This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee ranks 47th in the nation for financial literacy, according to the Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy — a problem Gov. Bill Haslam says needs to be turned around to build a more effective workforce. “If people can learn not to be afraid of numbers early and not to be afraid of understanding the finances, they’ll be a much more productive employee,” Haslam told reporters Thursday after addressing elementary teachers at a summit sponsored by the Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission.
Governor Bill Haslam and other state officials spoke at a daylong summit Thursday in Nashville for elementary school teachers wanting to teach financial literacy skills. “It doesn’t make any difference if they’re rural or from the urban community, the same things apply,” McKissack Middle School teacher Debra Gann said. “They still don’t know the basics. Just because I have a dollar in my pocket, doesn’t mean that I can spend all of that dollar.” Tennessee ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to financial literacy.
Governor Bill Haslam says the state should keep learning as it goes when it comes to evaluating teachers. This week, a review the governor asked for from an outside group suggested changes to evaluations for teachers of subjects that aren’t currently tested, like art. The report from the group SCORE suggests in such cases that student test results should not count for a full half of the teacher’s job review. Haslam says the state will look into it going forward, arguing it’s too important to wait until the system is perfect.
Tennessee education officials are considering changes around some of the same areas identified in a recent study requested by the governor, the education commissioner said Thursday. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman spoke to reporters before speaking at a summit for elementary school teachers at the Legislative Plaza. Earlier this week, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, released its study, which addressed educators’ concerns about student testing data.
Governor Bill Haslam has offered support for a state official whose religion has come under fire by some anti-Muslim groups. Samar Ali is a Nashville born Muslim who graduated from Vanderbilt law school and recently accepted a position as international director on the state’s Economic and Community Development department. That appointment came under fire by the The Center for Security Policy and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, groups who also opposed the mosque in Murfreesboro.
Greeneville Fire Chief Mark Foulks was recently appointed to the state Homeland Security Council by Gov. Bill Haslam. The appointment was formally announced Wednesday. Foulks, 43, has been Greeneville’s fire chief since 2006. The Knoxville native previously served 17 years in various roles in the Knoxville Fire Department, including assistant chief. “I’m very honored to serve. I’m very honored to represent the Greeneville Fire Department in this capacity, and I’m very honored to represent the citizens of Greeneville in this type of role,” Foulks said today.
When a smiling Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a new statute governing the operation of staff leasing companies, he was surrounded by a group that included two people whose company recently was cited and fined for operating without a license. One of them had been described in a state document as “not of good moral character” — which may be why no one seems to want to own up to inviting them. In a consent order signed April 9, the attorney representing Chris and Andrea Ball of Powell, Tenn., acknowledged that their firm, HR Comp LLC, had acted as an employee leasing agency without the license required by state law and that the Balls had given false responses when asked about it.
The state’s newest Discover Tennessee Trail is the “Top Secret Trail” named in honor of Oak Ridge. State tourism officials announced the trail Friday, the 15th of 16 self-guided driving tours in Tennessee. It is made up of sites and attractions in Knox, Anderson, Campbell, Overton, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, Clay, Roane and Pickett counties. said the trail, like the others, will showcase history, culture, music and cuisine. A Top Secret brochure highlights 111 points of interest.
U.S. economy appears to be backsliding; Fed action ‘likely’ Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased last month for the first time in nearly a year, rising to 7.9 percent, mirroring a U.S. job market that has begun to show a few hiccups. The slight increase in state unemployment — compared with April’s 7.7 percent revised rate — was caused by a small increase in the amount of people re-entering the workforce to seek jobs, said Karla Davis, the state’s labor commissioner. The U.S. job market is flagging, and consumer prices are barely rising.
With more unemployed people re-entering the labor market last month, the jobless rate in May edged higher in Tennessee and was unchanged in Georgia, according to employment figures released Thursday. Unemployment in Tennessee during May rose by two-tenths of a percent from April’s revised level to 7.9 percent, reversing a 22-month-long decline in the state’s jobless rate. In Georgia, the state jobless rate was unchanged at 8.9 percent, the first time in 10 months that the jobless rate has failed to decline.
Tennessee’s jobless rate went up slightly last month; it was 7.9 percent in May, compared to 7.7 in April. That’s the first increase since late 2010. Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis says the uptick is largely due to people –quote- “”re-entering the workforce to look for work.” The latest economic forecast for the state predicts some slight improvement in the jobless rate as the year goes on.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for May increased to 7.9 percent, up from the April revised rate of 7.7 percent. The national unemployment rate for May was 8.2 percent, 0.1 percentage point higher than the April rate. “Tennessee’s employment change this month is relatively flat with a slight increase in the amount of people re-entering the workforce to look for work,” Karla Davis, labor department commissioner, said in a release.
