This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed seven people Tuesday to the boards that oversee Tennessee’s college and university systems. Evan Cope, a Murfreesboro lawyer, and Adam Jarvis, a student at East Tennessee State University, were named to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Vicky Gregg, chief executive of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee; Shalin Shah, a student at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga; and Victoria Steinberg, an associate professor of French at UTC; were named trustees to the University of Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday the appointments of seven new members, including four Hamilton Countians, to Tennessee’s three higher education boards. Vicky Gregg of Chattanooga, chief executive officer of Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, was named to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. She will represent the state’s 3rd Congressional District on the board. Victoria Steinberg, of Hixson, an associate professor of French at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, will serve as the nonvoting faculty trustee on the UT Board.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday the appointments of seven new members to Tennessee’s higher education boards. Appointed were: Evan Cope, Tennessee Higher Education Commission; Adam Jarvis, Tennessee Higher Education Commission; Vicky Gregg, University of Tennessee Board of Trustees; Shalin Shah, University of Tennessee Board of Trustees; Victoria Steinberg, University of Tennessee Board of Trustees; Ashley Humphrey, Tennessee Board of Regents; Dr. Bob Raines, Tennessee Board of Regents.
Bad instructors need more help to improve Tennessee’s new teacher evaluations — criticized by educators as too time-consuming and by the state as ineffective — are now faulted in a national ranking. The state lost points because the law here does not prevent a child from having a bad teacher two years in a row and the public is not allowed to see teacher assessments, according to a report by Bellwether Education Partners. The organization is part of the Walton Family Foundation, which spends more than $100 million a year to promote an education reform agenda that includes school choice through charter schools and vouchers.
Knox, Blount among districts In January, Anderson County Schools officials made a five-year goal to increase the average composite ACT score by at least a tenth of a point every year. According to scores released today, they are already hitting their mark. “We are happy with the gains, but we still are not satisfied,” said Tim Parrott, the district’s director of secondary and career and technical education, on the system’s ACT increase from 18.8 in 2011 to 18.9 in 2012.
Gap between black, white students is getting larger For the second straight year, Tennessee’s high school students scored so poorly on a national college and career readiness test that only Mississippi students received a lower overall score. Just 16 percent of Tennessee’s 2012 graduating seniors were fully prepared for college, according to a report released today by ACT, the organization that sponsors the college admissions test of the same name.
Hamilton County students taking the ACT college entrance exam in 2012 saw another year of growth and improved scores in every tested subject area. The county’s students marked an average composite score of 18.9 on the 36-point test, up from last year’s score of 18.7. But the county’s results, released today, are still below the state average. “We’re pleased that we’re seeing a positive trend,” said Kirk Kelly, director of testing and accountability for the county school system. “This is the highest our numbers have been in three years.”
Waiting for education reform to produce results in Tennessee continues to demand patience and faith that millions of new dollars that are being poured into the effort will eventually pay off. According to the latest report from ACT, Inc., Tennessee high school students this year continued to underperform their peers in most other states where every junior is required to take the college entrance exam. The state’s average composite score of 19.7 compares to Colorado’s 20.6, Illinois’ 20.9, Kentucky’s 19.8, Louisiana’s 20.3, Michigan’s 20.1, Mississippi’s 18.7, North Dakota’s 20.7, and Wyoming’s 20.3.
Average scores on the ACT exam held steady for the high school class of 2012 but the results show modest progress in the number of students who appear ready for college-level work in math and science. The scores, being released Wednesday, cover the first-ever class in which more than half of graduates nationally took the ACT. Traditionally the ACT has been a rival college entrance exam to the SAT, but it is now taken by almost all students in nine states, and by at least 60 percent of graduates in 26 states. The average national composite score was 21.1 (on a scale of 1 to 36), unchanged from the class of 2011.
Americans are divided over much in public education, including whether it’s fair to use test scores to rate teachers and whether children of illegal immigrants should be able to attend school for free. The biggest single issue undermining schools is lack of funding, according to the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll released Tuesday on a wide range of issues in public education. “Lack of financial support trumps everything. People get it,” said Lily Eskelsen, a Utah elementary teacher who is also vice president of the National Education Association.
