Fully Using Schools

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That’s what Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke said, and it’s a fair assessment of the situation with which community organizations find themselves facing in their attempt to use Knox County Schools facilities.

The schools system is facing a reported $7 million shortfall in its 2012 budget. What’s new? Every year it’s the same old thing: “We don’t have enough money so it’s time to cut, cut, cut.” In past years that’s meant axing teachers, aides, and course offerings. What the heck; it’s just education.

So now, programs, nonprofits, and organizations of all kind will be in search of new homes before the budget is passed next summer. Scout troops are already scrambling to set up new digs for their get-togethers. Fledgling church groups will look elsewhere for meeting places, and hundreds, if not thousands, of kids will be locked out of gyms and other facilities that hosted recreational league activities.

What’s going on with Knox County Schools? It seems that this superintendent was hired for his background in juggling finances for Boston schools. His time in the classroom was limited. Instead, he’s been heavily involved with budgets and money and fitting the two together. That’s wonderful news that he’s so strong in that area, but here in Knoxville, his mantra seems to have been cut, tighten belts, and outsource. As Knoxvillians can tell him, outsourcing was done once before and proved to be a fiasco. Buildings were left dirty, supplies were few and far between, and workers were no longer loyal to the schools in which they worked.

This latest idea of charging for use of the building might not be bad if the charges were reasonable. What makes many folks scratch their heads is the question of costs. If the building is already opened at the end of a school day, exactly what are the outstanding costs incurred by letting groups use classrooms? Sending a scout troop a usage invoice for $1800 would be laughable if it weren’t so ridiculous.

Sure, recreational leagues that require daylong use of gyms or fields should help out with the costs incurred by the system. Lights and scoreboards gobble up energy, and it’s not fair for the system to absorb then entire bill.

What this is more about is a relationship between the school system and communities. It used to be that a schoolz wer the focal points of most communities, and they served as meeting places. Residents tied their allegiances to those schoolz and defended them. Today, PTA’s work to install playground equipment and make other improvements to schools. What’s going to happen if parents decide to no longer invest in a system that shuts its doors to all except those who can pay fees? By the way, will the system charge the government for using schools as polling places?

Another question is where will kids be gathering if not at schools? Opening the doors to buildings that sit idle much of the time could possibly serve communities and save children who might otherwise find trouble to occupy themselves.

The fact is that school systems, from time to time, need an increase in the money they take in. That means the tax rate needs to go up. Yes, it’s painful for folks in these tough economic times, but if we believe that education is of value, then we have to “pony up.” At the same time, groups have to be willing to contribute a little. If we work together, we’ll find that school buildings can be used without a financial strain on anyone.

From board evaluations, this superintendent is performing well. That means teachers are helping students to raise scores on test and meeting the statistical demands of administrators and others outside the classroom. However, he’s not doing so well in recognizing and understanding the “human element” of schools, communities, and education. I suppose no one taught that in finance courses. Just like businesses for Knox County Schools, it’s all about the bottom line.

Up Too Early or Too Late

I’m constantly amazed by people. Just when I think I have them figured out, they show me how wrong I am.

On this Thanksgiving morning, I rolled out of bed after tossing and turning most of the night. The clock showed 6:10 when I finally rose, even though I’d seen every hour of the night before flashing on the dial.
Maybe I was too excited about the day and going to Cookeville to eat and spend time with Amy’s uncles and aunts and my kids and grandson. Maybe I was looking forward to having my wife back home. She’d spent the previous four days in Nashville. I envied her time with Madden, Lacey, and Nick, but circumstances dictated that I stay home. I hope Amy is as glad to see me, although I doubt she missed me much. She fairs better by herself than I do.
At any rate, I stumbled to the kitchen to make coffee and then sat down in my chair and stared at the computer screen that was already running. After checking email, I clicked into Facebook to see what folks had posted and even wrote a couple of lines. Then I noticed the times under folks’ posts. Some had typed things three hours ago and some four.

What the heck is going on? If people posted then, that means they were up and stirring at 3:00 a.m. or earlier. What are they doing up that early? Yes, it’s possible that they’ve not been in bed yet, which brings on another set of questions.

I used to be a night owl, but only on special occasions did I ever hang around until that early in the morning, or late at night, depending on how you look at it. Even in my twenties, staying up that long was difficult since I’d lost so much sleep during college years as I pulled all-nighters studying for exams. Something in my being just doesn’t allow my body to function or my eyes to focus that late.

On the other hand, what makes people get out of bed that early? I know some have to baste that turkey or begin preparing the Thanksgiving feast. I also remember those years when little ones cried out and awakened parents with demands for bottles or clean diapers. And, yes, some folks work night shifts and have their days turned upside down.

But what about all these others? I hope they aren’t affected by insomnia that robs them of sleep every night. Maybe some are so wrapped up in their careers that they have to hit the floor early to maintain an edge on competitors. What I hope is that none are in the throes of bad times that keep them worried and awake.

The only time any of us might be up in the middle of the night is Christmas. Children struggle to sleep the night before because they’re ramped up with excitement over the arrival of Santa Claus. They might slip into unconsciousness for a couple of hours, but somewhere around 4-5 a.m., they’ll wake up, run to the tree, and squeal with excitement over the presents under trees.

