The following represents an unofficial account of the single item discussed and voted upon during the September 17, 2013 City Council Special Called Meeting. The complete agenda packet as well as a video of the meeting can be viewed here. Draft meeting minutes will be posted at the city website, most likely, as part of the October 14th Regular Meeting Agenda packet.
A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING A ONE-TIME TRANSFER NOT TO EXCEED $250,000 FROM THE CITY OF OAK RIDGE GENERAL FUND TO THE OAK RIDGE SCHOOLS. Passed 4-1-1 with Beehan, Hope, Miller and Hensley voting “Aye,” Baughn voting “Nay” and Garcia Garland abstaining. Mosby was absent.
NOTE: You can read more about the history of the high school debt debacle by clicking on the “ORS High School Debt” tag located at the bottom of this post.
My comments were as follows:
I was fully prepared to do whatever it took to avoid a shutdown of our schools. I am disappointed to find that the Board of Education’s claims are unfounded. The documentation they have provided this council does not support the claim that the state will permit our BOE to shut the schools down nor that they will withhold $1.87 M per month. The Oak Ridge Board of Education DOES NOT, NOR HAS IT EVER, had the authority to close our schools.
At over $12K per student, the notion that the most heavily-funded school system in our state is on the brink of collapse is preposterous.
This really is not about Maintenance of Effort. By all the evidence presented, this was a manufactured crisis. It began two years ago, when the BOE, citing a gentleman’s agreement, chose to renege on their high school mortgage obligation. It culminated this past summer, when, for the first time since the referendum, the schools chose to report the sales tax monies, meant for the high school debt, as revenues. The result artificially impacted the Maintenance of Effort formula.
The charter obligates council to fund our schools yet it leaves us powerless to ensure accountability of how those funds are budgeted and ultimately spent. Though this resolution states that it is a one-time transfer, there is nothing preventing the schools from reporting it to the state as revenues that impact Maintenance of Effort. So, we could in effect, be setting our taxpayers up for an even greater financial burden next year and every year thereafter.
My first obligation is to the taxpayers. The BOE’s first obligation is to its students. My child happens to be one of those students and therefore, that makes this decision very personal. This is not our money, this is not their money. This is YOUR money.
Good government doesn’t operate on handshakes and gentlemen’s agreements. Oak Ridgers deserve better from their government. They deserve accountability and transparency. I will not violate the expressed, specified, legally binding will of the people. They generously voted via referendum in 2004 to pay for the $66M high school via a sales tax increase. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience, approve the use of property tax revenue for that debt. (Note: The city finance director addressed my comments by stating that Roane County sales tax revenue was higher than expected and would be used to cover this transfer. Roane County sales tax was not apart of the 2004 referendum which specified that Anderson County sales tax would be exclusively used to pay this debt.)