Is this even legal?

An accident occurs in the  parking lot of a small, local business — private property — and the drivers exchange information.  The driver at fault admits fault, and readily provides his name, phone number, address, driver’s license number, insurance company (GEICO) and policy number.

A week or so passes before Beta (owner of the injured vehicle) calls GEICO to report the claim.  They take the report, then say they need to talk with their insured.  Okay… but, weeks pass, and the at-fault driver doesn’t return calls to his insurance company.  He doesn’t respond to certified mail.

Or, GEICO says he didn’t respond.  Unfortunately, it’s been our experience over the last few weeks that it’s impossible to get a real person on the phone; you get the privilege of leaving a voice mail, and the one person (Antonia Johnson, Examiner Code F669) who can talk about this claim might call back in a day or two.  Usually at the least convenient time, like in the middle of an upper-division physics class, or when Beta was riding her bike from UT to Island Home.  So, we’re thinking it’s possible he tried to call — maybe multiple times — but just didn’t leave a message.

Benefit of the doubt seems warranted, since he was very polite about the whole thing and did provide accurate information.  Meanwhile, GEICO also called HWTFM at work to get his version of events.

Earlier this week, Beta got a letter from GEICO stating that because they have been unable to contact their customer, and lacking a police report or verification of independent witnesses (evidently, HWTFM is not considered independent; why did they bother him in the first place?), they were dropping the claim.

It took me just one quick phone call to the tire store; the gentleman who answered the phone remembered the accident.  It only took another two minutes before he found an employee who had been in the parking lot at the time, and saw the whole thing.  So, I called GEICO and left a rather terse message to that effect, and provided the Ms. Johnson with the information when she got around to returning my call.

So, she talked to an independent witness who could verify that the white truck pulled out and hit the side of the black truck.  He didn’t know either of the drivers (thus, qualifying him as a truly independent witness), and didn’t write down tag numbers or anything, but gave an accurate description of the vehicles and drivers.

A description which matched, by the way, the cell phone photo that Beta had already e-mailed GEICO.  It showed the front of his white truck, and the side of her black truck, with his body partially in the photo as he leaned on the front bumper of his truck.

Still, GEICO says they cannot settle the claim because the independent witness cannot positively confirm the identity of the man in the white truck.  The man whose name, address, driver’s licence number, etc. is recorded in his own handwriting on a note in Beta’s possession.

WTF?

Beta has an appointment with a GEICO adjuster next week, and Ms. Johnson said that if they can speak with their insured before then, the adjuster will be authorized to cut a check.  If not… we’re right back where we’ve been for six weeks already.

I do believe that the Tennessee Insurance Commission needs to know about this.  And the Better Business Bureau.  And probably some other folks in a position to right this wrong.

Meanwhile, if you’re shopping for insurance, caveat emptor: the lizard’s not nearly as helpful as he is on TV.

 

 

 

About the sales tax…

In this morning’s Oak Ridge Observer, guest columnist Trina Baughn referenced a post from this blog from April 14, 2006, regarding a gentleman’s agreement between the mayor of Oak Ridge (at that time, David Bradshaw) and the Anderson County mayor (at that time, Rex Lynch) about when or if the County planned to supersede the sales tax.

Unfortunately, she only told half the story.

That particular gentleman’s agreement was that the County would not do  so for at least five years.  Thus, when the financing was planned for the new Oak Ridge High School, the financial model assumed that Oak Ridge would continue to collect its share of the higher sales tax for five years, then that the County would supersede.   However, it was prudent to make a contingency plan in the event that the County didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, which indeed, they did not.

That contingency was, if the County superseded the sales tax rate before five years elapsed, that the school system would remit it’s portion of the new dollars from the County share of sales taxes to the City, to go toward bond repayment on the high school.  But only until the five year period was up, when the City had assumed they’d lose that money anyway.  This too, was a handshake deal — there was never a Board vote, nothing signed.

The schools held up their end of the arrangement, not only through the five years from the initial referendum in 2004, but several years beyond.  However, the time is well past due for the City to adhere to the original financial model, which assumed that the County would have superseded the tax rate anyway.

The schools’ attorney has advised that Oak Ridge Schools cease making these payments, and has been in communication with the City.  Because attorneys are involved, it would be unwise to go into the detail and links I would otherwise provide.   But our Superintenent, our Director of Business Services, and our former School Board Chairman, John Smith, all recall the facts exactly as stated here.

The school system held up our end of the agreement, and then some.  To continue making these large payments to the City would put the City at risk of running afoul of the State’s “maintenance of effort” law, and deprive our students of operational funds that the State has designated for the purpose of their education.