Parents will stay up into the wee hours of the night as they read instructions for toys that must be assembled. They’ll stress over not having all the pieces or having to find batteries in the middle of the night for toys that must operate in the morning. Exhausted, they’ll collapse in bed, but just as they doze off, bedroom doors will burst open, and begging voices will urge them to get up and see what Santa left.
No, I didn’t sleep well last night. I’ll make up for it sometime today. Somewhere there’s a couch that calls me to nap this afternoon. For those of you who are up early every morning/night, consider some medication or career changes. If you have little ones, you’re stuck, and I feel your pain. By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Camera Karma

I fetched the paper the other morning, and my eyes were drawn to a front

page article: “Traffic Camera Vendor Sues City.” It’s not so amazing how the truth surfaces on so many things if we’re just patient.

American Traffic Solutions, Inc. filed suit in Chancery Court. The company says that Public Acts 425 is unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow for issuing of tickets for illegal right turns if the only evidence is traffic camera video. This company squawks about the unfairness of the law and over the contract violations by Knoxville.

It’s a funny thing to me that ATS manipulated the legislative process as it developed a business that monitors driving habits and mistakes of citizens. However, when a new law that goes against the company’s self-interest is enacted, its officials cry out over the injustices done to them. Hey ATS, karma’s a bitch!

I’ve been a victim of those cameras during a right turn. At Morrell Road, I pulled up to the light, looked to the left and saw nothing coming, and made the turn. SNAP! I received a citation and accompanying photo in the mail, and then I watched the video online. Yep, I sure did “roll” past the white line at the light. Yep, I did turn right. Nope, I didn’t endanger anyone. The truth is that not a single car was coming from the left nor did the right turn I made in any way present a danger to other motorists.

A further look into the situation indicates that these cameras are more about revenue than safety. Sure, some grinding wrecks have been prevented as motorists jam on the brakes to keep from going through red lights. However, I’m curious how many rear-end collisions have occurred because of such quick stops.

Knoxville has cameras at fourteen intersections throughout the city. Since the PA 425 was enacted, a NINETY percent DROP in citations has occurred, and Farragut’s citations have decreased by fifty percent. Hmm. That statistical evidence seems to indicate that the overwhelming majority of fines were levied for right turns that didn’t take into account the flow or traffic or the overall driving habits of victims.

So, now the vendor is filing suit to continue issuing citations where cameras were in place before the new law came into effect. Oh, I see, ATS wants to have its own exception to the rule so it can maintain revenues produced on the backs of Knoxville citizens. At the same time, they pooh-pooh any changes or exceptions in laws that benefit those who pay for their profits.

Yes, the roads need to be safe places on which we can travel. Folks who run red lights should be ticketed for putting theirs and others’ lives in danger. However, a system that monitors intersections must include a key component that American Traffic Solutions cameras and staff ignore. Common sense should be used in looking at the overall traffic situation, and if no dangers are present in a situation, then shutters should remain still. In the end, the traffic will flow much easier, and what looks like a form of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” won’t be squashing common folks.

As for American Traffic Solutions, stop whining. Your profit taking doesn’t supersede the laws that are enacted to protect the citizens of Tennessee. Like I said before, what goes around comes around.

Fall-Pro and Con

The last week ushered in the coldest temperatures yet of the late fall. I suppose it’s about time since we’re fast approaching the middle of November. Still, it’s fall that drives me crazy sometimes.

For one thing, frost sneaks in during the early morning and hammers those plants that Amy has babied and fed and watered so faithfully since spring. With only one visit, blooms wither and turn brown, and it’s off to the mulch pile or burning area for them. Their ends are sad.

A couple of years ago we bought rain barrels to catch water from our gutters. The things can come in handy, but setting them up in spring is a pain and even worse is when cold weather demands that they be removed. The spigots on both barrels grudgingly give up the water inside, and it can take an hour or more to drain them. Then the downspouts for the gutters must be reattached. Failure to put these giant watering cans away can result in their splitting as the water inside freezes, and I sure don’t want my wife mad at my laziness.

So far this fall, I’ve worked with leaves four times. The yard is filled with trees, and while the maple trees cooperate by dumping their leaves all at once, hickory trees drop giant brown husk-like things that don’t easily grind. Then there are the oak trees. They never cooperate. Instead, they dribble leaves from the first cold snap. Each year I work with those stubborn dead things until January. Then, I give up and take care of the lingering ones when the mower reappears in early spring.

On the news I watched a story about some snobbish neighborhood whose residents had grown tired leaf blowers. They’d started a petition to ban the use of them because they produced too much noise. One woman, I think she once played Cat Woman on the old “Batman” television story, proclaimed that the use of blowers wasn’t necessary. This snarly old girl obviously has never worked in a yard filled with leaves. She probably hires a gardener to complete the work and to do it in a manner that wouldn’t disturb her entitled lifestyle.

I don’t hate the fall leaves. Reds and golds against a cloudless blue sky present a scene that proves that a higher power is in charge of things. In fact, maple tree leaves that turn those colors are mainstays of fall and the Thanksgiving season. They’re the ones that elementary school children apply with crayons to the art work in classrooms.

Just the other day, another fall event caught my attention. I pulled to the side of the road in our neighborhood and watched several turkeys as they picked at the ground of a yard. The appearance of wildlife in the fall searching for food always thrills me. Deer in the median along Interstate 75, while dangerous when they run in front of trucks and cars that zip by, are some of the grandest features that the area has to offer tourists on the way to Florida. For me, seeing those creatures is just another part of the cooling season’s approach.

As labor intensive as the fall is, it still beats the coming months of winter. When frigid temperatures trap me inside, I’ll long for the days when I spent time outside working on those jobs that sometimes irritate me so much. I’m actually grateful to be alive and healthy enough to enjoy the out-of-doors, regardless of how much work is involved. Besides, before long, spring and summer will arrive, and then I’ll again enjoy the seasons and work I love the most.