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, trinabaughn.com.

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...]

Parents protest ‘walk zone,’ expanded area with no school bus service

Kathie Creasey at Walk Zone Protest

Kathie Creasey, right, holds a sign during Thursday’s protest against Oak Ridge Schools’ expanded parent responsibility zone. The zone change eliminates transportation services for students who live within 1.5 miles of their school. (Photo by Sara Wise)

 

Critics of Oak Ridge Schools’ expanded parent responsibility zone protested Thursday morning at the intersection of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue.

Laurie Paine, who lost her daughter, Ashley, at the intersection in 2007, joined almost 15 other parents and community members to rally for change.

“I don’t want anyone to go through what my family went through,” Paine said. She started a Facebook page to unite community members who were against the walk zone and used that website to spread the word of the protest.

Robertsville Middle School parent Kathie Creasey became emotional at the protest, saying that her own son was close to Ashley. She was protesting because she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her kids. [Read more...]

In final vote, City Council again rejects tax increase for schools

Oak Ridge City Council Budget Meeting

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday again said “no” to a property tax rate increase to give more money to Oak Ridge Schools. Council is pictured above during a June 9 budget meeting.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. June 17.

Two last-minute attempts to pass smaller-than-requested tax increases for the Oak Ridge Schools failed on Monday, and the City Council voted 4-2 to approve a budget that does not raise taxes in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The decision to not raise taxes for the seventh year in a row came after a parade of residents in two meetings this month asked Council to fully fund the schools. Many said they moved here because of the schools, and they said the educational system is Oak Ridge’s primary asset. School teachers, administrators, and school board members also said they support a greater investment in the schools.

“Flatline budgets will eventually produce flatline results,” said Steve Reddick, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Jefferson Middle School and co-president of the Oak Ridge Education Association.

The schools had requested $17.9 million from the city, but the no-tax-increase budget lowered that amount to $14.6 million. School officials had previously said they will have to “go back to the drawing board” and make cuts if Council did not approve the tax rate increase. It’s not clear yet what cuts might be made. The Oak Ridge Board of Education could discuss changes to the school system’s budget, which was approved in May, during a Monday evening meeting.

[Read more...]

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...]

Guest column: 2015 school budget considerations

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

I have reviewed your budget proposals and would like to share my thoughts for consideration in your final deliberations. I should clarify that because our charter forbids City Council, as a body, from “modifying or deleting any item in school estimates,” my statements do not reflect the opinions of my fellow council members.

As you know, we are blessed to live in a community that actively and generously supports education. Not only do we rank fifth in the state for our level of local funding (54 percent), but, at $12,075 per pupil, we continue to outspend the state average of $9,293 and the national average of $11,068.

Our generosity, however, has taken a toll that we can no longer ignore. Having the third highest tax rate ($4.74) in the area has been counterproductive to attracting new residents. One need only look to the phenomenal growth in Farragut, whose property tax rate is less than half of ours ($2.32), to appreciate the negative impact of our high taxes. [Read more...]

City to use traffic camera money for parking lot work at Blankenship Field

Red-light Camera at Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue

The Oak Ridge City Council agreed last week to use $180,000 in traffic camera money for improvements to the lower parking at Blankenship Field.

 

The Oak Ridge City Council agreed last week in a 5-2 vote to use $180,000 in traffic camera money for improvements to the lower parking lot at Blankenship Field, which is used for football games and high school graduation.

The request from Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan was reviewed at a City Council work session on April 28.

The work could include resurfacing work at the lower parking lot and access to the lower levels and visitors bleachers under the American with Disabilities Act. The project has been reviewed by the city staff, and it could include resurfacing, ADA improvements, handicapped parking, and new pavement and striping.

The work would complement a project to replace the demolished visitors bleachers at Blankenship Field, a $455,000 project that was unanimously approved by the Oak Ridge Board of Education in March. The bleachers had been deemed unsafe, and school officials are hoping to replace them before the first home football game on Aug. 29. The school board agreed to use the school system’s fund balance to pay for the replacement bleachers. [Read more...]

