Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I've Moved!

AT's been after me for months to switch over to WordPress, and there are good reasons to do so. Henceforth, you can find me at www.citizennetmom.com -- everything has been moved over there, even comments.

Everything but the Betsy Coleman Realty Co. button, but I'll figure it out. Soon.

One of the benefits is that the posts can now be categorized, although it may take me a while to go all the way back to last February and tag them. I've done the most recent ones already. Another benefit is that I can actually host uploaded files on the same site, rather than having to host them on my really slow Bellsouth personal webspace server.

The new site uses SpamKarma2, so if you run into problems and think you shouldn't (Joel, I'm not blocking you but I've heard that SK2 thinks you're pushing Viagra and Nigerian bank stocks), e-mail me at netmom101-at-bellsouth-dot-net.

Monday, August 28, 2006

BEP Review: to bat, or to battle?

The BEP Review Committee meets on Wednesday morning in Nashville; I'll be there. Although I'm not on the committee and have no direct vote, sometimes just being there can make a difference. Like any other public body, knowing that someone is interested and watching can impact what they say and do.

The BEP is Tennessee's mechanism for directing State funding to public school systems. The "equalization formula" referenced in the link above is actually the Fiscal Capacity Formula, developed by Harry Green of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). Simply put, it's Tennessee's formula for providing more state funding to school systems with less local resources, and less to those with more local resources. At this time, fiscal capacity is measured at the County level, which means that all the school systems in Anderson County (Anderson County, Clinton, and Oak Ridge) receive the same number of dollars per pupil from the State.

For a couple of years now, there's been a push to change the formula so that the larger cities get a bigger share. They do receive less state funding per pupil under the formula, because they have much larger tax bases. In particular, they have very large sales tax bases funded in significant part by residents of surrounding areas, so that's why they receive less. At the same time, those large cities argue that they have a harder-to-educate population (higher percentages of poor and minority students, as well as those who don't speak English well); they feel that changing to a system-level fiscal capacity formula would be better, since all the big cities have consolidated school systems, whereas many of the municipal school systems are just outside their borders, and therefore compete for teachers, etc.

Two years ago, the Legislature directed the BEP Review Committee to move toward a "system level fiscal capacity model," and they attempted to do so last year. The problem is that the new formula developed by TACIR (see David v. Goliath from last February) would have caused great harm to more than half the school systems in the state. Bills to move immediately to the system-level model were defeated in the Legislature last Spring, but the BEP reauthorization resolutions passed late in the year (HR0286/SR0120) directs the BEP Review Committee to develop a consensus recommendation on a system level fiscal capacity model.

Unfortunately, consensus will be difficult -- maybe impossible -- to achieve if the method is to simply rearrange distribution of already inadequate funding.

At Wednesday's meeting, the first agenda item pertains to things like "phase-in" and "hold harmless" -- in other words, a painstaking death to the losers in the TACIR prototype system-level fiscal capacity formula.

The second item will be a report from the Peabody Center for Education Policy, with an alternative system-level reform model (short-term objective) as well as a "21st Century Education Finance System" (long-term objective). This item is key -- has someone come up with a better, more fair system-level formula?

There's no way to know, except to go and listen to the presentation firsthand. So I shall. And no, fraud-and-waste watchdogs, your tax dollars are not paying for the trip... I am.

There's been considerable local focus over the City's decision to not fund the requested amount for Oak Ridge Schools in this year's budget, which led to painful cuts -- the most obvious being a decrease in bus service. However, the City Manager, Vice-Mayor Tom Beehan, and the City's lobbyist, Bill Nolan, have worked closely with me (and our Superintendent, and the rest of the Board) over the past two years to monitor the State's actions and proposals to prevent passage of reforms that would be harmful to our school system through reduced or limited state funding.

Be very clear: although there was and is disagreement over the City's budget allocation this year, we are on the same team.

Look for a review of this meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 30. I hope I have good news.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Judging the Judge

The corruption saga of Roane County's Judge Thomas Alva Austin continues this morning in two News-Sentinel pieces: one paints a tragic picture of a man distraught by his wife's extramarital lesbian affair; the second reveals a coarse and corrupt parasite, extorting financial and personal gains from the public he was paid to serve.

The defense, led by Greg Isaacs, is pleading for leniency based upon the personal hardship he faced, which they claim drove him to reckless ruin.

The prosecution, led by US Attorney Charles Atchley, is pushing for a heftier sentence:
"This case represents an almost incomprehensible breach of the public trust"
"He is corrupt to his core"
Audio recordings of Austin's own words support the US Attorney's contention that a tougher sentence is warranted.

