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:
Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2008 12:21 PM
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.
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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.