April 2008

Sales Tax Holiday

This weekend is the other sales tax holiday — purchases of clothing, school supplies, and computers (up to $1,500) are exempt from state and local sales taxes.

Around here, it’s roughly a 10% discount.  Unfortunately, what I found in the previous iterations of this event is that retailers — local as well as online — tend to back off from their normal sales and discounts on the tax-free weekend, so the end result was a higher net cost for the items I needed.

Dell Computer is a prime example.  Last August, I had planned to buy a new desktop computer for Alpha, and had been watching prices for several weeks.  Dell changes prices every Thursday at midnight (as in the beginning of Thursday, not the end).  On the day before the tax holiday began, the $1200 system I’d been watching mysteriously went up to about $1500, meaning that I’d pay $183 MORE than it would have cost with tax added onto the sale price.

So, I just waited a couple more weeks, and paid the tax once it went on sale again.  Same thing for Levi’s jeans, notebook paper (which I usually buy on sale for 10 cents/pkg during the back-to-school sale), and several other items.

I’ll probably shop a little bit anyway, since I’d already promised Alpha to help her acquire some business apparel that she’ll need for her summer internship.  However, I’m not optimistic that I’ll end up saving much.

Anyone else have a different experience?

Good Reads

I love to read. These days, much of my time is consumed by reading for information rather than for pleasure, but during a trip to Books K2, a table of "101 books to read before you die" caught my interest. Unfortunately, they don’t have the book list on their website — only in the store.

Noting that I’d already read quite a few of the works so designated, it seemed likely that the rest would be equally worthwhile. I picked up a copy of Wicked, the life story of the Wicked Witch of the West from Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Wow — it’s exemplifies the saying "there are two sides to every story," but also introduces a host of social commentary.

Admittedly, when I bought it, I thought it might also keep Delta occupied for a day or two (her book habit is voracious), but it’s really not a tale for children. Perhaps in a few more years.

Lacking the time to read as much as I would like, a distant second is audio books, downloaded and played through my iPod. That way, I can enjoy good books while doing other things (driving, cooking, sewing, folding endless baskets of laundry). Currently, I’m making my way through another of the books on the 101 list: Pillars of the earth. It’s a long one that will keep me interested through the long list of domestic chores on my list this month.

Listening is not as much fun as reading, but it does allow me to do two things at once, and to get more enjoyment out of whatever task is keeping my hands and eyes busy. For those of us who drive long distances several times per year, Audible.com is an excellent resource.

Now, on to work — but have a little fun where you can!

Of Justice and Commerce

Following the story of the first trial in the gruesome murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, one small quote from the defendant spurred some thoughts on a tangent:

"Walking up and down main street of Ridgebrook (Apartments), just drinking, smoking and drinking and smoking weed, that’s all I do every day," he said.

"I may go to Labor Ready occasionally so I can get a little more buzz money."

Labor Ready has two offices in Knoxville, both in parts of town where I wouldn’t want to stop for much of any reason.  That doesn’t matter though; what I wondered was, how many companies will continue to do business with Labor Ready, now knowing that at least one of the contract employees (how many more?) take the jobs for "buzz money" in between days filled with "drinking and smoking weed" because that’s what they "do every day?"  I wish I knew which businesses did business with Labor Ready, because I’d like to avoid them.

The Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday appears to clear the way for executions via lethal injection to continue, but I can’t help thinking, that’s too easy an end for someone who did something as horrible as this.  I know that’s wrong, and that the death penalty isn’t supposed to be revenge, but this crime represents the very worst of humanity.

There isn’t much question in my mind that this was a hate crime, but it doesn’t really matter — the crime itself warrants punishment far more harsh than any penalty for "hate."  How can we assign penalties to an emotion?

Thank goodness I got my sewing machine back yesterday, more than a week earlier than estimated.  Busy hands are a good thing.

Monday Morning Blues

The good: I finished the prom dress.

The bad: it seems that my sewing machine is finished, too.

I just had it in for a tune-up about three weeks ago and everything was working peachy, but as is predictable, the high-tech gadgetry failed. In this case, the touch screen… just stopped responding to my touch.

No, it’s not the calluses on my fingertips (I tried using my pinky, which doesn’t suffer the familiar seamstress’ scarring).

I’m thankful that it waited until all that remained to finish the dress was the hemming — all done by hand — but I haven’t yet finished the cute little matching evening purse, for which I most definitely need my sewing machine.

Prom Hint: do NOT send your daughter with the safe, reliable little black evening purse. There will be at least 150 others just like it, and more than one couple has been sidelined when the purses got mixed up in coat check, leaving someone stranded at the prom with no car keys or cell phone (the other having left earlier in a limo or a date’s vehicle).

The Ugly: new touch screens are expensive. Having a certified technician install it is more expensive. However, it’s still much better than the cost of replacing the whole machine… and I’ve demonstrated over the seven or eight years that I’ve owned it, that this machine pays for itself.

The agony is waiting the ten days or so to have an hour’s work completed; it’s spring now, and time for new clothes for everyone. But like everyone else, I have to wait in line, and there isn’t an excess of sewing machine mechanics around here.

