Parents, teachers, students show support for ‘venerated’ teacher under investigation

Eddie Anderson

Eddie Anderson

Note: This story was last updated at 12:05 p.m.

About 200 people turned out at a school board meeting on Wednesday to show support for longtime teacher and track coach Eddie Anderson, who has been suspended without pay pending a police investigation, and to challenge some of the accusations made against him. Some objected to the process used by the school system, saying the reputation of a fantastic teacher has been sullied.

Anderson, an Oak Ridge High School chemistry teacher hired in 1979, was suspended without pay on April 30 while the Oak Ridge Police Department investigates an allegation of inappropriate contact with a former student. In the letter announcing the suspension, Oak Ridge Schools Assistant Superintendent Chris Marczak said the allegation was being turned over to the ORPD as a criminal investigation.

No additional details about that allegation have been released. Anderson’s attorney, Dennis Francis, declined to comment last week, and the Oak Ridge Board of Education and Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent’s Office have been advised to not comment until the investigation is complete. City officials have also not commented on the ongoing investigation by the Police Department.

In the meantime, most of the public discussion has focused on an April 11 track meet, the Taco Bell Invitational in South Carolina. School administrators said, among other things, that Anderson knew ahead of time that a hotel the team was going to stay in was “unacceptable and dangerous,” that he did not inform parents of the specifics of the trip and did not answer the phone when they called, and did not double-check student room assignments, which led to a girl entering a boys’ room through an adjoining door and engaging in “inappropriate contact.” [Read more…]

Chocolate Evening will benefit Agape House on May 9

Chocolate Desserts

Truffles, fudge, brownies, cake, and plenty of chocolate tastes to satisfy a sweet tooth will be offered at “An Evening of Everything Chocolate” on Saturday, May 9, in support of Agape House of Oak Ridge.

The evening, from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church will feature 10 tasting stations with a variety of chocolate culinary temptations, along with coffee and tea to wash them down.

Bakers and candy makers are invited to bring their best creations to the evening’s baking contest. For an entry fee of $10, bakers may enter any dessert containing chocolate, with celebrity judges tasting the entries and awarding a gold medal to the winning dessert. The dessert should contain eight servings. Contest judges will be caterer Judy Dodd, Oak Ridge City Council member Rick Chinn, and Oak Ridge School Board Chairman Keys Fillauer. [Read more…]

City, Schools Preschool Building Planning Committee to meet April 9

Oak Ridge Preschool and School Administration Building

The Oak Ridge City Council has agreed to use $150,000 in unspent red-light camera to repair the lead-based paint on the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool and Robert J. Smallridge School Administration Building on New York Avenue. Officials say the building needs to be renovated or vacated for the Head Start program to receive funding in the 2015-2016 school year. (File photo)

 

The new joint city-school committee that could lay the groundwork for a new preschool by the 2016-2017 school year will meet on Thursday, April 9.

The meeting of the Joint City/Schools Preschool Building Planning Committee will start at 1:30 p.m. April 9 in the School Administration Building conference room.

Members of the committee are Charlsey Cofer, Keys Fillauer, Bruce Borchers, Lee Ann Shelton, Jessica Hill, Allen Thacker, Mark Watson, Janice McGinnis, Ellen Smith, Shirley Raines, Pat Fallon, and Jon Hetrick.

The joint city-schools committee for the Preschool was endorsed earlier this year. For now, officials have agreed to use $150,000 in red-light camera money to repair the lead-based paint on the city’s Preschool, providing what officials hope will be a temporary fix while they develop a plan to permanently repair, replace, or move the Preschool. The city-school committee could work to determine space needs, develop an affordable finance plan, develop a project timetable, and make a public education plan.

School Board could make Preschool recommendation tonight

Charlsey Cofer and Oak Ridge City Council and School Board

Principal Charlsey Cofer, left, discusses the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool with Oak Ridge City Council members and City Manager Mark Watson, seated at table, during a Jan. 15 work session with the Oak Ridge Board of Education.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 12:25 p.m.

It’s been on the city’s wish list for decades, but city and school officials now appear closer to finding a solution to repairing or replacing the city’s preschool.

Officials said they’ve “kicked the can down the road” for years, but the discussion gained urgency after lead-based paint was found on the exterior of the 70-year-old building during a routine inspection in the spring of 2014. It could cost up to $150,000 to make repairs. Officials have characterized that as a Band-Aid or “last investment.”

“We’re going to have make a decision now, unfortunately, because of the paint,” said Keys Fillauer, Oak Ridge Board of Education chair. “The bottom line is: How are we going to pay for this?” [Read more…]

Fillauer named East director for state school board group

Keys Fillauer

Keys Fillauer

Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer has been named East director for the Tennessee School Board Association.

