High School Debt Payment 6 Months Past Due

The following is directed to the Oak Ridge Schools Administration and Board of Education and shared with the citizens of Oak Ridge:

In 2004, Oak Ridgers residing in Anderson County generously voted to increase the local sales tax rate from 2.25% to 2.75% in order to fund the high school project. The verbiage of that referendum states that “…the revenue from such increase shall be appropriated and expended for the purpose of funding and paying for construction, renovation, purchase of capital equipment, and/or retirement of school construction debt service for the Oak Ridge High School, and at such time as the high school debt service is paid in full, the sales tax proceeds collected as a result of this increase shall be distributed as prescribed by state law, except as modified or limited by statute become operative”

That debt service has not and will not be “paid in full” for well over 20 more years. However, I understand that you, the trustees of our school system, have refused to pay your monthly portion of the high school debt service since the beginning of this fiscal year, July 2011.

Your justification, as I recall from the budget discussions with the city this past summer, was based on a “verbal agreement” between the city and the schools. During this same discussion, and in spite of another verbal agreement in which the city was to provide the schools with a 1.1% increase in annual funding, you demanded over 6 times that much of the city. Fortunately, city council acted responsibly and declined both demands.

Now your attorney (Chuck Cagle) has admitted, in his letter dated October 7, 2011, to finding no such evidence of any verbal agreement. He goes on to state that there is “no formal, written, or legally-approved agreement to pay funds” and that he is of the opinion that “further fund transfers should not occur.” I encourage Mr. Cagle to consult the actual referendum that I have partially quoted above as it is absolutely a “legally-approved agreement.”

I think I understand wherein the confusion lies. If you will check with board member and treasurer Angi Agle’s  blog, citizennetmom.com, dated April 14, 2006 you will find reference to the mystery agreement. She states: “Two years ago when Oak Ridge voters overwhelmingly approved a sales tax referendum to fund the note on reconstructing Oak Ridge High School, there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” with county officials to not supersede the tax rate for a period of five years.” So, it appears that there was an agreement. That agreement, however, was with the county, not the city. And that agreement did not release the schools from their obligation.

As Mr. Cagle also alludes to in his letter, Anderson County did what it was legally allowed (and expected) to do when it superseded the city and began collecting its due portion of the increased tax rate. However, they redirect those funds back through the Oak Ridge school system who are obligated (according to the original referendum) to render to the city for their portion ($750,000 per year) of the $2.1 million annual debt service.

Mr. Tom Bailey, Mr. Ken Green, Mrs. Karen Gagliano, Ms. Angi Agle, Mr. Dan DiGregorio, Mr. Bob Eby, Ms. Jenny Richter and Mr. Keys Fillauer: Please explain to the taxpayers of this city how you can justify 6 months of delinquency on your payments. Where is our $375,000 and why are you refusing to uphold your obligation to the expressed, legally binding wishes of the taxpayer?

Trina Baughn


1 Comment

  1. Ms. Agle’s response to my column can be found here:

    The fact that our elected officials, including Ms. Agle, believe that they can circumvent the legally binding referendum with “handshakes” and verbal agreements is indicative of either complete disregard for their constituency or complete incompetency for the roles they fill. Let me correct that. It is indicative of both.

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