Tue
Aug 21 2007
09:40 pm
By: Outsider

I recently had a friend of mine tell me the story of not being able to get a straight answer from the School System about the situations regarding the Air Conditioning at Kingston Elementary School. He was extremely upset that he could'nt find out if his child was in a situation that was healthy and acceptable for a youngster to be subjected. I dont blame him. I read articles in the paper about how bad the School system was not to have enough air conditioners, or not to have a plan to fix this problem. I read letters to the editor about kids burning up and how we should let them out early...All of this sounded extremely incompetent until I began to analyze the true problem...

How many times have we read in the paper that Oak Ridge Schools or Maryville Schools were having to be released early because of air conditioning (or lack thereof)? ZERO. These schools are viewed as some of the best public schools in our area, and moreover noted in the tops among schools in the entire country. I believe the problem isn't about whether Dr. McGriff has a planned policy for letting students out of school early due to the fact that they may sweat all over there spelling tests. The real problem is much deeper than that. Its about Friday nights. Our School System, Department of Education, School Board Members, and School Superintendent took one on the chin for a problem that isnt soley in their hands...it is in ours. They took all the heat (without AC of their own) on an issue that is much deeper than a maintanance issue at a school. The real problem is community wide and it is all of our faults. The Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education asked for additional funding to update, upgrade, patchwork our school facilities to be in working order and they were denied budgetary consideration. The County Commission decided that this was not the best timing to put a lot of money in our schools. I appreciate the fact that it was a huge amount, but everyone praised the county commish for biting the bullet and finally dealing with the jail issue (since it had been neglected for 15 years, but that will be a later post). How are we as citizens, willing to not accept the courage and forethought of our leaders to make the decision to raise property taxes for our children, but we are willing to accept the backwardness of raising our taxes for the needs of criminals (I know there were additional budgetary items in the property tax increase).

We are to blame for there not being adequate facilities in our schools. We want to blame Dr. McGriff, School Board Members, Principals, but it is our fault. We have been force fed issues like industrial parks, jails, and sexy news stories like a county employee driving his car to Karns. Isn't it about time we focus on what is important in our community...our future. We are not willing to take a stand against our favorite political figure, instead we want to blame the outsiders who come in with different ideas, shake-ups, and nonconformity.

I dont have a clue how to change an air conditioner, but I would love for my 25 cent increase to go to finding someone who does...instead I guess I will just have to wait for Friday night's matchup on the field...that appears to be all WE CARE ABOUT.

Very well said Outsider

Everyone complains when they don't get the services they believe they are due, but when it comes time to make the tough decisions and cough up the money for what really matters...well, everyone complains again.

You can't give kids a top-notch education on a low budget..which reminds me of a great Kinks song:

"Excuse my shoes they dont quite fit
Theyre a special offer and they hurt me a bit
Even my trousers are giving me pain
They were reduced in a sale so I shouldnt complain
They squeeze me so tight so I cant take no more
Theyre size 28 but I take 34

Im on a low budget
What did you say
Im on a low budget
I thought you said that

Im on a low budget
Im a cut price person in a low budget land

Im shopping at woolworth and low discount stores
Im dropping my standards so that I can buy more"

Okay, you get the point. I'm not making light of the situation. Truth is our school system is wearing size 28, but they take 34.

What action would you take?

Money spent is the greatest single factor in student performance but it is not the only one.

Just to give you some historical information Roane County spent $6,255.00 (adjusted dollars) per student in 1995 and $7,496.00 in 2006. So we have increased our per student expenditure but a school that Outsider compares us to, Oak Ridge, spent $10,155.00 in 06.

Knox Catholic spends over $12,000 per student if I remember right. Someone who is sending their child to CAK or Webb can tell us what they're paying this year.

Here's the State Report Card for Roane County. Dig all you want.

School Report Card

There's more to it than total dollars spent, though. We might be able to do a better job of getting much of a bang for our buck, and the response time for maintenence gets a lot of talk. I have no way of knowing about that but when 19 airconditioners in one school fail...

You ask a good question...

WhitesCreek.

Before I ask my question, let me preface it by saying I'm not asking it to be antagonistic. I'm in the medical profession, and I deal daily in such things as evidence-based medicine, how good (or bad) is research and studies I'm reading, etc. I have had to develop a significant level of skepticism. I know you have that as well, based on some questions I've seen you ask. So...

In reference to your statement "Money spent is the greatest single factor in student performance but it is not the only one.": Where can one find evidence and studies showing this is fact rather than opinion? I do believe that money spent is a factor, and I think you're on the money in saying that it isn't the only factor. There are lots of things - such as overhead type items - that affect how much is "spent per student". As I understand it - and correct me if I'm wrong - the basic way one determines money spent per student is to divide the student population in to the expenses of the system. A lot can be - and is spent - in a school system that has very little to do with actual student instruction.