Haslam promotes Books from Birth at local day care Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam was in town Tuesday to promote the mission of Rutherford Books from Birth and the Imagination Library. As part of her initiative to encourage early literacy and parental engagement, Haslam read “The Little Engine That Could” and “Llama Llama Misses Mama” to children at Wee Care Day Care Center. “The Imagination Library is a wonderful program Tennessee can be very proud of,” Haslam told a group of program supporters present for her visit.
The State Building Commission has approved an $800,000 measure to study the future of the historic Tennessee State Prison in West Nashville, The City Paper reports. The gothic prison, featured in The Green Mile film, has sat empty for 20 years. Options for the property range from a $27 million renovation to the Tennessee Department of Corrections abandoning the property.
As scheduled, workers have reopened all lanes of Neyland Drive under the Henley Bridge, but occasional lane closures can be expected as the renovation effort on the 80-year-old span marches on. Workers have been scrambling since March to complete work on the bridge over the divided four lanes of Neyland Drive at the north end. As the overhead work dictated, workers shifted an eastbound lane onto a westbound lane of Neyland Drive and reversed the switch as construction progressed.
As entertained as Democrats were watching Republican challengers pick off GOP incumbents in the primary election this month, the minority party says they’re concerned a wave of “extreme” right-leaning legislators would bad for legislative business. But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner wouldn’t go as far as to say whether that holds true if Speaker Tempore Judd Matheny chooses to seek the top seat in the House of Representatives. “Judd’s kind of a mixture of things. He kind of votes for working people a lot, but yet he’s kind of out there on some of the social issues, and some of the gun issues. I don’t think you can stereotype him by any means,” said Turner, D-Old Hickory, in an interview with reporters last week.
The veteran and military vote is becoming a key demographic in the fight for the Tennessee Senate’s 22nd district. Republican Mark Green announced the support of over 200 veterans Tuesday morning, while incumbent Democrat Sen. Tim Barnes answered with his list of legislative accomplishments. Green, who served in the military as an emergency physician and notably tended to Saddam Hussein after the renegade dictator was pulled from a hole in Iraq, said his military experience made him particularly suited to serve the area. “Our community is blessed to be the second highest concentration of military veterans in the country,” Green said.
Starting in October, Davidson County’s jailers will no longer interrogate and initiate charges against suspected illegal immigrants who are arrested. Sheriff Daron Hall, on Tuesday, announced that his office will not renew its federal agreement to participate in the 287(g) immigration screening program, ending a policy that became as divisive as it was litigated. The 287(g) program allowed local jailers to function as immigration authorities. They could detain, file charges and begin the deportation process for suspected illegal immigrants who passed through the jail.
The Davidson County Sheriff says he will discontinue his department’s role in deporting illegal immigrants. Daron Hall announced Tuesday that Nashville will no longer participate in the controversial immigration screening program known as 287(g). The program has effectively deputized local officers and made them immigration agents who check the status on everyone arrested in Nashville. Since the program began five years ago, more than 10,000 illegal aliens have been processed for removal from the country.
The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office will cease using the controversial 287(g) immigration program when their memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements expires on Oct. 8. Sheriff Daron Hall sent a letter to ICE Director John Morton Tuesday morning, notifying him of their discontinuation of the program — which allowed trained DCSO employees to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Instead, the DCSO will operate under another federal program called Secure Communities.
Names of Davidson County elected officials on signs outside their offices could soon be a thing of the past. The Metro Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday for a bill that would prohibit Metro from using city funds to purchase and construct permanent signs that name an elected or appointed official. Under an amendment added to the legislation, however, the measure would still allow temporary signs outside Metro construction projects to identify the corresponding mayor, council members or others.
Two men suing the Hamilton County Commission over the Christian prayers it holds during meetings gathered Tuesday with a Christian leader on UTC’s campus to support his prayer initiative. Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, who initially sued county commissioners in June alleging a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, are both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students who are helping the school’s Secular Student Alliance. They met Tuesday at the University Center with Corey Garrett, the 39-year-old director of Campus Christians, who began pushing for private and personal prayers at university events last spring.
