This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam believes the door is open to attract more Japanese-owned businesses to Tennessee, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. “We’ve done well historically there — we have 33,000 jobs in Tennessee from Japanese-owned companies,” Haslam told WPLN. “We think there’s some more headway to make.” Nissan, whose North American headquarters are in Franklin, recently announced plans to shift more of its production to Smyrna in light of the soaring value of the Japanese yen compared to the U.S. dollar.
More than half of 2012 high school graduates who took a college entrance exam did not have all of the skills they will need to succeed in college or a career, a pair of recent reports conclude. Findings released by the non-profit College Board show that 57 percent of 2012 graduating seniors who took the SAT, which it owns, earned a combined score below what it says is necessary to demonstrate that students can earn a B-minus or better in the first year of study at a four-year college. A report released last month by the Iowa City-based ACT found that at least 60 percent of 2012 high school graduates who took its test are similarly at risk of not succeeding in college.
Average national scores on two of the three sections of the SAT college entrance exam edged down for the high school class of 2012, which was the first in which more students took the rival ACT exam than the SAT. The ACT narrowly surpassed the SAT, by fewer than 2,000 test-takers out of about 1.65 million who took each exam. But the cross-over is no surprise. The number taking the ACT — historically more popular in the central states with the SAT more popular on the East and West coasts — has been growing more rapidly, partly because the ACT is now taken by virtually all students in nine states under the state testing regimen.
SAT scores for the high-school graduating class of 2012 fell in two of the test’s three sections, with reading dropping to the lowest level in four decades on the college-entrance test, according to data released Monday. Only 43% of the 1.66 million private- and public-school students who took the college-entrance exam posted scores showing they are prepared to do well in college, according to data released by the College Board, the nonprofit group that administers the SAT. That was unchanged from last year.
Though the old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” rings true quite often, newly released data from College Measures might add a caveat of its own: “It’s not what you know, but where you go.” The organization issued a report on the earning power of first-year graduates from public colleges and universities in Tennessee and found graduates of the University of Memphis earned $40,401 annually, the most of all four-year schools in the state of Tennessee. At the bottom of the list was University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where graduates earned an average wage of $35,650.
Members of the University of Tennessee Faculty Senate called a letter Monday from the campus chancellors regarding benefits for same-sex partners “appalling.” The letter sent by Chancellors Larry Arrington and Jimmy Cheek, followed a request for a response by the faculty after it drafted a resolution in April supporting education, leave and health benefits for same-sex couples that mirror what is offered to married couples. Neither chancellor was at Monday’s meeting in the University Center.
University of Tennessee leaders say faculty attempts to extend benefits to unmarried and gay partners won’t work. They contend such a move would be against the law. The Faculty Senate at UT-Knoxville drafted a resolution this spring calling for unmarried couples to get the same education, leave, and health benefits given to married professors and their spouses. A letter to the senate from UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington calls the proposal, quote, “inconsistent with the public policy of our state.”
The new $29 million State Route 109 bridge over Old Hickory Lake will extend 1,600 feet and carry four lanes of traffic. It will be a far cry from what’s there now: a 58-year-old steel trestle bridge that, although safe, is structurally deficient and can no longer meet the needs of fast-growing Wilson and Sumner counties. The new bridge, under construction and expected to be completed next year, is more than just a replacement, state and local officials said Monday. It is the latest in an ongoing effort to transform State Route 109 into a more modern transportation corridor, carrying commuters and freight and spurring economic development efforts in the region.
As the Tennessee business community gears up for a multifaceted fight to prevent judicial elections, it faces a key dilemma: what to do when the current system expires. On June 30, 2013, the “Tennessee Plan” — the state’s appointment system for selecting appellate judges and Supreme Court justices — will sunset. That leaves the Tennessee General Assembly with the task of figuring out what system it wants to put in place, this time against the backdrop of a larger fight involving a major court case and a long-term effort to amend the state constitution in 2014.
House Democrats are speaking out against a decision by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to withhold $3.4 million in state funding from Nashville because of a dispute over a charter school application. The lawmakers are holding a news conference on the plaza across from the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. Haslam has said he had no choice but to agree to deny the funds to Nashville schools because of the system’s refusal to follow a directive from the state school board to approve the application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy.
Six days after Republican state Senate candidate John Stevens admitted ripping up an unconscious widow’s last will, he released a statement Monday saying he was acting “on her wishes and her wishes alone.” Stevens’ Democratic opponent in District 24, Brad Thompson, last week circulated court filings involving the death and the estate of Huntingdon resident Ruth Keras. They included indications Stevens created a revocable trust on behalf of Keras, whose assets after her death were to be divided equally between Keras’ brother and Peggy Wilkes of Carroll County.
Cleveland leaders have approved a United States Army Corps of Engineers flood risk management study of creek basins within city limits, and they want their county counterparts to do the same for the rest of Bradley County. On Monday, the Cleveland City Council voted 7-0 to go forward with the study, which will cost the city $525,000, half the study’s cost; federal funding will cover the other half. “I think this resolution reflects our continued effort to eliminate some of the flooding problems we’ve had,” said Councilman Richard Banks.
The troubled Shelby County Housing Authority is going out of business. County officials are working to transfer the housing authority’s final assets to the Memphis Housing Authority. The federal Housing Urban Development agency, which is pushing for the merger or transfer, said this week the transfer should be finalized by the end of the year. An audit by HUD released earlier this year slammed the county housing authority. Last fall, just as federal auditors were documenting its findings, the county housing authority board fired its executive director, Edward Pearlman, who was making $85,000 a year, and overseeing two properties.