A Knox County woman has been charged with TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” authorities said. The state Office of Inspector General, with the assistance of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, today announced the arrest of Tonya Michelle Thomas, 35, of Knoxville. Thomas is charged with four counts of fraudulently using TennCare to pay for visits to multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony carrying a sentence of up to two years in prison per charge.
From the road, one might imagine that the owners of the perfectly-maintained Georgian-style home at 940 Cherokee Blvd. come out every morning to fetch the newspaper and wave howdy to the neighbors. But the house that five former University of Tennessee presidents called home has sat empty for more than two years and remains unsold after going on the market in March 2010. The listing price of the 11,400-square-foot house was cut nearly in half a year after the property was put on the market — from the original $5 million asking price to the current $2.9 million price tag.
Justices hear arguments over deputies’ powers The state Supreme Court is deciding whether a federal program that lets some Davidson County sheriff’s deputies act as immigration agents violates the Metropolitan Charter. In court on Thursday, attorney Bill Harbison argued that the charter reserves all law enforcement duties for the police while the sheriff’s office is confined to running the jail and serving warrants. That separation of powers was put in place in 1962 when Nashville and Davidson County combined to form a metropolitan government.
After navigating the court system for roughly a year and a half, the Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon heard arguments in a lawsuit targeting the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program. The main issue revolves around DCSO’s memorandum of agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which allows sheriff employees to double as federal agents. The agreement allows the DCSO to hand over illegal immigrants to ICE for possible deportation.
The Tennessee Supreme Court is considering whether Davidson County’s sheriff can legally enforce immigration law. Before the high-court Thursday, attorneys argued about whether the Metro Charter allows the sheriff to do any police work. Attorney Elliott Ozment has had it out for the so-called 287(g) program ever since cases began surfacing in which undocumented immigrants were deported for such petty crimes as fishing without a license. His case before the state high court has nothing to do with the legality of the federal program.
A federal magistrate judge today approved a three-month delay in the trial of disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. Baumgartner had been set to be tried in July on seven counts of misprision of a felony. Baumgartner had asked via his defense attorneys that the case be deemed “complex,” a move that would have allowed lengthy delays as it would essentially remove the case from the restrictions of the federal speedy trial act.
Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is tired of being the fall guy. That much was clear Thursday after a hearing that began with an hourlong speech and ended with a fiery exchange between Blackwood and Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. “Somebody had to do it,” Blackwood said of his appointment by the state Supreme Court to helm the fallout over revelations former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was himself a criminal.
The National Rifle Association endorsed a tea party challenger in Sumner County, saying she “has demonstrated her leadership abilities which the state of Tennessee so badly needs today.” The NRA Political Victory Fund said Wednesday it had formally decided to back Courtney Rogers, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, former Bridgestone Americas communications executive and one-time leader of Sumner United for Responsible Government, a tea party group. Rogers is taking on House Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, in the August primary.
The 20th Senate District winds around Davidson County like a crescent, from the old factory neighborhoods of Old Hickory and Hermitage to the wealthy enclaves of Belle Meade and Forest Hills. In this arc, Republicans see an opportunity to do something they have not been able to do in at least 70 years: capture a state Senate seat in Tennessee’s capital city. The GOP has carved out a district that both parties say is split fairly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Counties put blame on redistricting Local election commissions are trying their best to issue new voter registration cards by the end of the month, but some voters aren’t pleased at how long it has taken to receive them. Congressional, state and local districts were redrawn this year after the 2010 census, and the election offices in Davidson, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson counties will mail new cards to voters that reflect any changes in their districts or precincts.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond made his case to county commissioners Thursday that his department needs an extra $275,000 to finish the year in the black. He cited cost overruns in overtime, jail food costs, inmate transportation costs and fuel, as the reasons for his request. “We have been able to absorb about $400,000 in overruns,” he told commissioners during a Thursday agenda-setting meeting. “We were not able to absorb the last $275,000.”
Hamilton County commissioners are now reviewing a $642.3 million budget proposal that includes a 3 percent pay raise for employees and no property tax increase. But County Mayor Jim Coppinger’s budget does include a 45 percent hike in fees for anyone who uses the county’s ambulance service. Coppinger presented the 2013 fiscal budget to commissioners Thursday. They have two weeks to analyze it before a scheduled vote on June 28. The 2013 fiscal year begins July 1.
