Mr. Parker Hardy and members
Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce
1400 Oak Ridge Turnpike
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830
The Oak Ridge City Council has always supported the needs and beyond of the city school system. This current council has lived in that tradition. We honor and appreciate our students and our teachers and have voted to provide whatever can reasonably be provided. We have also weathered the annual School Board predictions of educational catastrophe if the increased budget projections are not allocated.
This town depends upon the base of education and economic largesse of its original homeowners at the beginning of the 1950’s for its sense of pride and place in academia. It is, however, that early well-being and the growth and optimism of the early post-war years which have created a myth of extraordinary wealth and erudition with which we are burdened today. Our reality is that we are a lovely small Southern town with great diversity of education, income, and opinion. We are neither young nor old, rich nor poor, progressive nor conservative. We are all of these descriptions and many between.
This town created a wonderful culture and honored its natural environment in such an outstanding manner that it has attracted citizens from neighboring counties to live and work here. Perhaps because we did not have a large stock of new or above-average priced homes, we have not attracted a large number of the professional transferees to the federal facilities in the past couple decades. After all, youngish professionals selling homes in more expensive markets need the tax protection of buying comparably priced homes in this area.
In that regard, new housing for incoming workers has been slow to develop partly because the lingering effect of the housing bust has made it much more difficult to get construction loans. And, no, I don’t know how west Knox finds lots of development financing but I suspect it has to do with inertia.
Meanwhile, city council has an obligation to spend the homeowners’ and business property owners’ money judiciously. Without a better understanding of why Maryville can graduate 20% more of its students with 10% less funding and 1/3 fewer school administrators, I am loathe to increase the city’s funding to the schools. I would also like a thorough explanation of why or how the electronic media program being proposed will pay for itself in scholastic improvements and lessened future costs. There are outstanding questions still about where the capital improvement monies given to the school system over the past decade or so were spent.
I have tried before to counter the plaintive refrain from so many members of the Chamber that people don’t move here because our property taxes are too high. Your declaration of support for an increased property tax rate to support the school board’s ambition to become “the premier STEM school district in the country “ is inconsistent with that refrain. Our property taxes are not too high in my opinion but I am not interested in raising them just now either. In order for us to become the premier national STEM school district, we probably need the education foundation folks to concentrate on attracting private funds from foundations and corporate entities. Meanwhile, let’s remember that a lot of money is neither necessary nor sufficient for producing scholars or successful citizens.
As to the schools being the primary attraction for living in Oak Ridge, I can only say, yes, sometimes. I believe we are not marketing this fabulous town to a wide enough demographic. This is still a great place for all ages who love the out-of-doors access. It’s a great place for retirees and entrepreneurs. Y-12 and ORNL are wonderful neighbors who are good to and for the town. They are not the only game, however, and I still maintain that we need to envision growth which makes us independently sustainable even if the federal institutions were greatly diminished.
I cannot and would not speak for any others on council. For myself, I will vote for a no tax increase budget and look forward to more and better communication with the school administration and board.
Thank you so much.
Anne Garcia Garland, councilmember