Council Recap: the ugly truth

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.

6 thoughts on “Council Recap: the ugly truth

  1. Although your frustration is very real and venting is good for the soul occasionally, now the reality: you are faced with a number of difficult tasks, the major one being trimming the school budget.

    This is an opportunity to show leadership and innovation although any trimming is difficult your opportunity and the school board’s is to make them as painless as possible.

    Although you seem to pick out one particular individual as cause for concern because of his position on the budget committee, I believe the vote itself should tell you that the Mayor is having a large influence on decisions by council.

    One could honestly say that the City Mayor has been influenced by the County Mayor as they both now can be fairly said to be in opposition to support of schools above the minimum and are satisfied with mediocrity as long as the County Mayor’s mantra of “No Tax Increase” is followed to the letter, regardless of the harm caused by such simple slogans.

    Parents and citizens hopefully will have a long enough memory come the next election.

  2. Tuesday, May 30 is the date set for the budget meeting.

    Almost none of the options are painless, but my own sentiment is that curriculum must be the last to go.

    First on my list (although not a huge savings, very appealing in principle): contract bus maintenance to someone other than the City. That’s about $100,000 that the City of Oak Ridge won’t get from us, because no one in the private sector could get away with a 129% “overhead charge” and a 10% “administrative fee” on top of parts and labor.

    Next, I’ll move to raise the City’s rates to rent our facilities back up to the same rate charged to anyone else. After all, they don’t give us a break of any sort in renting City facilities…

    AT2, you are correct about the Mayor and his influences (along with Golden, who is directly employed by the County Mayor’s puppetmaster). My disappointment is not centered on one individual, as any four could have made the difference.

  3. I agree. Seems to me that they’re all equally worthless as far as I’m concerned.
    NM, I love your suggestions, but be careful that the ol’ us vs. them mentality doesn’t shine through too much. As you said previously, its not a good guy vs bad guy thing.
    No matter how easy it is to make it that way…

  4. A failure to balance budgets at the local and national level is exactly what is damaging our nation so badly if you cared about the long term future of our town and not just taking cheap shots at our elected officials then I doubt you would post this sort of drivel.

    Naturaly I doubt this will ever appear on your site its has far to much them and us bias.

  5. I read in the Oak Ridger today about the decision to provide transportation to students outside a 1-mile radius of their schools. Do you know if there are any maps of the school zone boundaries available online anywhere? The Oak Ridger stated that 30 percent of students in the entire system will lose bus service, but I’m curious to see how that translates for individual schools – especially elementary.

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