Fourteen speakers stood in line for their 3-minute turns at the microphone, each with different information but with a united message: fund the schools’ budget request.
- Al Denny noted Council’s systematic denial of needed funding for education.
- Ann McNees (former Board Chair) recalled how the schools were left out of the strategic planning process, particularly in the selection of benchmark cities (many of whom had no school systems, or only limited schools like K-6).
- Bob Peelle said that residents seek stability in services — police, fire, and especially education. He closed by saying that Council is accountable for adequate school funding.
- Brenda Fellner suggested that the City change its slogan from “achieving excellence” to “leading the way to mediocrity.”
- Sam Bremen, James Sullivan, and Nathan Leiby (three of Oak Ridge’s dazzling rising stars) spoke to the advantages they have been granted at ORHS; Sam — one of the best young cellists ever to grace our stage — closed by saying,
Excellence is a legacy that you have the opportunity to extend, or to end.
- Pat Postma, an ORHS graduate herself whose children also grew up in our system, noted that during her work with the education foundation she was struck by how much we have already lost, how behind we are in technology, and asked Council to simply extend the same effort as already put forth by the school board. She also said,
Whatever is it that you like about Oak Ridge is enhanced by improvements in education.
- Elizabeth Peelle reinterated that the City’s allocation to the school system is steadily declining as a percentage of the overall general fund. While the actual dollars are increasing (except in FY04, where it remained the same as ’03), the City is limiting growth to the schools more so than to other areas.
- Lisa Buckner pointed out that the schools are scarecely mentioned in the City’s strategic plan, although it is that very instrument that is held up as Council’s shield against criticism.
- Susan Shor compared the tax increase required as equivalent to a stick of gum per day (Thom Mason, in a letter to the editor, defined it as one pizza per year).
- Cathy Toth asked when the school system became the “red-headed stepchild” and declared as only a mother of middle-schoolers could: “don’t play one department against another!”
But it was Rick Morrow who most moved the audience, speaking not of the City’s best and brightest who garner the many accolades, scholarships, and prizes… but of a 22-year old young man who, suffering from dyslexia, never learned to read. In a lesser environment, Morrow said, such a child would have turned to drugs or crime in frustration, but in Oak Ridge, with excellent teachers who were passionately committed to this child’s success, he graduated with a real diploma and is now gainfully employed — a productive, self-supporting, taxpaying citizen in this community.
He closed, as several others had done, by saying that tonight’s vote would influence his vote in the next election.
The comments came to an end, and the Mayor called for any questions or discussion from Council. There were none… although each took a turn commenting on their support for education. It’s hard to believe it occurred this way; harder yet to sit there through a unanimous vote where the obvious appearance was that no effort was expended whatsoever.
I’m not sure how to make it happen, but I’d like to see someone run for Council next year with a commitment to make the City’s budget process more open, with a public (televised, in a regular meeting) line-by-line justification of each item in the budget.
That’s not micromanagement, it’s upholding the public trust.
On a closing note: the chair (Abbatiello) of the City Manager’s evaluation committee is also the chair of the (farce) budget & tax committee, therefore, the City Manager’s evaluation and salary are directly tied to performance standards set by the architect of this insidious, zero-growth plan. There’s something terribly wrong about that structure.