How Bad Do You Want It?

And they’re off!!!! The local election is now in full swing and I am excited about what is to come. Last night, the school board candidates participated in a highly informative forum that Netmom kindly summarized here.

This town is prime for change. But like anything worth having, we’ll have to work for it. Essential to that work is knowledge. People need to know the severity of the situation:

1. Oak Ridge Schools outspend every school system in TN (as well as the national average) at $11,794 per ADA – greatly exceeding the state average of $8,345.

2. From 1998-2008, enrollment is down 7%, expenditures are up nearly 50% and staffing is up 5%.

3. Every year, the schools claim to be in greater need of funding; they approach the city with this claim as well as the claim that they never know how much they will receive from the state or the federal government. While this uncertainty may be true, as Mayor Beehan has pointed out, almost every year, after the city approves their budget, they receive more funds than they budgeted for. For example, from the most recent audit highlights: “At year-end, the schools’ governmental funds reported combined ending fund balances of $3,361,956, of which $2,926,104 is available for spending at the School’s discretion”

4. For the last two years, the schools claim that they have actually decreased their budget. However, that is a misleading statement. From the May 4th City Council Meeting SB Budget Presentation: 2010 Grand Total Funds Projection = $79K more than 2009. This does not include the anticipated stimulus money they will get which could be up to $400K, as John Smith confirmed in the last 2 meetings with the school board.

5. Some of our recent failures include a steady decline in the Newsweek rankings (of high schools based on the Challenge Index) for the last 6 years from 256 to 929.

6. In 07/08 Oak Ridge High School joined 139 other TN schools (some 8%) with a “high priority” Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status. What this essentially means is that we failed No Child Left Behind because of our graduation rate. The 08/09 figures show a great improvement, but we still fell short.

7. Third, in 2007, U.S. News and World Reports produced its own ranking of America’s Best High Schools with the goal of determining which schools “set the best example of how to prepare students to achieve their post-graduation goals.” With over 18,700 schools analyzed from only 40 states, 32 Tennessee schools made bronze or better. Some East TN schools that made the grade include Gatlinburg, Halls, Oakdale, and Morristown. Missing from the list all together? Oak Ridge.

8. ORHS offers roughly 181 courses. Of those, 9 are Remedial/Developmental Course Offerings (including Gateway prep courses) compared to 63 Total honors/AP/College Level Courses.

For these reasons and many more, it is critical that we elect leaders who will get us out of this quagmire and provide our schools the momentum needed to move us upward and onward.

But there’s more to it. One cannot disregard the statistics of the situation. After weeks of information gathering, I’ve concluded that if Eby garners enough votes to mirror the perception he has created in public support up to this point, then statistically, a vote for Eby = a vote for Richter. Here’s why. DiGregorio will take the lion’s share as he did his first go round as a non-incumbent due, in part, to his popularity with multiple generations of students. If that happens, the two under dogs, Soldano and Fellner, will split enough votes to leave Richter heavy enough to win. Folks, that combination is NOT change.

I will share more in the coming days, but I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that real change will come from looking forward, not in the past. That’s why Trina Baughn will be voting for the three people who I am convinced will lead us in the right direction:
John Soldano, Brenda Fellner and Dan DiGregorio.

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