A City Council member is proposing a referendum asking voters to levy a 1-cent tax on every gallon of gasoline purchased inside Memphis. Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. said that if approved by voters in November, the gasoline tax could bring in roughly $6 million for “public transportation” expenses, mostly Memphis Area Transit Authority and road paving. “This would free up money for our other operating expenses,” said Ford. The city has helped sustain MATA with funds from its operating and capital improvement program budgets, and MATA officials have repeatedly asked city officials for a “dedicated funding source.”
Panel hopes to reach youth as early as possible Former Sen. Bill Frist will be in Nashville today leading one in a series of national forums addressing childhood obesity. Health-care officials from across the Metro Nashville area will gather at the Nashville Public Library to discuss the impact childhood obesity has on families and businesses and possible solutions. Frist is working with first lady Michelle Obama in the Partnership for a Healthier America.
The Rutherford County Commission voted 15-6 Thursday night to appeal a court ruling that voided approval of a mosque. “I just can’t imagine an appellate court would agree we should discriminate,” Commissioner Trey Gooch said before the vote. County Attorney Jim Cope estimates that the legal fee cost to appeal will be in the $15,000 to $25,000 range. While waiting for the appeal to work its way through the courts, Chancellor Robert Corlew’s Wednesday ruling banning the county from issuing a certificate of occupancy to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro will stand unless it’s overturned or he dissolves it, Cope added.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen could have as much as $5.08 million in assets, drew a state pension of $23,128, and traveled to Rwanda, Germany, Israel and Spain at someone else’s expense last year, according to a disclosure report released today by the House Clerk’s office. All members of Congress are required to file an annual description of their assets, liabilities, outside positions on boards, compensated travel and other financial information each May 15. The reports do not include their annual $174,000 salaries as members.
First lady Michelle Obama is coming to Nashville on June 28 to speak at the general conference for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the nation’s oldest African-American denomination. She’ll be giving the keynote address for the conference at the Gaylord Opryland hotel. Her husband, President Barack Obama, gave a speech at the AME conference in 2008 when he was a U.S. senator. “We are extremely honored first lady Michelle Obama will be sharing her thoughts at this quadrennial meeting,” said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie of the AME’s 13th Episcopal district, which is hosting the conference.
A panel of business and academic leaders warned funding cuts to higher education are hurting the global competitiveness of U.S. research universities, the latest sign of financial strain that is intensifying battles over school leadership and has led to several high-profile departures of university presidents. U.S. research universities “are in grave danger of not only losing their place of global leadership but of serious erosion in quality,” the committee of 22 academic, business and nonprofit leaders warned in a 250-page report issued Thursday.
Manufacturer plans Robertson County facility; 100 jobs on tap A manufacturer of portable food service units, bars and cooking ovens plans to open a plant near Portland, which could result in more than 100 new jobs in Robertson County. Food Warming Equipment Co. Inc. announced Thursday that it recently closed on the purchase of a 161,000-square-foot building on Highway 31 West. “This expansion will help improve the quality and quantity of several Food Warming Equipment product lines, support our existing customer base and promote aspirations for future growth,” said Curt Benson, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, in a statement.
Sensing Metro Council members might try to slice school funding, Director of Schools Jesse Register preemptively relayed Thursday that the scenarios he’s heard discussed would have severe consequences. “We understand some Metro Council members may propose additional school budget cuts of as much as $23 million,” Register said Thursday. “That would be disastrous.” Under Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed budget and property tax increase, Metro Nashville Public Schools’ budget would be $720.4 million, a $46.5 increase over the current fiscal year.
A new Ooltewah Elementary School received final approval Thursday, but not before Hamilton County commissioners questioned school officials about any possible surprises in the deal. Hickory Construction from Alcoa, Tenn., can begin the school, located on Ooltewah-Georgetown Road, after commissioners unanimously approved the company’s $21.45 million bid. The Board of Education approved the selection earlier this week. If Hickory finishes the school before Hamilton County Schools’ 2013 start date in August, it is eligible for a $545,000 bonus.
The Transition Planning Commission on Thursday passed an addition to its transition plan, recommending the selection of a superintendent for the 2013-14 school year no later than this fall. The panel thus added its voice to the ongoing debate over who should lead the new unified Memphis and Shelby County school district. The superintendent selection statement, proposed by TPC member and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, was approved during a daylong review of the transition plan’s first draft, a document of more than 200 pages that will go to the unified school board for its review on June 26.
With a unanimous voice vote Thursday, June 14, the schools consolidation planning commission approved a draft plan for the schools merger. The milestone moment for the group came at the end of a day-long meeting that started at 9 a.m. and went to 6 p.m. The plan for a decentralized school system includes nearly 200 separate recommendations that now go to the countywide school board and state education officials. The planning commission will meet with the school board and state officials to see if there are any adjustments they need to make in the plan before the school board and state make their decisions.