Austin on sexual harassment:
"See, back when I first started, you didn't have to worry about that. They didn't have no court judiciary and all that (expletive). I've granted girls divorces in the morning and (expletive) them that afternoon."
Austin on financial kickbacks:
"Well, you need two books. What you don't report, you don't need to put in the bank."
The two men who ultimately reported Austin to the FBI were a juvenile court employee tapped by Austin to head a driving school for motor vehicle offenders, and the probation chief. The video and audio recordings are damning.

The whole situation does illuminate the potential for corruption within law enforcement and the judicial system. Where a judge has the power to require persons before his court to participate in "fee for service" activities -- whether driving school, parenting classes, or probation -- there exists the necessity to keep a close eye on the money trail. Especially when the people in charge of those fee-for-service activities are handpicked by the judge who refers "customers."

Properly conducted, these services provide value to the public... except when the goal is personal and/or financial gratification at the public's expense. It's worth thinking about the details of this particular corruption scheme, now exposed, and looking for similarities that may exist closer to home.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pigskin Playtime!

This year's Clinton-Oak Ridge matchup was a far better football game than we've seen for several years. Although Oak Ridge prevailed 35-9, Clinton is not a team to be taken lightly.

They're bigger. They capitalize on any mistake by the opposing team. They can run, and they can tackle. The stadium was standing room only until the last three minutes of the game, following Oak Ridge's final score.

Clinton narrowly missed a touchdown at the end of the first half that would have put them in the lead, thanks to Oak Ridge's having scored a 2-point touchback for them in the beginning. Had they closed the first half in the lead, it might have been a different ball game in the second half.

On the way home, I was surprised to hear that Maryville beat Alcoa, given that Alcoa now has Gary Rankin, formerly of state powerhouse Riverdale. Enjoy it now though, as I expect that after a couple of years of building that team, Alcoa's going to be fearsome.

Still, the Wildcats showed a few good tricks of their own; Connor Gulmire has quite an arm. And he's fast. With some hard work and support from the fans, we could have a really good season ahead.

I love football!

FCC in a Red Cape

A ZDNet news flash came across a couple of days ago stating that, although an FCC fee on digital subscriber lines (DSL) has been eliminated, neither Bellsouth nor Verizon DSL customers will see a discount.

No big surprise for Bellsouth customers... once there's an add-on fee, it never goes away even when it goes away.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC has opened a formal inquiry:
Federal regulators have prepared formal inquiries asking Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., for more information about their decision to keep money high-speed Internet customers would have otherwise gotten back following a government decision that broadband subscribers no longer have to pay into a federal subsidy program.

The letters, which sources said could be sent as early as today, are the first step toward a formal Federal Communications Commission investigation. The inquiry is particularly unwelcome for BellSouth, whose $67 billion acquisition by AT&T Inc. is still pending before the agency. It's somewhat unlikely the issue would have any significant impact on the merger, which is still being reviewed by staff. But FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was "very upset" by Verizon and BellSouth's decision to keep the money, an FCC official said.

"The commission takes its obligation to protect consumers very seriously," said FCC spokesman David Fiske. "Consumers must be provided with clear and non-misleading information so they make accurately access the services for which they are being charged and the costs associated with those services."

It's easy to get frustrated with the government, but I'm sure glad someone's following up on this one. It's about time.

At Least be Rational

The announcement of the FDA's decision that the "morning after pill," now called Plan B, will be available to adults without a prescription has been in the news for several days. This morning's article in the News Sentinel states the opposition as:
Opponents believe making the pills more available could increase promiscuity and spur their use by sexual predators.
Given the price tag of $25-$40, I think not. Even if it were $5, it's neither convenient enough, nor cost-effective enough, to become anyone's first choice for a birth control method -- aside from the fact that most of us are a little wary of gobbling up large doses of hormones, due to the inherent risks and inevitable side effects. It's certainly not enough to change anyone's morals or lead to dreaded promiscuity.

A similar argument has been used against the recently-approved vaccine for human papillomavirus, now known to be a leading cause of cervical cancer. From NewScientist:

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.

The last sentence is important: it's likely that the only young women who have ever heard of the virus, or its link to cancer, are those who have already visited a gynecologist or family planning clinic, or whose mothers are open, educated, and forthright enough to actually tell their daughters about it. Those mothers are also most likely to have counseled their children on the dangers of promiscuity (which includes a variety of other health, emotional, and social risks) as well as prevention of pregnancy and disease.