The TSBA announced its officers and directors for 2015 at the close of its recent annual convention in Nashville. [Read more…]

School board restores bus service this year

Oak Ridge School Bus Protest

A small group of parents and students protest the expanded “parent responsibility zone,” where bus service is not provided, before an Oak Ridge Board of Education meeting on Monday. The board agreed during the meeting to restore bus service to last year’s levels. Pictured above from left are Michelle Doka, Melanie Heiberg, Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, protest organizer Laurie Paine, and her daughter Kaitlan Paine.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. August 12.

After hearing impassioned pleas from parents and grandparents, the Oak Ridge school board on Monday temporarily restored bus service to about 1,300 students who had been affected by an expanded but controversial “parent responsibility zone.” Parents of students who lived within that zone were responsible for getting their children to and from schools; bus service was not provided.

The parent responsibility zone, or PRZ, was expanded to 1.5 miles in June as part of a move to reduce a $1.25 million budget deficit. But parents of elementary and middle school students, in particular, objected to having students as young as five years old cross busy four-lane roadways like Oak Ridge Turnpike or Illinois Avenue to get to school, or walk past the homes of registered sex offenders or down roads with no sidewalks.

Parents, including single mothers, also expressed concerns about losing their jobs because they have to leave work early to pick up their children. They also said the expanded parent responsibility zone, which some call a “walk zone,” had a disproportionate impact on low-income families and elementary school children. They were disappointed by a lack of crossing guards near their schools, where their children or grandchildren cross busy roads. (City officials say they are accepting applications for crossing guards.)

“This is too dangerous,” resident Regina Wood said. “The safest way to get these kids to school is a bus,” resident Bill Dodge said.

On Monday, after a series of protests that started in July, the Oak Ridge Board of Education agreed in a 4-1 vote to use $300,000 in one-time money from the school system’s fund balance to restore the bus routes this year and then study the issue comprehensively before the next school year—or try to obtain more funding. The Monday night vote essentially reverses the June decision.

The bus routes likely won’t be restored immediately however, and possibly not until October. Among other things, up to three school bus drivers might need to be hired for an additional six routes, and buses will have to be made “road ready.” Still, advocates of restoring bus service were pleased for now. [Read more…]

Number of students affected by bus route changes down to 1,300

Keys Fillauer and Chris Marczak at Girls Inc.

Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer, left, and Oak Ridge Schools Assistant Superintendent Chris Marczak say a Wednesday change in how mileage is calculated could reduce the number of students affected by a new “parent responsibility zone” for transportation from 1,800 to 1,300. Marczak says his family is also affected by the expanded zone, where bus service is not provided.

 

The Wednesday change in how bus service is mapped could help about 500 students, reducing the number of children affected by expanded zones where parents will have to provide transportation to schools from 1,800 to 1,300, officials said.

Those students would have been in the expanded 1.5-mile “parent responsibility zone,” where bus service is not provided and parents have to arrange transportation. The expanded parent responsibility zone, which is also sometimes called a PRZ or walk zone, was approved by school officials in June.

Oak Ridge school officials announced Wednesday that they were changing how the 1.5 miles is calculated, switching from a 1.5-mile radius measured by air (also known as “as the crow flies”) to actual walking distance. That means the expanded no-bus service zone will now affect fewer families. Parents called the change a small but positive step.

Even with the modification, though, parents continue to have concerns. The protests kicked into high gear last week, and some parents expressed concerns during a Wednesday evening meeting at Girls Inc. Among the concerns were children who have to cross busy roadways or pass by the homes of registered sex offenders.

“We are paying property taxes, and our children’s safety should come first,” parent Beverly Heun said. “Our transportation should not have been cut.” [Read more…]

Oak Ridge Schools walk zone expanded to 1.5 miles, could affect 1,800

Charlsey Cofer at Oak Ridge School Board Meeting

Oak Ridge Preschool Interim Principal Charlsey Cofer, left, says that cutting preschool transportation could result in fewer students, which would in turn result in less funding.

Note: This story was last updated at 3:15 a.m. June 25.

Starting this fall, bus service will no longer be offered to students who live within 1.5 miles of Oak Ridge schools. The move is expected to save $500,000. It’s part of a larger effort to reduce a $1.25 million deficit.

The expansion of the “parent responsibility zone” for school transportation was the largest change approved by the Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday. The 1.5-mile walk zone could affect 1,800 students, said Karen Gagliano, Oak Ridge Schools director of business and support services.

Other budget changes approved Monday include a delay in the purchase of textbooks, a move expected to save about $330,000, and a $123,000 reduction in the number of planned hires of technicians. The school system now expects more than $200,000 in additional revenue from state Basic Education Program funding and sales and property tax revenues.

