Dearest Aurora Pool and Spa

Dearest Aurora Pool and Spa,

Last Friday, I came home to find a strange van in my driveway.  Assuming it to be a delivery van, the juvenile and I circled the neighborhood to allow it time to move.  Not only did the van remain, on the return trip, the juvenile spotted “two weird white dudes in the backyard.”

I thought to myself: Oh this is just lovely! The night of Juvenile’s fancy formal dance, and I have a thousand things to do. I’ve already been delayed and now, we’re being robbed. Fantastic.”

So, I parked on the street.  I left the juvenile with a can of pepper spray and instructions to call her dad. Then, I turned my iphone on to record and wandered off to investigate.  (I am a firm believer that when one suspects they could be maimed, murdered, or need documentation of events about to transpire, they should record – hence my vast video collection of boring meetings, walks through dimly lit spaces, random conversations, and school buses running stop signs.)  

Anyway – back to van.

Halfway up the driveway, I spotted the Aurora logo on the side. This was a relief.  I mean, I was confused — but relieved.  Any time the “two weird white dudes” in your backyard aren’t drug-addled thieves, strangers with candy, or henchmen for the Illuminati, whom Uncle Clem thinks could be coming for me any day because I mock their organization – it’s a good thing.

Since no one presented themselves, I sent the juvenile on inside and stepped over my mighty watchdog.(Yep, the same dog, who barks incessantly at every shadow in the middle of the night until she foams at the mouth, was currently lazing on the carport, slobbering on herself.)

Around back is where I found the “two dudes” bent over my brand new – came wrapped in the manufacturer’s plastic three days ago – spa with wire guts and innards spilling everywhere.  And I did what you’d expect any homeowner to do.

I slapped my hands on my hips and demanded to know “What the hell are you doing and who gave you permission to be here?” Considering the situation, I think that was fairly polite.

The two men said they were authorized service technicians for Aurora.  (They never gave me their actual names, so for now, let’s just call them Trespass 1 and Trespass 2. ) Trespass 1 informed me that they were removing the Bluetooth panel and installing a CD player.

I informed him that, no, he most certainly was not.  I hadn’t authorized this nor had my husband. (I doubled-checked to be sure.)  We didn’t know anything about it. No one had made any contact with us, and they had no right to be there.

At this point, Trespass 2 argued that, yes, they were authorized to be there because they had A WORK ORDER.  (I wrote this in all caps because he said this as though it were important, like if it were in the Bible, it’d probably be in red.)

Now, Aurora, I tried to explain to these guys that I own the property. (Seriously, you can check the Tennessee Property Data webpage. It’s legit.) I also own the spa – not financed, not half now and half later, bought, 100% outright, I own it.  Now, if I didn’t authorize the work, and my husband didn’t authorize the work – who else has the authority to issue a work order?  The answer is: no one.  I told them I understood it wasn’t their fault and that their boss was an idiot – really, I’ve talked to this Wesley cat, a gigantic turd has more brain cells, I get it – but no one, including service personnel, should ever enter a private property without first making contact with the homeowner because, had it not been for the logo on the van, I would have assumed they were intruders – and in East Tennessee, where everyone and their momma go armed, this is a good way to get themselves shot.

At the point, Trespass 1 decided to announce that he had a concealed carry permit: I offered to clap for him. And Aurora, I won’t lie. I’ve always heard that cursing might be a sign of higher intelligence, and if that’s true, in this moment, I was GDMF bloody shittin’ brilliant.

Clearly, these boys weren’t getting it.  They were on my property without my knowledge or consent, tearing apart my brand new $6000 personal possession and yet somehow maintained the belief that they had every right to do so without any apology. And I didn’t have time to draw them cartoon figures about why that might be wrong – we’d already missed the manicure appointment and I still had to whip the juvenile’s afro into a vision of formal froufrouness.  So, I took a photo of their work order, texted copies to those who needed it, and left them to return the spa to it’s original condition, which Trespass 1 assured me he could do because, hmph, he’d “already told me twice, he was an authorized service technician.”

They left 20-30 minutes later without allowing me to inspect the work.  And perhaps we could have written this off as an unfortunate “miscommunication,” a funny-after-the-fact story, or cautionary tale for any other poor schmuck  who might consider doing business with you in the future.

Then, I found out about the 911 call.

