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: 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...]

School walk zones changed to actual walking distance, rather than ‘as crow flies’

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

Parents of Oak Ridge students have been expressing concerns that the new 1.5-mile walk zones approved in June were based on a 1.5-mile air radius (“as the crow flies”) rather than actual walking distances.

On Wednesday, Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers announced that school officials were changing the calculation of the walk zone to actual walking distance for 1.5 miles “as the crow flies. The change is expected to cost $200,000.

Here’s the statement from Borchers: [Read more...]

Roane Chamber has candidate forum Tuesday evening

Roane State Community College Harriman Campus

The Roane County Chamber has a candidate forum on Tuesday evening at Roane State Community College in Harriman, pictured above.

The Roane County Chamber has a candidate forum on Tuesday evening. It will feature candidates for Roane County executive, sheriff, Roane County Commission in District 4 (Oliver Springs), and Democratic and Republican candidates for Tennessee House of Representatives.

The forum will also feature candidates for County Commission, School Board, and City Council in Harriman, Kingston, and Rockwood.

The forum starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Roane State Community College’s O’Brien Theatre at 276 Patton Lane in Harriman. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the forum is expected to last until about 8:30 p.m. [Read more...]

School board to consider revised budget

The Oak Ridge Board of Education will consider revising the budget it approved in May because, in two meetings this month, the City Council did not approve a 37-cent property tax rate increase that school officials had requested. The rate hike would have helped fund a 2 percent pay raise, hire technology personnel and other staff, comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and start rolling out a technology initiative known as 1:1.

But City Council members wanted to hold the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row, and they passed a budget that does not include a tax increase.

Tonight’s school board meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the School Administration Building at 304 New York Ave. See the agenda here.

School board to consider revised budget proposal on Monday

Oak Ridge Board of Education

The Oak Ridge Board of Education and school administrators are pictured above during a meeting earlier this year. (File photo)

The Oak Ridge City Council did not want to raise the property tax rate, so the Oak Ridge Board of Education could consider cuts to next year’s school budget during a Monday evening meeting

The school board passed a budget in May that requested a 37-cent property tax rate increase to start rolling out a technology initiative known as 1:1, hire technology personnel and other staff, comply with the reporting requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, and give employees a 2 percent pay raise, among other things.

But in two meetings this month, the Oak Ridge City Council rejected any change to the tax rate, and it will remain unchanged for the seventh year in a row. [Read more...]

Letter: Urge City Council, residents to invest in schools

Dear members of City Council and fellow citizens:

We are writing this letter in response to the Fiscal Year 2015 budget decisions made during the June 9 Oak Ridge City Council meeting. The Council’s overwhelming vote to maintain property tax rates at the same rate they have held steady at since 2009 may bode well for the short-term pocketbooks of our residents, but the long-term results are disconcerting and disheartening for many.

City Council is alienating the tax base that it needs to nurture. The young professionals, business owners, and families with school-aged children who once flocked to this city but now trickle must be heard by Council. These families have the disposable income to spend in Oak Ridge stores, and will pay the property taxes for decades to come that will keep this city viable. Yet at this Council meeting, our voices were not truly heard.

The argument that we continue to hear is that “our schools have plenty of money” and that the schools “need to learn to live within their budget.” The Oak Ridge Schools have proven that they can do this, but what is the cost of this attitude? How does this foster a strong relationship with not only the schools and their employees, but the families and students? How can the Schools continue to maintain excellence without, at the very least, inflationary and cost of living increases, when really it takes much more? [Read more...]

City recommends budget with no tax increase, Council votes Monday

Oak Ridge City Council

The Oak Ridge City Council is pictured above during an August 2013 meeting. (File photo)

Note: This story was updated at 7:40 p.m. June 4.

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson on Monday recommended a budget that does not raise the property tax rate, setting up a potential conflict with school officials, who have requested a 37-cent tax increase to avoid cuts.

The Oak Ridge Board of Education already approved its budget in in two meetings last week. That budget, which was scaled back from an earlier proposal, could include an extra $3.3 million to start implementing a technology initiative known as 1:1 that would provide electronic learning devices to all students over three years, add five technology positions, and give 2 percent pay raises to staff.

But the budget is still subject to the amount appropriated to the schools by the city. Oak Ridge provides a little less than one-third of the school system’s funding.

While the schools have approved a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the city has not. The Oak Ridge City Council will consider the municipal budget in two separate meetings this month, one on June 9 and the second on June 16. The city budget also includes a 2 percent pay raise for employees.

It’s not clear that Oak Ridge City Council members will agree to raise taxes to accommodate the school system’s request. In his budget presentation to Council on Monday, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said Council members have endorsed keeping the tax rate unchanged for the seventh year in a row.

[Read more...]

Letter: Will not vote for tax increase, wants better communication with schools

Note: This is a copy of a June 2 letter from Oak Ridge City Council member Anne Garcia Garland to Parker Hardy and members of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce. 

Dear Chamber:

The Oak Ridge City Council has always supported the needs and beyond of the city school system. This current council has lived in that tradition. We honor and appreciate our students and our teachers and have voted to provide whatever can reasonably be provided. We have also weathered the annual School Board predictions of educational catastrophe if the increased budget projections are not allocated.

This town depends upon the base of education and economic largesse of its original homeowners at the beginning of the 1950s for its sense of pride and place in academia. It is, however, that early well-being and the growth and optimism of the early post-war years which have created a myth of extraordinary wealth and erudition with which we are burdened today. Our reality is that we are a lovely small Southern town with great diversity of education, income, and opinion. We are neither young nor old, rich nor poor, progressive nor conservative. We are all of these descriptions and many between.

This town created a wonderful culture and honored its natural environment in such an outstanding manner that it has attracted citizens from neighboring counties to live and work here. Perhaps because we did not have a large stock of new or above-average priced homes, we have not attracted a large number of the professional transferees to the federal facilities in the past couple decades. After all, “youngish” professionals selling homes in more expensive markets need the tax protection of buying comparably priced homes in this area. [Read more...]

In budget talks, school board considers smaller rollout of technology initiative

Oak Ridge Board of Education

The Oak Ridge Board of Education asked for a smaller rollout of a technology initiative in budget talks that will resume Wednesday evening. (File photo)

The Oak Ridge school board devoted most of its Tuesday night meeting to reviewing the proposed budget for next year, but members haven’t voted on it yet. Instead, the board has asked school administrators to bring back a budget that has a smaller rollout of a technology initiative known as 1:1, and the discussions will resume Wednesday evening.

The board agreed that the 1:1 integration is necessary, but they had reservations about how exactly to roll out the electronic devices to students. Several board members said they support the addition of the new technology, but they are unable to completely stand behind the changes because of the costs.

Board members spent nearly two hours going through expenditures Tuesday and discussing the changes they thought were needed before they would feel comfortable sending the budget to the Oak Ridge City Council.

“It includes some things that I’m not sure I’m ready to support,” said board member Jenny Richter. She suggested implementing a rollout among a smaller number of students at first so that “we can learn from our own experience and meet the whole thing halfway.” She said she could support the budget with modifications to the technology initiative. [Read more...]

School board considers budget on first reading

The Oak Ridge Board of Education could consider the school budget on first reading this evening.

The regular meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in the School Administration Building at 304 New York Ave.

The board could also consider the budget during a work session at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The board is expected to consider the budget on second and final reading at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.