I guess I’ll get it back about a week a couple of days before the prom, but also just about the time that we’re expecting the bids back on contracting bus service. That’s another subject entirely, but an important one that will take some time and consideration.

Budget Approval

The Oak Ridge Schools budget was approved last night, in what may be record time, with no last-minute changes.

When I saw WATE’s coverage, I felt as though they must have been at a different meeting — but I saw them there, heard them asking questions afterward.  All I can figure is that they wrote the story ahead of time, then liked the original better than what really happened, so they stuck with the first draft.

OAK RIDGE (WATE) — The Oak Ridge School Board approved the 2009 budget worth $51 Million Thursday, but not without a fight.

What fight?  There were exactly two motions in the Board meeting: one to approve travel expense statements for two members, and the other to approve the budget (which was not amended in any way last night).  Both passed unanimously.

I’m glad that it is done, and happy that we plan to restore bus service to all students.  I’m not at all happy that we cut ten teacher assistants, that we were unable to do more for our teachers, that we didn’t reinstate Driver Education (talk about a safety issue!), nor that our IT budget is woefully inadequate.  There are still unmet needs in our schools… but this year, there’s simply no way to do all the things we want and need to do.

But, we didn’t ask City Council for more than they can provide, and we did set forward a process to provide busing for all students next year.

There is relief that we accomplished the things that we did, but no feeling of satisfaction.  Because I realize that "better than some" still isn’t good enough.

School Budget 09

It’s the best of times, and the worst of times. Well, maybe second-worst.

This year’s FY09 school budget mostly meets our essential needs, and includes transportation for all students. Even those within a mile of the schools. We do lose 10 teacher assistants (as proposed; it hasn’t passed yet), provides a step increase for those eligible, as well as a 2% cost of living increase for teachers and staff.

However, there has been a barrage of questions, mostly from a small group who are obviously collaborating (as their e-mails are all cc’d to one another). I’ve compiled the budget Q&A’s from citizens, because it’s possible that others are wondering as well. I should note that the answers were provided by Karen Gagliano, Director of Business and Support Services for Oak Ridge Schools, so as to minimize any chance of error.

The trouble comes in that the budget assumes contracting transportation operations. We’ve seen that contracting food service operations has proven to provide the same or better service, while decreasing costs; that has shown that sometimes it’s better to hire someone whose primary business is the task at hand. We looked at contracting janitorial services a few years ago, but it just didn’t meet our needs. The food service contract does, and it appears that transportation contracting would work similarly well.

And save $99,466, while increasing bus service to include all students.

So, why are we getting a backlash on the budget and contracting proposal from the very people whose mission in life has been to secure transportation for all kids?

The magic of e-mail reveals much, especially when people forward or "reply to all" without thinking it all the way through. When I saw the following, at the bottom of an e-mail from someone else, I had to walk away from the computer for a few minutes:

From: [deleted]
Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2008 12:21 PM
To: [deleted]
Subject: FW: Please read and ACT for Childrens’ safety and Social justice in general

We have been working so hard to get transportation for all Oak Ridge children in the best way for the city. The board just doesn’t know what questions to ask and what else to suggest. Please let them know that we need transportation for all children and give any suggestions you might have. They do not yet have a plan they are comfortable with.

The board just doesn’t know what questions to ask and what else to suggest? Excuse me?? Perhaps some people do not understand that we’ve had this information for more than a week now, that we’ve studied it diligently, and that we have asked a number of questions of the staff — usually by e-mail, as many things that we ask require a little research or calculation, and if you want the correct answer, it’s best to do it that way.

Before anyone hyperventilates, the sunshine law (Open Meetings Act) does not prohibit communication between staff and elected officials, just deliberation between elected officials on the same body, outside of public meetings.

Please let them know that we need transportation for all children…? This budget provides that. As it now stands (pending approval on Thursday night), there won’t be a fight with City Council. All kids will have access to bus service. No curriculum items will be cut.

* * *
It could get worse if the State decides to allocate less to K-12 education than they indicated prior to the release of this budget, but we won’t know until May. If that happens, we’ll be back to the chopping block. Current reports are not good.

Tired, but proud

Delta’s middle school returned today from the TSA State Conference, with trophies.

Two of the three events that I coach brought home hardware: 1st Place for Cyberspace Pursuit (students design and launch a website according to the design brief), and 2nd Place for Electronic Game Design (students design and build a working computer game within specified parameters — including no violence).

Also, three ORHS students — all graduates of the same middle school’s program — were elected to state office today.

Delta’s in the Electronic Game Design crew — third from the left on the front row.  She’s pretty tickled to bring home a trophy this year.

After four days in Pigeon Forge with 31 middle school kids, studying the school budget in between everything else, I’m exhausted.  There’ll have to be a stop at Starbucks before tonight’s meeting.  Even so, I’m really, really proud of all of these kids.

And, should you be a parent of one or more of these, you should be too.  These kids are our future, and it’s looking pretty sweet.