How Long?

Four years, nine months, and nine days have passed since I quit smoking.

But in times of stress (like this afternoon), it seems like I could pull into the convenience store, buy a pack, and light one up — just like the old days.  I don’t know why the poison filling my lungs would feel so good, but it would.

I would gladly stand on the deck, with my back pressed against the outside wall to avoid the rain, just to feel that calm wash over me.

But I won’t.  I know myself: a pack would lead to a carton, and that carton to a lifetime of slavery to cigarettes.  To standing outside when everyone else is inside.  To having to build in extra time every day for a habit that would eventually kill me.

I’ll settle for a Tom Collins and keep cleaning the house for company tomorrow.  I just wish that someone could tell me that someday, that feeling will go away entirely.

Vouchers and random thoughts on education reform

In Tennessee, we are experiencing renewed discussion on school vouchers.  Essentially, that’s taking State education dollars and allowing parents to use those dollars toward private school tuition instead.   The initial bill would apply only in the state’s four largest cities (Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville), and only to economically disadvantaged students.

At first blush, why not?  Shouldn’t poor parents have the same opportunity for their children’s success as well-to-do parents?

The heart of the matter is, that ‘s the problem that public education seeks to address in the first place.  Vouchers wouldn’t level that playing field, because the dollars they’re offering (about $5k/year) wouldn’t cover the tuition at most, if any, private or parochial schools.  If the parents are poor to begin with, it’s unlikely that they could come up with the difference.

Secondly, private schools don’t play by the same rules as public schools.  Getting in is not just a matter of paying the tuition, but being accepted in the first place.  Academic and behavioral records are a strong factor, as are things like the ability to pass an admissions test.  Of course, a strong athlete might be granted a waiver on those types of things if the private school was looking to beef up the football team.  However, since private schools aren’t held to the same accountability standards as public schools, who’s to say that little Johnny Quarterback is going to be any better educated when he gets out?

If you believe the generalization that public schools are failing and private schools are not, why not level the playing field and make the rules the same for both?  Require all to take (or not take) the same tests; require the same (or no) certification and evaluation of teachers.  Allow both (or neither) to use selective admissions criteria.

But if we did that, then what would be the distinction between the two?

*  *  *  *  *

This morning, I read in the Commercial Appeal that some schools are now offering supper (in addition to breakfast and lunch) to students enrolled in their after-school programs.  Granted, I understand that the only nutritious meals some children receive are those served at school, but at the same time, one of the key factors in a child’s well-being is the consistency of meals taken with the family.

If that’s not happening, what’s the value of going home at all?

One of the commenters noted that perhaps the school should simply become a boarding school, and just send the kiddos home on weekends for a visit.  Perhaps that comment was in jest or sarcasm, but… why not?  For kids in the worst inner-city schools, with the worst home conditions, that might very well be the best thing that could happen.

If the state and/or federal dollars that currently go to support those families (WIC, food stamps, welfare, housing subsidy) instead followed the children to boarding school, I’d bet that the kids could improve academically and socially a whole lot faster.   They would be in a stable environment where study and proper behavior was the norm.  They would be properly nourished, with adequate sleep and supervision.  They would not be subjected to the criminal environment that pervades their parents’ neighborhoods.

It sounds like a drastic change, but not unlike the drastic changes sweeping public education in Tennessee today.  We’ve added high standards and testing for students, as well as high standards and evaluations for teachers.  To truly succeed in reform, however, we need to address the quality of parenting.

 

Halloween Nostalgia

Halloween is decidedly different than it used to be.

Forty years ago, a 7-year old could be turned loose on All Hallows Eve, traipsing for miles in search of candy.  There were lots of hard candies, a few with the prized miniature chocolate bars, and then, the treasured houses with homemade treats.

Like Mrs. Streetman’s homemade popcorn balls.  Those were excellent!

Even in 1970, we weren’t allowed to eat homemade stuff from people we didn’t know, but that’s beside the point.  The point is, back then — or even ten or fifteen years ago — Halloween was one of the main ways that kids got to know the adults in their extended neighborhood.  Not just the people next door and across the street, but people in a half-mile radius around our homes.

Now, it seems that most parents either take kids to some organized event (our church’s Trunk or Treat is one) on another night and skip Halloween altogether, or they drive kids to some other neighborhood.  Every year, Briarcliff is overrun with children spilling from cars bearing license plates of surrounding counties.  Some residents reported 500 kids or more… with streets blocked off by police cruisers to protect pedestrians.

Last night, we had all of nine little goblins stop by.  Throughout the neighborhood, lights were on and porches decorated, but there’s a lot of leftover candy in our neighborhood this morning.