Make no mistake: John Aitken wants the job of superintendent of the Unified School District. More than that, he thinks he already has the job of superintendent of the district which is a year away from becoming. And, as a result of a decisive vote taken by the Transition Planning Commission on Thursday, the current superintendent of the soon-to-expire Shelby County Schools system is closer than ever before to having those beliefs confirmed.
Even after making $2 million in cuts, the proposed 2012-13 budget at Sullivan County Schools is still $3.9 million out of balance. One possible avenue for the school district is to use surplus money to bring the budget closer to balance. “It’s fiscally irresponsible to budget that much of your [reserves],” Sullivan County Schools Business Manager Leslie Bonner said at a working session on the budget Thursday. The school district has $2.6 million available in reserves. Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie also opposes using the reserves to balance the budget.
Officials with the Washington County school system are once again taking a hard look at their proposed $64 million budget for the 2012-13 school year. Facing a deficit of $4.2 million, Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the Washington County Board of Education will have to seriously consider cutting non-mandated positions and programs as they try to balance the budget. While cutting back will likely gain approval of next year’s budget from the County Commission, it will have come at quite a cost for county schools.
The Jackson-Madison County School Board passed its capital budget with little fanfare Thursday evening, as board members had discussed the budget’s disputed points prior to the meeting. The board convened at 6 p.m., when members took a moment of silence, recited the pledge of allegiance and then commenced with their business. State Rep. Jimmy Eldridge spoke about issues in the state legislature regarding education, and Deputy Superintendent Doris Battle announced that Lynne Shuttleworth, the recently retired Lincoln Elementary principal, has won the Education Consumers Foundation Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Award.
Normandy Lake on the Duck River is so low, anglers fishing from the shoreline would be under about seven feet of water if levels were normal, officials say. “It’s real low. It’s usually up to those rocks over there,” angler Michael Jernigan said with a wave toward the rock-fortified bank about 150 feet behind him and his 7-year-old son, Wayne. The Beechgrove, Tenn., residents were wetting their lines in Normandy Lake on Tuesday, a few hundred yards below the bridge on Lyndell Bell Road.
Seven convoluted recommendations for change came out of the study of the new teacher evaluation system conducted by State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the think tank known as SCORE that Gov. Bill Haslam asked to provide feedback on the evaluations because teachers were balking. It probably would have been simpler had SCORE boiled down the recommendations to two things. First, work with teachers and principals on an attitude adjustment that evaluations are a normal part of employment. Second, do a complete rework of the aspect of the evaluation that is based on student performance.
The most important sentence in a report on Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation process is easy to miss. With media reports focused on shortcomings and the kumbaya call for collaboration, teachers, principals, administrators, legislators and parents shouldn’t have to search so hard for the bottom line of the findings by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. SCORE was crystal clear: “Tennessee cannot and should not return to the old system or step back from implementation of the new system.”
Here’s a novel idea: On the question of funding a school voucher program and increasing funding for Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program, Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers should let demonstrated results be their guide. Vouchers, handled correctly, can be of great benefit to children who are trying to escape disastrous public schools. Washington, D.C., established a voucher program in 2004 so that low-income students in badly performing public schools could attend private schools, at far lower cost than the district was spending per student in public schools.
In a day when a high school diploma is needed to become a manager of most fast-food restaurants, it is time for Tennessee to demand education and training for some of its most important elected offices. The fact that the General Assembly is loathe to require educational qualifications for positions such as property assessor, county commissioner, register of deeds, trustee and county clerk speaks volumes about the mind-set of our Legislature and the entire state. None of those elected positions, which are set up in Tennessee’s Constitution, require a high school diploma or GED, considered minimum training in the public or private sector.
Jeb Bush has it right. The hard-line ideologues within the Republican Party would make it impossible for Ronald Reagan to be an effective president today. Bush, brother to one president and son of another, spoke with rare candor about polarizing politics in America. No longer governor of Florida, he stepped out of the comfortable cocoon of the party line and stated what is obvious to most Americans: “Washington today is hyper-partisan with people speaking off political talking points rather than working together to find common ground to address the issues our country faces.” A day later, Bush made sure that his comments were directed at both political parties and the Congress.
The oft-expressed obstacle to youngsters entering the labor market was that you couldn’t get a job without experience and without a job you couldn’t gain any experience. The answer to this was traditionally the summer job, something low-paid, often demanding not always challenging, but that at the end of the summer resulted in the all-important first reference from an employer: “The kid shows up on time, works hard and doesn’t complain.” No matter how humble, it was a first step on the career ladder. But summer jobs for teenagers, “once a rite of passage to adulthood,” as the Associated Press put it, are disappearing.