The front page of the January 25th edition of the Oak Ridger presented an interesting juxtaposition of news. One article informs the public that the Oak Ridge School Board and Administration intends on pushing the city to fund an “emergency capital repair project” in the amount of nearly $700K to fund structural repairs at Woodland Elementary. Next to that article is a picture of a groundbreaking ceremony for a new soccer complex that is to be funded (in part or all is unclear) by a local business. The amount of that project is not revealed, but one can deduce that it will cost between $100K-$999K based on the statement that “the project was within a six-figure range.”
Interestingly enough, the planning commission submitted its prioritization of capital improvement needs to the city council this week. It will come as no surprise to anyone that, just as they have done for many years, they included the need for a new preschool building. The price tag this time is projected to be $10.5 million. Another $8.8 million has been included as a future placeholder for a new school administration building.
Wasn’t it just a few months ago that the BOE and administration demanded a 7.32% budget increase of the city to pay for $3.7 million in “technology initiatives?” And wasn’t it just a few months earlier that the education foundation (of which Bailey and Green are members) donated $350K to pay for non-instructional, non-essential software?
Anyone else starting to feel like we are living in the movie Groundhog Day? For the last ten years, we seem to be caught up in this endless cycle of spending tremendous amounts of money and time studying the need for both a preschool and a senior center while foundations and businesses happily (and partially) fund projects that weren’t even on the radar of the planning commission. I seem to recall that our $61million high school project, which wasn’t a CIP priority, sailed right through any and all potential red tape in just a few short years.
But let’s turn to where the bulk of our tax dollars go. According to the school budget, 80% of their funding pays for staff. A little digging into Oak Ridger archives reveals that staff turnover is at nearly 50% in the Bailey/Green/Gagliano era. Since 2002, Bailey and Green have hired in 232 different teachers. They currently employ a total of 347 teachers. They’ve replaced at least 11 of 19 psychologists and counselors and 20 of 24 administrative slots (i.e. principals, directors, etc.). With all of this turnover, one might expect our budget to have stabilized or even decreased at some point. Instead, it has increased by nearly 50% while enrollment has steadily declined.
Oak Ridger’s fund 53.4% of the school budget compared to the state average of 38.7%. We continue to outspend the entire state at $12,112 per pupil compared to the state average of $9,084. Half of your taxes pay for schools but do you know whose taxes are NOT funding our schools? Mr. Tom Bailey, your superintendent. In fact, he hasn’t paid his mandated share of property tax in Oak Ridge since he sold his home on June 21, 2011. Whose school system does Mr. Bailey’s property tax fund? Glastonbury, CT. That’s where he bought a half-million dollar home on June 17, 2011.
All of this spending begs the question: Are we getting what we are paying for?
Let me answer a question with another question. Would you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for your child to go to an ivy league school and continue to do so for 5 or even 10 years? Would you do it if they were making D’s and F’s?
That is essentially where Mr. Tom Bailey, Mr. Ken Green and Mrs. Karen Gagliano have taken us over the last decade. According to the most recent TN DOE Report Card, nearly half of our schools are on the No Child Left Behind target list and our graduation rate has dropped to 87.5%. This makes the fifth time in the last 6 years that we are missing the state minimum.
If the big picture isn’t ugly enough, try digging into the weeds. Only 54% of our K-8 students tested proficient or better in Math; only 65% tested proficient or better in reading. Furthermore, 70% of our high school students tested proficient or better in math and 84% in reading. For all of Linden, WillowBrook, Woodland and Robertsville Middle Schools, the highest percentage of students to achieve proficiency or better for either subject is 66%. Of 14 total subjects/schools, only 5 are scored above 70% and 6 scored less than 55%.
People we aren’t talking about statistics. We are talking about our kids. My kids. Your kids. Pardon my language, but what the hell has happened to our schools? What are they doing with our money? More importantly, what are we, the people footing the bill, going to do about it?
You know, it’s not fun to air our dirty laundry to the world and I certainly don’t enjoy it. But ignoring a problem does not make it go away. It only makes it worse.
On February 6th, the city council and the BOE will hold a joint work session. The mayor has stated that the top priority of this meeting will be to resolve the problem of the schools refusing to pay their portion of the high school mortgage ($750K per year). Please plan to attend and see for yourself what is going on. We’ve got to start speaking up collectively for our kids and our future. Supporting data is provided below. Additional steps on what you can do to initiate an immediate course correct will be forthcoming.
2011 TN Report Card
Scores cited were pulled from the NCLB (AYP) tabs for both the systems and the individual schools. The data I’ve extracted is from the middle set of columns, 3rd from the end in most if not all cases.
The 2011 graduation rate is located at the bottom of the page from the Attendance & Graduation Tab.
Oak Ridge Property Tax Data:
BAILEY THOMAS E & SUSAN 100 WILDCAT LANE
Glastonbury, CT Property Data:
Enter Glastonbury, Bailey and skip to page 6
The following is one of the original letters from ORPSEF regarding the $350K software purchase. Though they put out a number of letters requesting public support to make the purchase, it was later revealed that the software had already been purchased and installed before the foundation publicly solicited funding.