Residents likely will be able to vote in November on seven proposed changes to the county’s governing documents. Final details should be ironed out tonight during the Knox County Charter Review Committee’s final meeting. The proposals range from minor tweaks and language fixes to tackling the Knox County Sheriff’s Office multimillion-dollar retirement plan and creating a new benefit plan. Residents, however, won’t get a chance to address a number of issues that earlier this year garnered strong interest but have since lost steam.
Millington Mayor Linda Carter said the city will file a lawsuit in Chancery Court by Friday challenging the results of the Aug. 2 local sales tax referendum, saying votes casts by nonresidents in the Lucy community led to the measure’s defeat by three votes. In another development Tuesday, Rev. Kenneth Whalum will hold a press conference Wednesday to announce plans to file his own Chancery Court lawsuit challenging the results of his loss to Kevin Woods in the county Board of Education, District 4 race.
Trial briefs filed late Monday by the two primary parties in the battle over the legal validity of the Aug. 2 municipal schools referendums appeal to the federal judge overseeing a Sept. 4 trial by reminding him of his own recent declarations. The Shelby County Commission, in its 51-page assault on statutes that would enable suburban Shelby County municipalities to open new districts by next year, tells U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays that he “emphasized” at a July hearing allowing referendums to go forward that he “would not hesitate to invalidate any votes” if he found the referendums were unconstitutional.
Tennessee’s Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate has gained notoriety since his unexpected primary win. But the now-disavowed Democrat is getting almost no attention from his Republican opponent, Bob Corker. Democrats abandoned Mark Clayton less than 24 hours after he won the primary. They say he’s not a bonafied Democrat and that he is affiliated with an organization characterized as an anti-gay hate group. When asked about Clayton, Senator Corker hardly responded.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker stopped short of calling on Missouri Republican Todd Akin to end his bid for Senate. But Corker, a Republican, says he found Akin’s comments to be “unbelievable.” Akin suggested in a TV interview that a woman’s body can prevent pregnancy in what he called cases of “legitimate rape.” “There’s no question the comments that he made were just unbelievably off base and it’s hard to imagine what he was thinking when he said what he said.” Corker, who often sidesteps hot-button topics, says he’ll allow others to give Akin advice about his political future.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., on Tuesday rejected controversial assertions made by a House colleague, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., that “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy. “As a physician there is no medical basis that could or should have led anyone to make such insensitive statements,” said DesJarlais, who considers himself pro-life, in a brief email statement to the Times Free Press But the Jasper physician is making no apologies for his support of a 2011 House Republican bill, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.”
Those who religiously watch cable news hear it often: “Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, Republican from Tennessee, live with us now from Capitol Hill … ” In 2012, the Brentwood resident has become one of the most recognized faces of the Republican Party and conservative causes in general, so much so that watching all of her media appearances on YouTube would be full-time job in itself. Whenever congressional issues top the day’s news, TV and radio news producers quickly seek out the youthful-looking grandmother and small business owner to represent the right side of the political spectrum.
Leave it, cover it or scoop it. Those are the three options for dealing with some 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash that coat the Emory and Clinch river bottoms for several miles after the catastrophic ash spill nearly four years ago at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant. The ash, in depths ranging from several inches to several feet thick, poses “no unacceptable human health risks,” said Craig Zeller, project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s oversight of TVA’s ongoing cleanup. The primary harm, he said, is to “bugs that live in the sediment” and possibly to the birds that eventually feast on them.
Four years after construction of a new storage facility for bomb-grade uranium was completed at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, the government’s contractor has reached a financial settlement with the companies that built the fortress-like compound and claimed they never got their due. Warren Barrow, a top executive with Caddell Construction of Alabama, confirmed Tuesday that a settlement had been reached between the construction parties — headed by construction manager Caddell/Blaine, a joint venture that included Blaine Construction of Knoxville — and B&W Y-12, the managing contractor at Y-12.
A federal safety board will hold an Oct. 2 field hearing in Knoxville to gather information on operations at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge and evaluate what’s being done to mitigate the risks associated with the plant’s old production facilities, some of which date to the World War II Manhattan Project. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s hearing will include a second session devoted to the Uranium Processing Facility, a multibillion-dollar project that’s supposed to replace some of the plant’s oldest nuclear operations.