Thanks for helping keep me informed - and educated :-)

RB

National Report Card for our schools

See: (link...)

It is interesting to compare this to the figures Tennessee and Roane County release.

-- OneTahiti

Schools

I don't believe throwing money at the schools will fix things.

I taught in a school system which spent less than $500 per child ($2800 in today's dollars) and it was a very good school system. We really cared about teaching the three R's and a lot of varied types of enrichment for all of the students. A year later we moved to another state where they had fancy furniture in the class rooms and were spending $5,000 per student ($26,560 in today's dollars) annually, but the educational level was below par. It is a matter of priorities: what is important, education or football? basics or frills?

Part of the problem is the size of the schools. In a small school (even the one-room school of many years ago) there is a great deal more emphasis on learning than in our mega schools.

Hey Tex

Our school buildings are roughly 20% over capacity, with the prime example of Kingston elementary being built for 650 students and being over capacity the day it opened. It had 822 as of the 2006 report card.

How do you propose we cure that without paying the bills? I know that's not what you meant, since you were a teacher too, and understand that commitment goes both ways.

(And don't think I don't realize that more oversight is needed on how we spend money)

And I'm not going to point out that you were a teacher a long long time ago based on your numbers. (well I did actually... and I was a student even before that, so we go back together)

I revere teachers and am married to a fine one. But what I would like to see is a weighted graph of average teacher salary in Roane County for the last three or four decades.

I have a theory that we are paying them less in today's dollars than we did back when a dollar was actually worth a dollar.

Our Schools

As a BOE member, I appreciate the positive comments listed above. Thanks!

I want to go on the record saying this school board (and I mean each and everyone on the board) has pulled together to work in the best interest of our county and students. Hopefully you have seen that cooperative spirit as the proposed building program was presented. Board members looked to address what was needed in their district and then came together in seeking funding for the needs of our entire county. I can't say enough about the level of cooperation during that process. The same level of cooperation continues to work for us as we address such things as AC failures, shortage of classroom space and moving our system forward.

I would be the first to admit that the school system can continue to improve and many improvement plans are actively being worked. There are so many projects underway designed to support our children in securing a top-notch education. Many of the central office staff are new to their positions and as a group; they are excited to make improvements. They are spending their energy graciously to raise standards and place quality instruction into each classroom. I'll elaborate another time and as time permits.

Keep in mind change is difficult on the front end and people question motives and possible outcomes until they start to see positive results.

We have energetic teachers in the classrooms with our children. We have dedicated administrators and staff. We have direction. We are using technology to supplement the basics. We are in an advantageous position to deliver increased quality instruction. (Thank every teacher you know for being dedicated in this difficult "No Child Left Behind" environment). No, everything isn't rosy in the system but the desire to make things better is alive and well.

I'll try to help research anyone's school system concerns provided they have initially started with the local teacher and principal first.

I will not engage in bashing anyone or being involved in general negativity. Otherwise, this venue offers a valuable means of communication. Something the school system is working tirelessly to improve.

Good Luck RoaneViewers! --Tyler Overstreet, Kingston District

Thanks Tyler

From my view, The School Board has laid it out in a fairly straight forward manner, but they don't have the power to go any further than the County Commission, which so far has been rather reluctant to put schools ahead of jails.

This will never change unless the fine folks of Roane County let them know what our priorities are.

Steve

I know you'll be shocked: Let me play "Advocatus Diaboli"...

for just a moment.

1) Thanks, Tyler, for coming online and helping readers understand what's going on and for being straightforward with where you're coming from.

2) As Devil's Advocate I'll say: What if the County Commission had to choose between two great expenditures, the jail or the schools? And both were projects that needed to be done - honestly. Suppose not doing the school project would result in popular unpopularity. After all, throwing money at schools shows "you put the kids first" - right? And if you don't, that HAS to mean you couldn't care less about the school kids. Right?

But what if not doing the already unpopular project (after all, we still need to be tougher on criminals, don't we?) put you in a very real risk for costing the county way more money than it would cost to just do the unpopular project?

That's the unenviable position the Commission was put in. There was no way they could win. If they chose funding the schools fully and lost jail certification, the ultimate total cost to the county would be way more than just building the jail, and COULD wind up being more than financing the schools and jail together. If they chose building the jail, they move further into an already unpopular project, and set themselves up to be accused of all the bad things they've been accused of, like not caring about the future of our county as related to the students, etc.