Apparently, your authorized service technicians waited until I’d already been inside a good ten minutes, decided they were askeered of me, and called 911.  They then reported to the responding officer that I had (1)  pulled a gun on them and (2) threatened to shoot them – um, neither of which happened.  Ya know, I don’t mind so much that they called the police and embellished.  Heck, most of the HCSO is welcome at my home anytime.  They could’ve came right on in, held bobby pins for me, watched the video, laughed… maybe filed some false report charges. A good time would’ve been had by all.  Alas, the officer never made contact with me.  The guys were apparently on the way out of the subdivision when they spoke to the officer in front of the neighbor’s house, and I guess the officer knew enough about Tennessee state law to realize, even if it had happened, there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done.

But here’s what I think really happened – they damaged the brand new, three-day old spa. Both the interior insulation and cabinet panel are damaged, a screw is missing, and the bluetooth no longer works.  I think they knew they damaged it… but I’m guessing  a false police report about the scary owner might be a good excuse not to come back and repair the damage they caused, huh?

Additionally, the officer, who never made contact with me or mah video, seems to be of the opinion that I “handled the situation all wrong.”  Now, I can respect that the officer has an opinion as wrong and contrary to law as it may be… and the next time I come home to intruders standing in my backyard with my personal property torn to pieces, I’ll consider inviting them in to sip some tea and sing hymns with me instead… or, you know, not.

Where the officer may have went wrong is he shared this opinion with my husband, who has delighted in it and is now constantly texting me “I fought the law, and the law won” memes.

Which means, if he doesn’t stop, I may have to divorce him…

And he’s keeping the worthless dog.



Knew I Should Have Went to Issac’s Pool and Spa



On Keplar Elementary, Economies of Scale, and the Hard Sell

As soon as word got out that the district was eyeing two schools for closure, folks from the Keplar community started gearing up for battle. Petitions were created, Facebook groups formed, and public outrage incited.  A community meeting has been scheduled for Monday, and Mrs. Patti is already on the agenda for the BOE meeting later in the week (December 3 @ the Charles Fuller Board Room & Training Center at 6PM.)  Although closure discussions will not resume until January, I’d imagine scores of parents will be in attendance to voice concerns now, and those, who don’t speak, will support the cause by putting the stank-eye on Director Starnes, who’ll be expecting as much.

I mean no one thought Keplar would take the news lying down.  That’s not how they roll.

Unlike other small rural communities, who may lack political clout and be virtually powerless against such actions, Keplar folks have always had access to a large network of supporters, a knack for organizing on short notice, and a simple willingness to raise all sorts of hell.  As I recall, last time the district made noise about shutting the school down, it was Momma-n-em who mobilized a hoard of angry matrons and marched over to Rogersville in an ominous cloud of Virginia Slim cigarette smoke – 50+ of them, all full of piss and vinegar – pitchforks raised and torches burning.  Okay, it may not have happened exactly like that, but the reality was closer than you’d think – and I’m nearly certain Aunt Bert did threaten to slap the Superintendent of Schools plumb into next Sunday, then slap him again right before Church, so she could ask the Lord for forgiveness on both sins all at once.

Continue reading

Once upon a time,  the Hawkins County K-12 preliminary budget had an enormous deficit…

This is a familiar story, isn’t it?  Our school system tells it once a year.  In fact,  the telling is almost a late Summer tradition.  Of course, you never know how the annual deficit story will end.  During some budget years, the acting Director heroically balances the budget with all numbers perfectly in place <wink, wink> and no tax increase required.  Other years, the process becomes a horror story for all involved.

This year’s budget, I think, will be one of those horrifying tales.

The  system started the process back in June with a proposed deficit of $4.5 million.  Newly appointed Director of Schools Steve Starnes subsequently whittled that amount down to slightly over $2 million.  He did this by making steep cuts in some areas and transferring other expenses to categories involving federal funds. (Cuts include the elimination of 13 teacher positions, six of which were actual layoffs and seven open positions that weren’t filled, a reduction of teacher attendance incentive bonuses by $97,900 and elimination of several freshman coaches and other support staff from high school athletics totaling $47,673.)   The system now proposes to eliminate the remaining deficit by paying $1.068 million from the reserve and requesting a 12-cent property tax increase to fund the remaining $1.012 million.

Not all Board of Education members were thrilled with the final figures; however, Starnes was adamant that he and his staff have eliminated everything they can without affecting student programs.  So, the budget was approved by the BOE and will go before the Hawkins County Commission on August 25 @ 7:00 p.m.

