On April 10th, with little more than 45 minutes worth of discussion, the Oak Ridge School Board voted unanimously to adopt Dr. Bailey’s proposed budget. Contained within this proposal is a huge change to transportation that will hopefully provide equal access to all children for bus service. I emphasize hopefully because, at this point, it is far from a done deal.
My position remains unchanged that crossing guards and equal access for all children to transportation are the two most important and effective actions that will protect the most children en route to and from school. And while it may seem that we are on the verge of finally achieving the second of these goals, I have serious concerns about the manner in which the transportation issue has been handled. These concerns give me cause to doubt that the safest, most beneficial solution will be attained.
I’ll explain as briefly as I can. For the last couple of months, a number of concerned citizens have attempted to work with the schools to not only understand the budget constraints they claim but also to work towards the common goal of providing bus service for all. Questions were posed to the school business director, the superintendent and the board. Many were answered; however, many were not.
Several involved, intelligent individuals have pointed out the mathematical flaws in the school’s budgeting practices – be it from the supposed $300K savings they claimed last year, but never explained or from the discrepancies on seemingly simple things like the number of buses they have or the amount of drivers they would need to implement consolidated routes. It’s no wonder the press has gotten so many facts wrong, when even those of us so intimately involved can’t get straight answers.
Some of these citizens participated in the transportation committee commissioned by Bailey. Unfortunately, as a few of us suspected, this appears to have been a wasted effort used as a stalling tactic. Since, instead of allowing this committee (50% of whom were school employees or officials) to develop and propose a plan, school officials presented them with plans and stifled members whenever hard questions were posed.
In the end, with less than 24 hours notice to the committee, the schools changed direction by foregoing the bustodian plan and opting for contracting the services out instead. This option was proposed to the board before adequate time was provided for consideration, no less a vote, by the committee and was subsequently accepted as a part of the proposed budget without any real data to support the cost savings so highly touted.
So, here we are a year later and the schools are still trying to shirk responsibility by avoiding full disclosure and by attempting to pass transportation on to a contractor which will be virtually impossible to hold accountable. All in the name of supposed savings and, in spite of overwhelming public outcry to make our children’s safety a bigger priority. Given their past and present actions, I have little faith that they are acting in the best interest of our children. I hope I’m wrong.
For those who are interested, multiple bids are due in by April 23rd. There will then be a meeting on the proposal(s) on April 30th in the School Administration Building from 4:00-6:00p.m.