Adapting to Change

The following was submitted to local papers yesterday.

I can’t function without my… (fill in the blank)!

Cell phone?  I survived into my early thirties without one, and never even realized it was a problem.  I admit that now, having carried one for a number of years, it’s terribly disconcerting to be without.  My parents can easily recall a time when most families had only one car – a concept that is unthinkable to most of us today.  But faced with challenges, we adapt.  We can, we must, and we will.

Families living in most communities outside Oak Ridge are accustomed to not having school bus service within a mile or mile and a half of the school, so our current turmoil seems like no big deal to them.  To us though, having to suddenly live without something we’ve always had (except for a brief period several years ago) feels like the end of life as we know it.

With the advent of social media, the volume of discontent and velocity of misinformation has grown exponentially.  It is most unfortunate that a member of City Council chose to announce in Monday’s meeting that the School Board intended to cut transportation no matter how much money the City provided; that is incorrect, as evidenced by the fact that there was no reduction in transportation services in our budget passed on May 27 (first reading) and May 29 (second reading).

Perhaps if Ms. Baughn, or any member of City Council, had accepted our invitation to attend any of the schools’ budget meetings, this error might have been avoided.

Information was provided to the City – and to the public – prior to passage of the budget indicating what levels of funding were needed to provide various services in the school budget, but all three options required some additional funding from the City.  The reason is that costs for things we must provide (electricity, water, insurance, books, teachers, etc.) rises faster than our funding from the State, Anderson and Roane Counties, and the City of Oak Ridge.  Furthermore, new requirements generally come with a price tag, while they seldom are accompanied by the necessary money to implement.

In recent days on Facebook (the modern-day equivalent of a public bathroom wall, as credibility goes), other wild rumors have been floated: that the schools just purchased new cars for two School Board members, that the transportation routes were deliberately drawn to impact certain individuals but not others, that our system is riddled with nepotism, and a host of other things.  None of these are true.

When the City declined to provide any increase in funding to the schools for the sixth consecutive year, drastic cuts had to be made.  The School Board voted on June 23, one week after the City’s final reading of their budget, to eliminate transportation service for everyone living within 1.5 miles of their school.  The transportation change was less than half of the total budget cuts, which also included textbooks, utilities, and administrative items.

The bus routes are created with a software package called VersaTrans, and we know from past experience that there will need to be some manual adjustment of routes or stops as more information becomes available.  Some, perhaps most, of those adjustments will occur after the start of the school year.

We know that this will cause inconvenience, even hardship, for some families.  However, this hardship is less harmful than other options that would negatively impact learning: larger class sizes, eliminating some courses, or failing to provide sufficient instructional staff to ensure that all children learn.  Our PTA/PTO organizations are already stepping up to help, compiling lists of parents who live near one another, volunteers who are willing to carpool or provide transportation, and more.

Your Board of Education is open to suggestions and willing to answer questions, but it’s best to reach us via phone or e-mail (both listed on the schools’ website, www.ORTN.edu for all Board members).  We don’t all use social media, and even those who do cannot possibly see all questions in all groups.

Certainly, we would all prefer that we not have to reduce services to our families, but the School Board has no ability to raise revenue and is wholly dependent on other funding sources: the State, the City, and Anderson and Roane Counties.  When adequate funding is not provided, something must be cut.

We will survive this.  We will get to know our neighbors better, and learn to help one another get our children to school safely.  People in other communities already do so, and we will as well.

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