I do not expect an easy passage. The Sheriff’s Department and other county agencies are expected to seek  substantial increases as well.  Consequently, this year’s budget process may be even worse than last year’s when the BOE’s controversial funding shift,  hefty IRS fines, and problems with the salary scale brought things to a screeching halt,  placed state funding at risk, and nearly caused the sky over Hawkins County to split open and rain a plague of  toads, locusts, and Democrats down upon the people.  Okay, it wasn’t THAT bad.  But the process was less than pleasant.

I predict that this year will be more of the same.  The budget will be sent back to the BOE with the same side-eye given to the system’s highest-paid employees – the central office administrators.   (SEE LIST OF Central Office Positions and Salaries)   I also think, because a tax increase is on the table, citizens and county leaders are going to be giving those top-level positions a closer look than before. County Commissioner Danny Alvis has already asked Starnes if our system administrators are mandated positions.  According to Starnes, while the state does not require those positions, they do recommend the number of supervisors, and, based on those numbers, Hawkins County is already understaffed in the Central Office by five.  Those remaining are, according to Starnes, essential to operations.

But who, specifically, are they?  The Tennessee Department of Education? Some other agency? Where can I find those recommendations? In the BEP funding formulas? Do they also have recommendations for classroom and instructional staffing/finance?  Do we follow those recommendations as well?  How do we prioritize classroom, instructional and non-instructional recommendations?  And do we adjust our budget accordingly?  Are we spending public monies in areas that will  increase the level of student performance?  I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions, and herein lies the problem.  Parents and taxpayers are at an informational disadvantage that makes it impossible to reconcile what SYSTEM SAYS with what WE SEE.

What WE SEE are overburdened teachers and schools struggling to do more with less.  We see  classes with too few textbooks and students losing instructional time to testing.  We see assessment programs, vendors and state-preferred service providers changing constantly – while other programs fall by the wayside after we’ve paid for training  and implementation or they become liabilities because the cost of administration outweighs or diminishes any benefits.  We SEE HCK12 entering into employment contracts for high-paid positions without a budget in place and then turning around and making cuts in areas that directly impact the student experience.

What We SEE is a trend of growth on the top and a crumbling at the bottom.  No one seems to consider the possibility that the bottom is crumbling under the weight of the top.  Our board representatives are far too busy addressing (or being sidetracked by)  less important (imo) issues.

I know cuts are difficult, and I don’t envy Starnes’ position.  But I do think  if you’re going to ask residents in a county – where the per capita income is approximately $20,000 and over 20% of our population is so far below the poverty line that they can’t even jump up and see middle class – to support a tax increase, then you’re obligated to consider all options, including streamlining your management team.  So, I would the challenge the Board of Education Members and Director Starnes to evaluate the job description of each system administrator, define what that administrator contributes to the system, and determine if there is some duplication of responsibilities.  Then, address any overlaps or inefficiencies before any additional cuts are made at the classroom or instruction level.  I’d also encourage you – parents, guardians, taxpayers – to share your thoughts and opinions with your board members and commissioners.

Ask them questions.  Seek answers.  Get the details.   Be Specific.  Hold them Accountable.  Because if the board wants us to buy this year’s budget story without contention or controversy, then it needs to ring true.  Central Office Salaries

On Silence, Insanity, Butt Crunches, Reagan, and Unindoctrinatableness… Um, can that be a word?

After a few months of silence, Uncle C called last night.  He didn’t inquire about anyone’s health, grades, jobs or general well-being.   He did encourage me to keep my children home from school on the “National Day of Indoctrination.”

National Day of Indoctri… what?

I knew Obama’s speech to students, which is scheduled for tomorrow, had knotted up the stretch-cotton bloomers of some conservatives.  I didn’t realize they had given it a name or declared the whole day a wash.  Yep, according to Uncle C, all good Christian Americans will reject Obama’s attempt to indoctrinate America’s youth to socialist ideas  (you know, ideas such as education is important, stay in school, be responsible, work hard and other pervasively evil, similarly socialist shit like that)  by declaring Tuesday “National Keep Your Child Home from School Day.”

In Hawkins County, this will be followed by “Steve, the Republican Attendance Supervisor, Hauls Your Sorry Ass To Truancy Court Day.” Continue reading