The loss in this is that we don’t know our neighbors as we used to.

 

Physics vs. Phys Ed

Just WOW.

There are 19 gym teachers in the Farmington School District who make more than $85,000 a year each. The average gym teacher’s salary in Farmington is $75,035. By comparison, the science teachers in that district make $68,483 per year on average.

Farmington has 11,647 students in nine K-4 elementary schools, two 5-6 “upper elementaries,” and two 7-8 middle schools.   Evidently, the high school is in another district, as it’s not mentioned in their annual report.  So, it would seem like the heftiest coaching supplements — varsity football and basketball — are not included in these gym teachers’ salaries.

Michigan schools, like most, use pay scales based on education and experience.  The glaring pay differential between gym teachers and science teachers tells me that the gym teachers have probably been there for a few decades, while the science teachers are relatively young.  And they don’t stick around all that long.

It’s likely that, for middle school at least, the science teachers have a bachelor’s degree in a particular science field: physics, chemistry, biology, etc.  These days, that’s required for the “highly qualified” designation and if most of the teachers are relatively new, they would probably have been hired under those guidelines.

I’m not implying that phys ed teachers aren’t needed; they are.  Some kids live for gym.  Others would never get a lick of exercise without it.  The brain works better when one can get the wiggles out.  Yet, there’s no denying that the job options for science teachers are somewhat more expansive, both within the teaching field and in the private sector.

Maybe Farmington is just undergoing turnover, and this particular disparity is an aberration.   For their sake, I hope so.

Unless we’re content to lead the world in kickball.

 

A Real Woman?

On Facebook, the following post has been making the rounds:

A real woman always keeps her house clean & organized, the laundry basket is always empty. She’s always well dressed, hair done. She never swears, behaves gracefully in all situations & circumstances. She has more than enough patience to care for her family, always has a smile on her lips, & a kind word for everyone.

Yeah, right.

My house is not as clean nor organized as I would like, the laundry basket(s) are seldom empty, I’m not always well-dressed, and my hair often looks like I flew in on a Harley with no helmet.  I can’t promise that I never swear, am quite sure that I’m awkward in some situations, and run short on patience on occasion.  Sometimes I scowl, and not all of my words are kind.   That grouping is not what I aspire to, but it is what it is.

Yet, I’m quite certain I’m not a man.  I’ve given birth without drugs, and gotten out of bed the next morning to care for an infant and three children ages six and under.  I can pick things from my backyard garden and make supper of it, with all the nutritional value needed for my family.  Three of those four children — all girls, by the way — are in college or graduate school.  All are mastering fields traditionally not thought of as women’s work: math, physics, and materials science engineering.

And they can all cook, to varying degrees.  Alpha can sew, and Beta is learning.  Delta can take apart just about any electronic gadget, re-solder the loose connections, and put it back together in working order.  Gamma is very gifted with young children, especially teaching them to swim.  I bet none have empty laundry baskets, but they manage to wear clean clothes every day.

Yet, any one of us can comfort a child, or an animal in need.  Any one of us can prepare nourishment — for one, or many.

A “real” woman?  That would be one who puts her family first, whether that means excelling in the domestic arts or bringing home the check that pays the mortgage.  I guess the same would be true for a “real” man — one who puts family first, whether that is in the role of provider or caregiver.   Or some combination of both, as is more common today.

Come to think of it, I have some more caregiving duties to attend before the sun rises tomorrow.  Take care, and be real — whatever that is.

Charter Changes Emerge

On Nov. 2, along with selecting a Governor, a new Congressman, and our State Rep. and State Senator, Oak Ridgers will approve or reject three questions on changes to the City Charter.   The full list of proposed changes has been transmitted to City Council, which will meet on Aug. 23 to formally receive them and request that the Election Commissions of both Roane and Anderson Counties place them on the November ballot.

The most substantial change to most people would be moving the city elections to November of even years (to coincide with State and Federal general elections), rather than the June of odd years pattern we’ve followed for a long time.  The argument for the current method (June of odd years) is that it keeps the focus strictly on city issues; the argument for moving it to November of even years is that it would dramatically improve voter turnout — both because people tend to put forth more effort to vote in these larger elections, and because it’s not at a time when people are typically on vacation.

The second question changes the residency requirement to run for local office from six months to one year.  That’s not a huge change, but a sensible one, in my opinion.

The third question is a series of relatively minor changes, including

  • that Council (as a whole, not individual members) have the power to investigate “all city departments, offices, boards, commissions, committees, and agencies;”
  • adds the city’s website to the required publication for all official notices (in addition to a newspaper of general circulation);
  • increases the public notice requirement for appropriations amendments from five days to ten;
  • outlines purchasing authority;
  • adds an equal employment opportunity clause;
  • states that City Council shall establish an ethics policy consistent with State law.