A technology initiative known as 1:1 is no longer being considered as originally envisioned, and 2 percent pay raises for school staff members are off the table.

But the school board worked to save preschool transportation, a program that costs roughly $74,000 per year. Interim Preschool Principal Charlsey Cofer warned that cutting transportation for preschoolers could result in a drop in the number of students, which would in turn affect funding. She said about 170 students used the transportation last year out of more than 200 who were enrolled. [Read more…]

Woodland student pulled from water Saturday dies Monday, school official says

The fourth-grade student pulled from the water at Clark Center Park in Oak Ridge on Saturday afternoon died on Monday, a school official said.

Brayden Pearson was a student at Woodland Elementary School, said Keys Fillauer, Oak Ridge Board of Education chair. The school board observed a moment of silence for Pearson during a Monday evening meeting.

Pearson was found underwater while swimming with his family at a picnic area at the park around 4 p.m. Saturday, Oak Ridge Fire Department Chief Darryl Kerley said. He was not conscious, Kerley said.

CPR was started, and Pearson was flown by a Lifestar medical helicopter to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, where he had a pulse on Saturday afternoon and was moved into Intensive Care, Kerley said.

More information will be added as it becomes available.

In first vote this month, Council rejects schools request for tax increase

Oak Ridge City Council Budget Meeting

The Oak Ridge City Council rejected the school system’s request for a 37-cent tax rate increase on Monday, instead voting in the first of two votes this month to keep the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row.

Note: This story was last updated at 9:55 a.m. June 10.

In the first of two votes this month, the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday rejected a request from school officials for a 37-cent tax rate increase that would, among other things, help fund a technology initiative meant to eventually provide an electronic learning device or tablet to all students.

Council member Charlie Hensley said the tax increase would be the largest in the city’s history, and it came in late in the budget process.

The property tax rate is now $2.39 per $100 of assessed value. The increase would push it to $2.76, and it could cost the owner of a $200,000 home another $15 per month.

“I was looking to support a tax increase, but the one that we got asked for is really, really high,” Hensley said.

There was a two-part vote on the budget on Monday. The first reduced the amount transferred to the schools to roughly $14.6 million, which was about $3.3 million less than the school board had requested, and it kept the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row. The vote on that amendment was 5-2, with Hensley and Council member Chuck Hope voting no. [Read more…]

School budget proposals include cuts, tax hikes with varying benefits

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers presented three budget proposals for fiscal year 2015 to the school board on Wednesday. The proposals suggest that deep cuts will need to be made to attract new students, families, and staff to the district, and to keep those already here. Borchers introduced the proposals by stating that the district will be “tightening our belt.”

Students, families, and staff were the main theme of the budgets proposed on Wednesday. In fact, each was presented to show a different budget scenario that would lose, retain, or attract the group. The school board will review two budgets intended to retain and attract those groups, as well as a third expected to result in a loss of students, family, and staff. All of the budgets proposed generate revenue through expenditure cuts.

All three budget proposals suggest property tax rate increases to offset the cuts, with the rate hikes ranging from 14 to 57 cents.

With about $1.2 million in cost savings, the first proposal has the lowest budget target, and it was referred to as the “losing students-families-staff” budget. It proposed the fewest system-wide cuts, but still suggested that reductions are needed. Those expenditure cuts include increasing class sizes and reducing teaching positions and transportation services. Transportation reductions would increase the student “walk zone” to one mile and end preschool transportation altogether. This proposal would not be able to fund the district’s 1:1 device integration program.

The second budget, said to “retain students-families-staff,” is targeted to bring $3.7 million in revenue through cost savings. This budget would still make cuts to staff and transportation, but would allow the planned 1:1 device integration to begin, which would be cut from the “losing” budget. This budget allows a 2 percent wage raise system-wide, but still calls for staff reductions, including reducing the assistant principal position at Oak Ridge High School as well as extra-curricular stipends and staff development reductions. [Read more…]

School board approves balanced calendar

Oak Ridge Board of Education

The Oak Ridge Board of Education and school administrators are pictured above during a recent meeting.

Note: This story was last updated at 11:30 p.m.

The Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday approved a new balanced calendar for the 2015-2016 school year. The balanced calendar, which is different than the traditional school calendar, gives students about nine weeks of classroom instruction at a time. This will be the first time that Oak Ridge has had a balanced calendar.

The school board approved the change in a 4-1 vote on Monday. Board member Jenny Richter was opposed.

A separate motion to outsource substitute teachers died with little discussion.

The vote on the balanced calendar came after input from three community members who were opposed to the change from the traditional calendar, which is now being used at most Oak Ridge schools. The board discussed the calendars for nearly an hour before the vote. [Read more…]