Guest column: City manager urges citizen engagement in key decisions

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Many projects are happening in Oak Ridge at the present time. Our city does not slow down and is affected by issues at the state, federal, and local levels.

As your city manager, I am concentrating on matters such as the implementation of EPA sewer requirements on a tight timeframe, creation of a national park, development of a new mall, and installation of a new dispatch center.

Among its many other decisions, Oak Ridge will be facing a pair of major initiatives which particularly important for our community. The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE), owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory contractor UT-Battelle, is under new leadership as veteran museum director David Moore takes the helm. With this change, the DOE knows that the long-term viability of a museum is dependent upon local and regional involvement.

Recently, the AMSE Foundation and the City of Oak Ridge have been co-hosting a series of community meetings about AMSE to discuss options for developing a new operating model for the museum. Two of four public discussions have been held about this topic.

Last week, we heard from the directors of the MUSE in Knoxville, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol to hear how today’s museums remain current and relevant to their visitors. Turnout for the first two meetings has been very encouraging; the next public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 25, from 6-8 p.m., when heritage tourism will be discussed. [Read more...]

Guest column: ORS made gains on most of Seven Keys to College, Career Readiness

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

In any transition year in which the state’s standards and/or tests change, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons with the results on those tests from previous years. Comparisons within the year can be meaningful, such as the fact that the percentage of students in Oak Ridge Schools that were at or above proficiency is higher than the state average on nearly every test administered; or that the state said that “strong gains” were made on the high school tests, and our data shows that ORS continues to far outperform the state on every high school End of Course examination.

That being said, ORS did find areas for growth and also celebration within our results. Our overall student population did not achieve as highly as we had hoped. However, we did see significant increases in some of our subgroups. In fact, ORS closed the achievement gap in 10 of the 16 areas monitored by the state. For instance, our English Language Learners had a nearly 8 percent increase in the number of students who were proficient on the state’s mathematics examination.

So what do we do when the state changes the standards and tests? Is there a way that we can continue to monitor our progress to ensure the success of our students? Yes! We can look to the measures that we know indicate the success of our students—ORS Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness. These Keys were developed collaboratively with the community and focus on the steps needed to prepare students for the rigors of life after high school. In our Keys, we see positive gains on the majority of measures. [Read more...]

Guest column: Tennessee retention elections explained by LWVTN

By League Issues: Making Democracy Work

On August 7, Tennesseans will vote in a statewide retention election for appellate judges. Included are three of the five Tennessee Supreme Court justices as well as judges currently sitting on the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals.

The August 7 retention election represents the last such election under the much-respected Tennessee Plan—the 40-plus year plan for merit selection and retention of appellate judges. The plan was designed to reduce partisanship and outside influences in electing and retaining our appellate judges. The final phase of the plan—merit retention—expired June 30, 2014.

This year’s retention election is particularly important. Fair and impartial court supporters in our state—including Governor Haslam—are concerned about media reports that the three Supreme Court justices seeking retention in Tennessee might become the targets of heavily financed campaigns organized by groups outside the state. There have been reports of such campaigns targeting high court justices in several other states across our nation.

What does merit retention mean? [Read more...]

Guest column: Oak Ridge…a story of excellence

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

Let me first state how thankful I am to be part of the Oak Ridge community. I have not worked in, nor do I know of, a community and school district that has a stronger board of education or staff that is focused on students. There are many reasons and indicators of this, but one does not have to look too far to understand that the academic achievement in Oak Ridge has remained steady and/or improved despite a 30 percent increase in the number of students in poverty (over 50 percent of our students now come from a home of poverty) over the last decade. This is a true testament to the dedication of our board, staff, parents, and students.