Guest column: Baughn’s budget recommendations to city manager

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The following are my 2015 budget recommendations to the city manager:

Mr. Watson,

I commend you for your willingness to reduce spending in your formulation of the Fiscal Year 2015 city budget. This approach is essential to making Oak Ridge more attractive to prospective residents and businesses.

As you know, Oak Ridge has the third highest city/county property tax rate in East Tennessee at $4.74. What you may not realize is this year, the city of Knoxville dropped below us in these rankings with a combined city/county rate of $4.71 while the majority of Knox Countians still pay less than half of our rate at $2.32.

In response to your request for council suggestions, I encourage you to set a very obtainable goal. That is, reduce our total budget by .05 percent ($90,000) and return those monies to the taxpayers in the amount of a one-cent tax rate reduction. The following are my suggestions for accomplishing this goal. [Read more...]

Lee keeps seat on housing board despite Council member’s removal request

Anne Garcia Garland, Trina Baughn, and Chuck Hope

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday rejected a request to remove resident Joe Lee from a city housing board. Pictured above at left is Council member Anne Garcia Garland, who made the request. Also pictured are Council members Trina Baughn and Chuck Hope.

Note: This story was last updated at 11:20 p.m.

Those who wanted to remove Joe Lee from a municipal housing board said he had shown contempt for Oak Ridge City Council members, insulted traffic camera critics, embarrassed the city, and bullied others.

But those who wanted to keep him on the board said Lee ought to be given a second chance. They said he had performed well on the board—the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals—particularly when considering the city’s code violation cases against the Applewood Apartments.

On Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council rejected the request to remove Lee from the board. The proposal failed in a 2-4 vote.

Voting in favor of the removal were Council members Anne Garcia Garland and Trina Baughn. Voting against it were Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller and Council members Charlie Hensley, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby. [Read more...]

Board orders demolition of five homes in Highland View

117 Wade Lane Home

A city board on Thursday declared this home at 117 Wade Lane to be unfit for human habitation and ordered it demolished within 90 days.

Note: This story was updated at 11:40 p.m.

From the outside, the homes look they’re in decent shape and not the worst in the neighborhood.

But inside and underneath, problems range from collapsing floors and settling foundations to leaking roofs and tens of thousands worth of mold damage.

On Thursday, a city board declared the five vacant homes to be unfit for human habitation, and members ordered them demolished within 90 days. The city could use federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to buy and demolish the homes. [Read more...]

Council does not extend traffic camera contract

Traffic Camera at Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue

The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the traffic camera contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz., on Monday, and the current five-year contract expires April 21.

Note: This story was last updated at 8:30 a.m. March 25.

After five years, some vigorous opposition, and a few contentious meetings, the traffic cameras in Oak Ridge will be removed. The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the five-year contract with the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, on Monday.

The vote to extend the contract for two years with a few changes was 3-4.

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller, and Council member Charlie Hensley voted in favor of the extension. Council members Trina Baughn, Anne Garcia Garland, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby voted “no.” The current contract expires April 21.

Among the proposed changes, if an extension had been granted, were mobile units, different camera locations, and a new revenue split between the city and Redflex.

[Read more...]

School Board, City Council resolve high school debt dispute

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt appeared to have majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

Despite opposition from a few residents and municipal officials, the Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education have resolved a dispute over Anderson County sales tax revenues and debt payments for the $66 million renovation of Oak Ridge High School.

The dispute, which started several years ago, centered on how to use the Oak Ridge school system’s portion of Anderson County sales tax revenues generated by a tax increase approved by county voters in a 2006 referendum. School officials had argued that they could keep their share of the revenues generated in the county outside of Oak Ridge, while city officials had said all the revenues, whether collected inside the city or outside of it, should be used for high school debt payments.

A resolution unanimously approved by the school board in February and the City Council in a 5-2 vote on Monday, March 3, allows the schools to keep its portion of the new Anderson County revenues collected outside the city. However, the resolution spells out how the money has to be spent: on technology enhancements, debt reduction, capital repairs and equipment, and grant matches and innovative educational projects. [Read more...]