More than 70 Tennessee hospitals will this fall be paid less by Medicare because too many of their patients have been readmitted within 30 days. Researchers at Kaiser Health News recently tallied the Medicare statistics for hospitals nationwide. The regulators’ cuts, which will be effective Oct. 1, are part of the implementation of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Medicare looked at 30-day readmission rates for Medicare patients and will dock hospitals up to 1 percent of their reimbursements if they fall short of various standards.
Erlanger Health System, which has struggled to improve its surgical volume over the last six months, had another disappointing month in July, with both inpatient and outpatient surgeries below budget. However, the public hospital improved its surgical mix — the percentage of revenue coming from surgeries. Six months ago, under 29 percent of hospital revenue came from surgeries, but in July, 31 percent of revenue was from surgeries. The hospital chalked up nearly $1.8 million in losses in July, the first month of the fiscal year, according to financial reports released Monday.
Board votes to shrink faculty, staff raises The Sumner County Board of Education on Tuesday night voted 7-4 to approve $1.72 million in cuts to the school district’s budget. Director of Schools Del Phillips had recommended about $1.96 million in cuts, in addition to the $1.1 million in reductions approved by the board last week, as needed to balance the school district’s budget. Tuesday night’s reductions recommended by Phillips included $100,000 to eliminate GPS on school buses, $190,000 trimmed from distance learning, and $500,000 to reduce teacher raises from 3 percent to the state-mandated 2.5 percent.
After Alabama’s worst-ever tornado outbreak struck two-thirds of the state last year, killing 230 people, the governor and lawmakers immediately united to lead an effort to clean up debris, speed aid to victims and repair and rebuild roads, bridges, schools and other public buildings. But months later, when Alabama’s largest county was nearing insolvency—the financial equivalent of a natural disaster—state leaders failed to intervene to avert the largest county bankruptcy in U.S. history. Jefferson County, which includes Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham, is facing years of restructuring its finances, paying creditors and trying to deliver services that have been cut sharply for four years.
Following up on a couple of stories while opening up another: * While I was over yonder in Romania, Sevier County settled some election issues, returning one incumbent, ousting another and moving a new guy a step closer to Nashville. State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, retained his 2nd District seat, thumping intense upstart Scott Hughes. Overbey’s calm in the midst of Hughes’ frequent verbal storms turned back a tea party favorite. State Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chair of the House Education Committee, lost to Sevierville Alderman Dale Carr in the 12th House District primary by 78 votes. Armchair analysts say Montgomery got involved in a local school board race in Seymour a couple of years ago and that cost him Seymour and, thus, his seat.
The Rutherford County Election Commission admitted Monday it was rushed this year in setting up precincts and drawing lines as part of a 10-year redistricting plan. Consequently, it promised residents of the Milton community and La Vergne it would place the matter on its September agenda and put the county’s entire precinct plan under a microscope in 2013. We encourage Milton and La Vergne residents, as well as any other groups who feel slighted by the 46-precinct plan to hold the commission to its promise. Rutherford County has about 10 more years with this voting plan and the commission should make sure it serves voters here admirably.
People who travel by public transportation in the Northeast Corridor — Washington, D.C., New York, Boston —tend to go by train rather than plane. Amtrak now dominates the corridor, claiming that 75 percent of passengers traveling between New York and Washington ride its trains; 54 percent from New York to Boston. The rail line dates the change to the introduction of the high-speed Acela in 2000 and the security measures implemented post 9/11. High-speed rail hasn’t made it to Tennessee yet, but state officials, along with their counterparts in other Southeastern states, are trying to get funding for high-speed service, including a line running from Atlanta through Tennessee to Louisville, Ky.
The July 28 security breach seems to have pierced the aura of invincibility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. That, in itself, is not all bad if it actually results in improved security against threats presumed to be greater than three senior protesters who wanted to leave a message, not steal nuclear materials or detonate a bomb. What has some local folks concerned is that the already damaging fallout from the security incident could go viral, continue to create negative attention and perhaps bleed into congressional discussions about whether to fund Oak Ridge projects — including the proposed Uranium Processing Facility.