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No, I have never proposed nor supported merging Oak Ridge Schools into the county system

I don’t know who is spreading the rumor, but it isn’t true. I have never proposed and I do not support merging Oak Ridge Schools into one of the county systems. Apparently a rumor is going around that makes the absurd claim that I want to combine our schools with one of the county systems. That would be a bad idea — and it’s a bad rumor.

The excellent Oak Ridge Schools are one of the city’s greatest strengths and a source of community pride.  Throughout the city’s history, Oak Ridge parents (myself included) have had high expectations for their children’s education and have held the schools to the highest standards. I believe that most citizens favor continuing the high level of  financial support that our city has traditionally provided — and continues to provide — to its schools. For me, and most Oak Ridgers, it would be unthinkable to give our fine city school system to one of the county systems — systems that serve communities with different educational expectations and that provide much less funding per pupil. The August 2004 referendum, in which Oak Ridgers voted overwhelmingly for a 1/2 sales tax increase dedicated to high school renovation, showed the breadth and intensity of public support for our city schools.

I was shocked when, several months ago, some city residents began to tell me that they thought that Oak Ridge Schools should be consolidated into the Anderson County system. The first time I heard this, my reaction was disbelief (how could anyone even consider it?). After I heard the idea from several more people, I realized that people considered this a serious idea. I interpreted it as  a indication that some of my fellow citizens were losing confidence in our school system. The people who suggested school district consolidation to me were particularly concerned about two things: (1) continuing growth in the school budget, even while enrollment was falling, and (2) the news that the portion of that 1/2-cent sales tax that is now collected by the county and distributed to the Oak Ridge Schools was no longer being made available to help pay the debt for the high school project.

I have a guess about where the bad rumor got started. At a public meeting earlier this year involving City Council and Board of Education members, I commented that the school system’s unwillingness to use county sales tax for the high school debt could undermine public support for the schools (because it means breaking the promise made a the time of the sales tax referendum, that the school project would not require a property tax increase). I mentioned the shocking suggestion I had heard from citizens (that is, other people) that the schools should be “given” to the county as a disturbing indication of erosion of public support for the schools. Maybe my words were grossly misinterpreted by someone who was in the room but was only half-listening. Regardless of how the rumor started, it isn’t true — and I hope people will stop repeating it.

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One Comment

  1. Sam says:

    This is part of the fallout from the BOE’s major blunder in refusing to pay their share of the high school mortgage. It is going to haunt them for years to come. It just takes my breath away that they were so obtuse as to have pulled a stunt like that. Whatever happened to comon sense?

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