I have enjoyed my transition both to Oak Ridge and Tennessee as superintendent and look forward to my second year in this role. I have become active in the community and am happy to be a member of Noon Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce Board, and the Methodist Medical Center Board. I look forward to participating in additional activities and offerings that this great community is so fortunate to have. My wife and I have also enjoyed a wonderful personal transition to Oak Ridge. My son will be a freshmen at Oak Ridge High School next year, and my daughter will be a part of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band this fall at the University of Tennessee. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be the Oak Ridge superintendent as well as being a father of a current Oak Ridge student.

This is too great of a community and district to let negativity infiltrate the very essence of Oak Ridge. The creation of this amazing community and the Oak Ridge Schools is too great of a story for our country (the world really) to move in such a negative direction. Therefore, I pledge to do my part to keep the conversation civil, accurate, and most of all focused on the 4,440 students that walk through our doors every day who depend on the adults to make decisions based on the needs of children and not the comfort level of adults. [Read more...]

Guest column: Afterthoughts on the 2015 budget

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

A lot of incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, information has been disseminated to the public regarding the Fiscal Year 2015 city and school budgets. Such inconsistencies compound citizen frustrations as they begin to feel the impact of both bodies’ decisions. I would like to offer some clarification along with supporting resources, which will also be hyperlinked within my website,

First, let me address the claim that council is “not supportive” of our schools. I assure you that each and every one of us actively supports the education of Oak Ridge children with both our private and public contributions of time and money.

Furthermore, when factoring in debt payments, council allocates roughly half of all property taxes toward our schools. In fact, there are only four other communities in all of the state that out fund Oak Ridge at the local level. And even though council did not increase the tax rate this year, we did increase funding to the schools by over $500,000 due to the high school mortgage obligation shift. And contrary to claims that funding levels have been flat or declined, a simple comparison from 2005-2014 shows that total school spending has increased from $42.3 million to $55.5 million.

Second, both city and school representatives are guilty of understating their employees’ history of pay increases. City employees have received pay raises four out of the last five years. Teachers, too, have received raises every year of the last five years. The range and form of those raises is worthy of further discussion, and I intend on broaching the subject in our next joint Council/BOE meeting. [Read more...]

Guest column: Clarification on Oak Ridge Schools’ administrative positions

Note: Due to a technical error, this Oak Ridge Schools press release did not publish earlier this month with a chart comparing the Oak Ridge and Maryville school districts. We did publish the chart, which you can see here.

There have been a lot of questions recently about the number of Oak Ridge Schools’ administrative positions.

On the state website, it gives the impression that Oak Ridge Schools has added multiple administrative positions between 2007 and 2013. If the numbers reported were correct, it would appear that the number of administrators increased by about 63 percent since 2007.

In reality, Oak Ridge Schools only reclassified one existing position to an administrative position in that time period. Why is there a discrepancy between district data and state reporting?

First, we need to define administrator. In Oak Ridge, administrators are defined as superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, vice principals, district directors, district supervisors, and district assistant supervisors. If you look at Oak Ridge Schools’ human resource files, we have had the following numbers of administrative positions between 2007 and 2013: [Read more...]

Guest column: Not seeking re-election, DiGregorio offers advice to potential candidates

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have been on the Oak Ridge Board of Education since June 2005. My second term on this board is coming to a close in November, after what will be nine years and five months. But who’s counting?

I have decided not to seek re-election. On a personal level, I’m committed to term limits and shared responsibility. I should have been through in June of 2013, but a City Charter revision, through some smoke and mirrors, fixed things so that terms that should have expired in June of 2013 were extended to November 2014, an additional 17 months. Three current board members are in that situation.

Recently, I have been asked about “school boarding”—what the process is for running for a seat on the School Board, where do you register, how many signatures are required to be placed on the ballot, what a campaign would entail, and what time commitment it takes to serve on the School Board if elected. I am glad to provide this information and my opinions. I applaud anyone who wants to serve on a Board of Education. Public education is very important to me, this city, this state, and the nation.

