.  Now, the same thing again, with the same dismal result.  I cannot second-guess God, but I will not pretend to understand.  I don’t understand. 

The blame game has begun, but the only acceptable response is to listen and understand without responding about budget constraints, or quirks of fate, or any of those other things… because when faced with such a monumental loss, none of those things matter at all in perspective.

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