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.
While I cannot agree with your position that raising taxes will attract new families, as the mother of an Oak Ridge High School graduate and a current Linden Lion, I agree wholeheartedly with your goal of continuously improving to serve all students. As your presentation points out, we are approaching a 50 percent economically disadvantaged population. Obviously, increasing our spending will put those very people at an even greater financial disadvantage.
Rather than further burdening our citizens, let’s explore alternatives by learning from comparable, high-quality systems that operate more efficiently. Maryville, for example, spends 20 percent less per pupil ($9,823), has 13 percent more students, the same number of teachers and only 21 administrators to our 31. Their overall graduation rate is 94.7 percent to our 85.4 percent, and they have an 89.2 percent graduation rate among their economically disadvantaged students to our 78.4 percent.
You all certainly know better than I, but the data suggests that Maryville knows something we don’t. Could we not spare teachers, teacher assistants, and the services that our poorer families rely upon (transportation and the Family Resource Center) if we followed their lead and cut down on administrators?
At over $90,000 each, we are spending nearly $3 million on administrators and over $750,000 for their administrative assistants. As valuable as they all are, they cannot possibly have a more direct impact on our students than our teachers and aides. Please consider reviewing these and other non-critical positions before carrying through with some of your proposed cuts.
Finally, I received a copy of your budget presentation through the schools’ email system. It contains a few statements that warrant clarification. If this information was disseminated to all Oak Ridge School families, I trust that you will want to send out a correction email to avoid the appearance of presenting false or misleading information.
First, slide 41 alludes to previous budgetary cuts in the amount of $3.4 million. Since total school spending has increased 36% ($15.4 million) in the last 10 years,* if left unqualified, parents may wrongly interpret this to mean that spending has been reduced.
Second, in slide 22, you cite the TEA as your source for salary information. However, their data of Oak Ridge average teacher salaries ($36,407) greatly contradicts that of the Tennessee Department of Education which places us at the very top of the scale with an average teacher salary currently being $58,846.
While we may have our differences, I believe that we share common ground in our desires for our students and the future of our city. I thank you all for your time and your continued service to our community, and I look forward to working with you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss further.
Trina Baughn is an Oak Ridge City Council member.
* Oak Ridge School Budgets (see 2007 Budget for 2004 audit figures):
2014 ORS Budget Amendment (pdf page 71):