Either project has to be funded with money that isn't there, hence will cost SOME sort of tax. So these Commissioners (not that I support everything they've ever done!!) were simply put in a position where they could not win. They were going to be devils no matter what they chose. They simply chose that which would not cost the county (i.e. the taxpayers) a disproportionate amount of money in the future.

Obviously, some (not all, but certainly some) of their problem was self-made. They didn't develop the testicular fortitude to do what had to be done for way too long a time. And hence our backward slide financially went on far too long. They levied invisible taxes on us by using up reserves by moving them into operational fund categories. Last time I looked, Econ 101 taught that you don't use reserve funds for basic common operations. That was silly. And gutless - just to be able to brag "Well, we haven't done crap, BUT you have to remember, we didn't raise your taxes!" What a lack of foresight and guts!

But, in my book, it does take a certain amount of guts to see that past behavior was a mistake, and, distasteful though it may be, to go ahead and take the hit for doing what is necessary to begin correcting the previous mistakes. Given that the makeup of the Commission barely changes (if at all) with the last election, but the person at the helm did change (the County Executive), then I'm thinking that the leadership to correct the previously bad tack the ship had taken belongs to Mike Farmer.

I'm sure that they would much PREFER to have made a popular call as to what they would increase taxes for; at least they would have been able to say, "But we did it 'for the kids.'" What could be more popular than that?!

It took far more guts for them to say "We're choosing to address now (since we can't do both at the same time) the issue that could, in the long run, cost us FAR more money if we neglect it than if we put off the other issue til next year." Very unpopular move. But it shows the courage to make a decision that they feel will be unpopular but which is still the best move to make with what they can do.

I'm sure they would have much preferred to be able to say "We'll do both this year. We can increase the tax burden even more than we did, and the folks will say it's OK because 'it's for the kids.'"

I truly don't believe the Commission is made up of people who want to do bad things to the school system. This has gotten too long.... I can type more later.

Difficult issues, and sincere people feel different ways.

RB

RB,

I have never said we shouldn't do something about our jail situation, but there were several good and reasonable alternatives that would have cost far less than what we're doing, which seems to be to spend as much money as legally possible without having to refer the cost to a bond referendum.

I hope everyone appreciates the humor in pointing out that we shouldn't throw money at schools while we throw millions at a jail.

Indeed, there were several alternatives...

And while it is assuredly possible that I missed hearing one (or more), the ones that I DID hear were not better than what is being done. My own personal preference was the one near RSCC that got scrapped. But that's water over the dam. Of the alternatives I heard about - none of which is perfect - this one made more sense to me. Some alternatives may have been cheaper - but cheaper is not always better.

That concept was proven the last time Roane County built a jail - the one they're leaving. The Commission - woops, then it was the County Quarterly Court - decided they wanted to claim to the taxpayers that they had saved some money. So they approved change orders to the builders to change specs on some steel and some concrete to make it cheaper. The jail LOOKED the same. But structurally it was NOT the same. The very FIRST escape from the current jail cost the county more money than they ever saved in approving those change orders for less stringent specs. So the county doesn't have a good record of making cheaper jails be better jails. The current jail was inadequate from the very first day the first prisoner was put in there. The cheaper propositions I heard about were just that: cheaper, not better.

That being said, I have had personal conversations with a number of the people involved in the planning (and wishing and hoping) process for this new jail. I have also been to several of the meetings of the committee, even before it got down to this final stage. And they worked very hard at minimizing costs while still building a jail that would do what it is supposed to do for some time to come. And I can tell you categorically that spending as much money as legally possible is NOT in their process. They worked very hard at whittling costs.

RB

RB,

I'm not going to get in a yes they did no they didn't with you, but I was involved in this to a fair degree and was stunned at some of the resons given for some of the decisions. Other counties built jails for a fraction of what we're proposing and our overcrowding situation is smoke and mirrors anyway. We are violating State law by requiring bonds on people who are not at risk for flight and locking up the ones that can't pay, but that's another story.

Sure we needed to remedy several situations and a capital project was definitely in order, but why spend more than we have to on prisoners when we can't spend what we need to for our students?

Build one school and they will come?

I'd like to exploit this medium and ask for some simple feedback.

Reference the Sept. 19 edition of the RCNews where Comm. Harmon suggests one large High School for our Kingston, Harriman and Rockwood students. He suggested the location beside the Roane State campus.

What was not included in the article that may also be of significant benefit is the increased level of academics offered, like AP classes, dual credit at Roane State, vocational offerings, that type of stuff.

A school like this would likely allow for 1500 students.

Would that be another hand extension for unification efforts in better community harmony?

Have we reached that point in our county where we will give this idea consideration?

Your thoughts Roane County Residents?
I'd appreciate them as I do my job. Thank you.

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