Many, many other potential changes were discussed, argued, and considered, but in the end, these are what were approved by the full Commission.  On the November ballot, questions longer than 300 words (namely, Question 3) are likely to be summarized, so it’s worthwhile for all residents to read the whole 3-page document and start thinking about the decision.

The big one is the first question, as that represents the biggest change for Oak Ridge.  For a long time, I’ve been among those who feel that the standalone June elections give us a better opportunity to showcase city issues and candidates.  Over the past couple of years though, I’ve put a lot of thought into the prospect of combining with a November election, and I’m persuaded that the higher voter turnout is probably worth the additional competition for voters’ attention.

And, it saves a few dollars.

Study up, Oak Ridge.  This is your town, and your decision to make.

 

 

Was Dr. Kevorkian all wrong?

About 20 years ago, as my maternal grandmother lay slowly dying, my mother gave me very clear instructions: “if I’m ever like this, just shoot me.”

I love my mother very much, but I’m really not interested in going to prison.  At the same time, I understand where Mom was coming from.  She was emotionally frayed from watching her own beloved mother dying a little bit at a time, over a decade or more, of strokes that progressively took more and more of her brain.  It was pretty awful.

Just last week, my 89-year old mother in law told us, “don’t get old.”  Kind of strange advice given the alternative, but she’s on the opposite end of the problem as her body fails, while her mind remains strong.  There was no request for us to kill her, but she repeatedly said that she might not be around for Christmas.

I’m guessing she could be around for several more Christmases, if she chooses to.  It’s hard for me to know if she’s in physical discomfort, or if she simply misses her husband (gone 10 years now) more than she loves what is left of life from her living room chair.

Today, my friend G traveled a great distance to visit her ailing mother.  G’s mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, and no longer recognizes her own daughter.  G asked me the same thing (not so graphically, but nonetheless the same result) as my mother did: to kill her when that time came.  Just give her an overdose of something.

What, do I look like Dr. Kevorkian?  Of course not.  But maybe these strong women sense that I feel much the same as they do — that end-of-life care is too successful in prolonging the life not worth living.  That maybe we do need an out, a way to say “enough is enough” when we’ve long outlived anything resembling quality of life.

I do not believe in taking the life (or denying life-saving treatment) to one who wants to live.  At the same time, is it not equally wrong to deny peaceful passage to those who are ready to go on their own terms?

I think it is.  I hope that by the time I am old and worn out, we’ll have a better option.

Update – first, how’s the family?

Disturbing all of about two people, I took several months off from blogging.  I just needed a break; call it writer’s block, busy mom syndrome, or whatever.  After a while, it seemed like the quality of my thoughts and inspiration had degraded to the point of not being worth writing.  I hope I’m past that now.

In those months, we’ve celebrated Alpha’s graduation from UT (BS in Mathematics).  She has accepted the Dean’s Distinguished Fellowship at UC-Riverside to pursue her PhD in Math.  That’s a lot of fancy speak for “one child off the payroll.”  Lest that sound dismissive, make no mistake that I’m incredibly proud of her — for her academic achievements, and for her personal growth.  She truly is ready to move on to the next step, and I know she’s going to do well.

Beta just completed her sophomore year as a Physics major at UT, and landed an internship with the Physics department for the Summer.  At her first meeting with the prof she’s working for, she was told to get a passport.  They sent her to CERN for two weeks.  Now, this is Oak Ridge, so there are a few people around here who know what CERN is.  I’ve been told repeatedly that undergraduates just don’t get that kind of opportunity.  But she did, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had a little fun joking that re-creating little black holes might not be a good thing, but she’s safely home and the world is still spinning.

Gamma spent most of her senior year working with some folks from her physics C class on their “Lemelson Project.”  In that picture, she’s in the back row, 4th from the left.  Far left in the back row is HWTFM, who took on the role of advising the team, along with a couple of other professionals from the community and the world’s greatest high school physics teacher.  They presented their invention at Eurekafest at MIT at the end of June.  She had a wonderful time hanging out for a week with other physics geeks from all over the country.  Next month, we’ll cart her (and all her stuff) off to UT, to presumably begin her major in Materials Science & Engineering.

That will leave me, for the first time since mid-1990, with only one child at home.  One child who, come October, won’t even need me to drive her around.  Delta’s a lot of fun to be around though, so I expect it will be an entertaining three years as she makes her way through the rest of high school.

« Prev - Next »