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…]

ORHS students work on branding, design ideas with mall redevelopment company

ORHS Students Work on Mall Redevelopment

Standing from left to right are Buddy McWilliams, Payne Adkins, Abigail Clanton, and Chris Giese. Seated from left to right are Wesley Robinson and Alex Tavangaran. (Photo courtesy J. Clint LaFollette)

Submitted

For three classes at Oak Ridge High School, the future of the old Oak Ridge Mall property is something the students are taking personally. Nearly 60 students in the Digital Arts and Design and Virtual Enterprise classes have been working on a branding strategy for the once-thriving retail site, and their top ideas will be presented to Crosland Southeast, the Charlotte-based firm that has been working with the City of Oak Ridge to develop a plan to establish a multi-use work-live-play-shop destination.

“It has been an exciting project to work on, because there have been several attempts to revitalize this property, and all have failed due to, among other things, the lack of focus on the specific interest of Oak Ridge residents,” said Buddy McWilliams, an ORHS senior who is working on the project. “Crosland Southeast has shown that they want to be successful by looking at the interest of students and others who will be using the property.”

Crosland Southeast approached Oak Ridge School Board Chairman Keys Fillauer with the idea to work with the students, and an enthusiastic Fillauer discussed it with ORHS Principal David Bryant and teachers Linda Ousley and Clint Lafollette, and the project was off and running.

Ousley is the facilitator of the school’s Virtual Enterprise program. Ousley said that Crosland Southeast will get a good cross-section of Oak Ridge opinion by talking with the students, and the students are getting excellent experience they can use on their future resumes. [Read more…]

Low bid on Blankenship bleachers: $524,000

Blankenship Field Visitors Bleachers

Deemed to be unsafe, the visitors bleachers at Blankenship Field have been removed, and replacing them could cost more than $500,000.

The low bid on the bleacher replacement project at Blankenship Field came in at $523,940, a school official said Friday.

The bid on the project to replace the demolished visitor bleachers includes grading work and a handicap sidewalk at Jack Armstrong Stadium. Proposals were accepted through Friday. The recommended proposal from Dant Clayton Corp. of Louisville, Ky., will be considered by the Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday.

Allen Thacker, Oak Ridge Schools maintenance and operations supervisor, said the project could cost another $40,000 if the Wildcat Crossing stairs on the home side of the field are reconditioned. That would make the total cost $563,940. It was the lowest of two qualified bids.

Thacker said funding for the project has not yet been identified. It’s been discussed at several recent meetings of the Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education. Municipal and education officials have said options include city funding, school funding, a mix of the two, and donations. Earlier this month, School Board Chair Keys Fillauer told City Council that a funding decision could be made Monday. [Read more…]

Schools seek bids to replace demolished Blankenship bleachers

Blankenship Field Visitors Bleachers

Declared unsafe, the visitors bleachers at Blankenship Field have been removed, and the project to replace them has been put out for bids.

The visitors bleachers at Blankenship Field have been demolished, and the Oak Ridge Schools are scurrying to replace them by the start of the high school football season this fall.

Project bids are being accepted through March 21, although it’s not clear yet who will pay for the new bleachers and other improvements at Jack Armstrong Stadium. The bids could be considered by the Oak Ridge Board of Education on March 24.

The board could also make a funding decision then, School Board Chair Keys Fillauer told Oak Ridge City Council members during a Monday night meeting. There are a range of options that include city funding, school funding, and donations, among others. [Read more…]

Guest column: The Oak Ridge High School debt chronicles

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The Oak Ridge High School Debt Chronicles—How a $40 Million Project Will Cost Taxpayers Over $126 Million (So Far) 

It appears that the nearly three-year long debate between the Oak Ridge City Council and the Board of Education (BOE) over who owes what on the high school renovation project—the single largest financial expenditure that this city has ever made—is about to be resolved once and for all (or so some hope). To many, this will provide a welcomed relief. For all, it will once again extend and increase a debt obligation far beyond what anyone ever imagined.

Just over one week after the initial public revealing, council will vote on a resolution to end the debate on the high school mortgage issue. The root problem that this resolution will address is not ambiguity in the 2004 referendum or in any “gentlemen’s agreements.” No, the reason that this resolution is necessary, according to the fifth “Whereas,” is “changing community economics and increasing educational needs.”  The need for this resolution, which will violate the original understanding and intent of the 2004 referendum, boils down to an implied need by the Oak Ridge schools for more money.

If passed, this resolution will allow the BOE to retain the portion of the half-cent sales tax revenues collected outside of the City of Oak Ridge and will accomplish the following: [Read more…]

TAs unite in opposition to outsourcing proposal as schools consider changes

Oak Ridge TA Outsourcing Teachers and Parents

Stacey Callison, left, says teaching assistants play important roles in the education of her children, and she thinks Oak Ridge Schools should seek another solution before outsourcing their jobs.

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

Teaching assistants have been united, and sometimes fierce, in their opposition to a proposal to outsource their jobs to a private company, and on Monday, Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers said administrators might have to “go back to the drawing board.”

The outsourcing proposal began as an attempt to help the school system comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act and to avoid potentially large fines of up to $1.2 million for errors that might be made in following the new federal health care law.

But in the second half of a 3.5-hour school board meeting on Monday, teachers, teaching assistants, family members, and parents said the TAs would be concerned about their health care and retirement benefits if they were to become employees of PESG of Nashville. The 10 speakers also questioned the benefits of outsourcing in general, and they praised the work of Oak Ridge’s teaching assistants. [Read more…]