School Budget vs. City Plan

By now, everyone must have heard that on the first reading of the Oak Ridge municipal budget, Council voted to deny the schools’ budget request. On a unanimous vote (minus Tom Beehan, who was absent), the Council passed a motion to decrease the education appropriation by $490,944.

It’s no secret that to cut the schools budget by that amount will have a very negative impact. Some of the options include the loss of driver education classes, the 4th grade strings program, eliminating bus service within a 1.5 mile radius of each school, school nurses, band camp, chaperone expenses for students who compete in statewide and national events, 9th grade sports, and contracting bus maintenance rather than paying the City to do so at the City Service Center.

I must admit, learning that the City employees will receive a minimum 6% salary increase while only 3% is budgeted for teachers is troublesome. Learning that the City has been charging the school system not only for parts and labor for bus maintenance (as a regular garage would) but adding a 129% overhead charge plus a 10% “administrative fee” is nothing short of infuriating.

The City’s draft budget shows a 5.9% increase in revenue… yet they voted to hold the schools to a 4.25% increase. In contrast, “General Government” got a 6.2% increase, and the fire department got an 8.2% increase.

The City Council’s travel budget for seven people weighs in at $26,000, while the travel budget for five school board members totals only half that — with much of the school board’s travel being required continuing education by the state.

The 8-cent tax increase required to fund the schools’ request would amount to just $30/year on a $150,000 house, but I do understand Council’s desire to keep a competitive tax rate. I might feel better about the process if I saw them go through the entire City budget, line by line, as the school board has already done, cutting more than $600,000 before even making a request to Council.

They were not frivolous reductions. In some cases, it was just a reduction of the increase, but in other cases, line items were reduced to levels below the previous fiscal year.

If you care about the quality of education in our community and the programs offered, please contact any or all members of City Council. Sooner is better… May 22 will be too late.

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