There are three basic tasks for a BOE: policy, planning, and promotion. But the job is far more involved than that. Board members will not hire or fire any staff. Nor will they micromanage the work of any staff, including the superintendent. Collectively, the BOE has one employee—the superintendent.  The board hires him/her, and he/she does everything else. You do not work for the superintendent or the board, but working with those two, even if you disagree, will make things easier. Otherwise, the board may become dysfunctional. No community deserves a dysfunctional board of any kind. A 5-0 vote has the same effect as a 4-1 or 3-2 vote. The board speaks with one voice.

So: [Read more...]

Guest column: Burying the facts

In his guest column on July 4, Tennessee Representative John Ragan requests us to cast our ballots to hold government accountable. This is an excellent idea!

Hidden in Mr. Ragan’s rhetoric about IRS tyranny is the underlying economic policy he espouses: the notion that cutting taxes will lead us to prosperity in all circumstances. Our nation’s experiment with that fanciful notion has been a miserable failure for the last 30 years, causing incredible hardship on our people. It is now overwhelmingly discredited by economists from both sides of the aisle.

Mr. Ragan would likely be good enough with mathematics to have studied economics, but he seems to not have done so. In fact, it appears he learned his economics, not from the best in the field, but from politicians and the media. This has been greatly to the detriment of Tennessee.

In his 400-word column about government, Mr. Ragan mentions God four times—lest anyone be in doubt about his theory of governance. Despite the fact he lives in Oak Ridge and must surely know that this region is blessed by the diverse people drawn here from around the world by the scientific facilities, he chooses to represent only those who share his exact beliefs. [Read more...]

Guest column: Adapting to change

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

Cell phone? I survived into my early 30s 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). [Read more...]

Guest column: PSI offers reading program

PSI Reading Program

From left to right are General Sessions Judge Don Layton, Tammy Garner, Daniel Hamby, and Chad McNabb. (Submitted photos)

The greatest challenge people can face is themselves. Two people, Tammy Garner and Daniel Hamby, have accepted and conquered that challenge. These two individuals under the voluntary instruction of Betty McCarty and Peggy Tiner have been learning to read.

PSI and General Sessions Judge Don Layton have partnered to provide an opportunity to instruct basic reading skills to probationers.

“The ability to read is essential to acquiring a better job and quality of life,” Layton said. “It is our hope that courageous example of Tammy and Daniel will cause others to seek the ability to read, notwithstanding their age or life conditions.” [Read more...]

Guest column: Anderson County election ballot explained


The August 7 ballot for the state primary and local general election will be an important and complex ballot. You will find three main sections to the ballot.

First will be the state and federal primary, second will be the county general election, and third will be the retention questions for Tennessee Supreme Court judges and appellate court judges.

The first eight offices on the ballot are the contests for the state and federal primary election. They are governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, Tennessee Senate, Tennessee House of Representatives, and state executive committeeman and committeewoman. These eight offices are the ones a person must declare whether they are voting in the Democratic or Republican primary.

After these eight offices come the candidates for the Anderson County general election. It does not matter which party primary you selected to vote in, Democrat or Republican, you are now free to vote for the candidate of your choice no matter to which party you belong. The county general election offices are: [Read more...]

Guest column: Amnesty Week a great success at Oak Ridge Library

Oak Ridge Public Library

The Oak Ridge Public Library is pictured above.

Amnesty Week was a great success at Oak Ridge Public Library. To celebrate the Library’s 70th birthday from May 27 to May 31, library patrons were invited to return any overdue materials and have the fines forgiven. A total of 145 overdue items were returned for a sum of $421.80 in cancelled fines.

The largest fine forgiven to one patron was $109.50. The most overdue items returned for one patron was 27 items. Four lost items that were due back in December 2011 were returned.

Libraries link people to the world of knowledge. Oak Ridge Public Library now has two databases online, making it easier for everyone to find local information. The Local Organization Index and the Obituary Index are searchable at the Library’s website at Library patrons can also get individual assistance with research, résumés, or online job applications. [Read more...]