The second point is, of course, that the virus could be transmitted on a woman's wedding night, neither spouse knowing that he carried it.

No mother wants her daughter to sleep around. But the danger of unexpected pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease is far, far worse than the moral or social effects of premarital sex.

The traditional barriers to premarital sex have been 1) pregnancy, 2) parents finding out, and more recently, disease. With options now to decrease (but not eliminate) the risks of pregnancy and disease, the key lies with parents: to instill in their daughters a sense of self esteem -- low self esteem likely being the greatest factor in promiscuity among teenage girls -- and to convey the benefits of reserving something very special for someone very special.

The latter won't always work, so it's important that girls and women also know how to protect their health and avoid unplanned pregnancy.

It's time to put an end to the shrill voices that would risk women's lives for one group's version of morality.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

ACES

Atomictumor broke the news yesterday about the Atomic City Education Society; today, it made the Oak Ridger.

That's the single greatest thing about this town: the people who live here. ACES started with a few friends who saw a problem, identified a need for public involvement, and stepped up to the plate. It's not the first time: one of the few sat through an entire City Council meeting not long ago for his three minutes at the microphone... but that wasn't enough.

AT, GAC, Mrs. Eaves, and Bosphorus: you are the greatest!

There are others working toward the same goal, from PTOs to the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation, and it's my hope that the collective, coordinated efforts will turn the tide of the last six years, so that we can continue to offer a public education that prepares all of our kids for the future.

One of mine has already benefited, and started her first day of classes at UT yesterday. Three more are working their way through, from 11th grade down to 6th. But this is about much more than children; the quality of the school system affects most or all of what our city strives toward -- increased residency, bringing in new business and retail, and generally improving the quality of life in our community.

I'll be signing up for some bumper stickers as soon as I can get them, and I hope you will too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Election Review

The first hearing in the contested August election for General Sessions Judge will be on September 1, according to the Oak Ridger. It's just a touch of irony that Layton, the disputed winner, will be sworn in only an hour earlier.

Whatever you may think about the new e-Slate voting machines, one advantage is that much more data can be gleaned than under the previous system. Information like how long each voter took to cast his or her ballot, which is central to the premise of the suit.

With the Probation Department being disbanded, does it still matter?

Actually, yes. Eliminating the Probation Department, or more specifically, removing Alan Beauchamp from the position where there were serious, formal allegations of wrongdoing, is only one part of the problem. And, Beauchamp is still a County employee, so it's not like Anderson County has cleaned up its act.

There remains the complaint that persons appearing before the General Sessions Court in Clinton are often treated rudely, including police officers. Also remaining is the question about the propriety of having persons with business before the court referred to programs only available in Anderson County, such as the 9-hour parenting class (State law requires only 8).

Contesting an August election is risky business, as the logical recourse is to hold a new election in November, concurrent with State and Federal races. Given that many more people will vote in November than voted in August (at least that's the pattern), how many even know anything about this race? How many will still care?

Any thoughts on whether the suit will prevail, and if so, whether the new result will differ from the first one?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Baptist Teaching

Reuters reports on a New York Baptist preacher who fired an 81 year old Sunday School teacher -- with more than 50 years in that job -- because she is... female. He does not "allow women to teach or have authority over a man."

I guess he doesn't believe in college, since there are female professors and deans.

Over the last couple of years, the Southern Baptist Convention has wrangled with the question of whether to officially encourage their members to remove their children from the "godless" public schools. Is it because so many public schoolteachers are women? Or, because public schools recognize that it's the parents' role to see to their children's religious instruction, if any?

Then, there's this group -- advocating the abolishment of all public schools. If you go to their search page and type in local zip codes (37830 for Oak Ridge, 37716 for Clinton), you come up with names of local people who agree. I didn't know all on the list, but those that I did recognize are -- you guessed it -- Baptists.

More disturbing is that the Republican candidate for State Representative in our district is on the list. Of course, Rep. Jim Hackworth (D) has done a good job for us, and has been particularly helpful to me in gathering information on the battle for state funding for our schools, so I wasn't going to support the preacher anyway.

Back to the "women shall not teach" thing: it rather reminds me of the Palestinian (IMHO, terrorist-in-training) from my sophomore year of college, who dropped a beginning computer science course because I was the instructor of the only section. I still remember his "a woman is not qualified" statement, which I found amusing, since I knew the subject matter, and he did not.

What is the world coming to? Unfortunately, one extremist is no better, no less dangerous, than the other. I fully support anyone's right to home school their kids, or to send them to a religious school; why do they wish to trample the rights of everyone else?