Monday afternoon Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes placed the Ten Commandments on display in the county’s courthouse. The religious document is accompanied in a frame by copies of the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. Fontes is the 25th sheriff in Tennessee to request the framed documents from conservative activist June Griffin. Griffin donates the framed display in order to circumvent any argument that taxpayer dollars have been utilized to purchase the religious document. The 25 requests from various sheriffs started in March of this year. That is when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a law that permits cities and counties to display the Ten Commandments as a historical document alongside other historical documents.
Saying members of Congress should stop “sitting around on our hands,” Sen. Lamar Alexander on Monday became the latest from Tennessee to call for lawmakers to forgo their paychecks if they can’t complete budget bills on time. Alexander, a Republican, said he would co-sponsor the No Budget, No Pay Act introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, is the lead sponsor of the idea in the House. The act would prohibit lawmakers from getting paychecks after Oct. 1 of any year in which they have not passed a budget resolution and the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund government departments and agencies in the next fiscal year.
Legislation originating from Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper has gained the support of Tennessee’s most senior Republican in Washington. Sen. Lamar Alexander says he’s signing onto the “No Budget, No Pay” act. Alexander uses one of his famous Grand Ole Opry analogies to explain. He says you wouldn’t expect an Opry member to get paid if they showed up late and refused to sing. The “No Budget, No Pay” proposal has been widely panned as a gimmick with no chance of passage. Alexander says he’s been convinced otherwise.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is withholding judgment on President Obama’s four nominations to the Tennessee Valley Authority board, saying the administration has told him nothing and he’s not happy about it. “TVA’s obviously a low priority to the administration,” Alexander told reporters Monday during a conference call. “I’ve had zero conversations with the White House about these appointees, to my regret since I’ve placed a very high priority on it.” He said “it would be much better if the nominations would have come earlier.”
Most observers see Republican George Flinn’s attempt to unseat incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen in Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District to be the longest of long shots, notwithstanding the fact that Flinn, a wealthy radiologist and broadcast magnate, is in the habit of spending millions in the political races he has so far undertaken. Even after a Republican-controlled redistricting process that transferred a large hunk of East Memphis to the 8th District, trading it in effect for a vast terrain including Cordova and northern Shelby County, the 9th District remains predominantly Democratic, with a two-thirds black majority and a population with demonstrably Democratic voting habits overall.
The recent seven-day teacher strike in Chicago captured the nation’s attention for a host of reasons: the high-profile personalities driving the standoff, the size of the school district and sheer number of inconvenienced families involved, the broader questions about education reform that were at the core of the dispute. But the most remarkable thing about the strike may be the fact that it happened at all. It was not only the first strike by teachers in Chicago in a quarter of a century, but the first big-city classroom strike anywhere in the country since Detroit teachers struck in 2006.
An Ohio congressman has introduced legislation that would put the military in charge of security at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge and other U.S. facilities where nuclear weapons parts and critical weapons-making materials are housed. U.S. Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, cited the recent security failures at Y-12 — including the July 28 intrusion by an 82-year-old nun and two other protesters — as evidence that the current system is broken and needs fixing. Under the bill, which has six co-sponsors, the Pentagon would be responsible for security of nuclear weapons and the special nuclear materials, such as highly enriched uranium, that are used to make them.
Xerox is hiring 50 employees for the company’s new Nashville facility at the Highland Ridge Office Park on Marriott Drive. According to a news release, positions include customer service representatives, quality assurance analysts, technical analysts and service center managers. According to a news release, Xerox “requires new full-time employees quickly in order to handle the company’s new client growth.” Xerox also announced plans in July to add 100 jobs at its Nashville call center at 801 Royal Parkway.
A German manufacturing company that specializes in equipment for producing cardboard is planning to move its Grainger County factory to Knox County BHS Corrugated North America has filed an application with the Knox County Industrial Development Board, seeking a payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentive for a facility that would make and refurbish the rollers that are used in making corrugated cardboard. According to the application, the company would develop a 33,500-square foot building at a cost of $2.4 million, and would invest $4 million in equipment and tooling.
United Knitting in Cleveland, Tenn., has laid off 10 employees, nearly 20 percent of its personnel, because of a lack of work, an official said Monday. The layoffs at the company were completed last month, said Glenda Epperson, its human resources director. Four other former employees left voluntarily, she said. Epperson said the company now has 54 people at its Cleveland facility. She said the workforce reductions are expected to be the last for 2012. The company’s last round of layoffs was in 2009, the official said.
For the last time, Nashville will play host this week to the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass week, The City Paper reports. As the IBMA announced in May, the annual event will head to Raleigh, N.C., for at least 2013 through 2015. The move partly resulted from complaints about the cost of hotel rooms in downtown Nashville. World of Bluegrass week — which features a fan festival, conference and awards show — arrived in Nashville in 2005.
After racking up more than $17 million in losses through the first 10 months of its fiscal year, Erlanger Health System recovered with two solid months to end with a $9.5 million loss for 2012. The public hospital also saw a positive month in August with a $2 million profit, largely due to strong outpatient surgery numbers. The hospital had a profit of $5.4 million in fiscal year 2011. Britt Tabor, Erlanger’s chief financial officer, provided both the year-end audited financial statement and August financial numbers to the board’s financial committee on Monday evening.
A white or Asian student in Hamilton County does 21 percent better in high school math than a black, Hispanic or Native American. An elementary school student without a disability does 32 percent better than one with a disability. A nonpoor elementary school student does 30 percent better in reading than a poor student. Those and other achievement gaps among minority groups are narrowing, but not fast enough, according to state education officials. While Hamilton County met a majority of its overall student achievement goals for 2012, the district only met three of its 16 goals for closing achievement gaps among student groups.
The Roane County School System has wrapped up major building upgrades and new school construction underwritten by a special TVA payment. And after the dust settled and bills were paid, the system has $1,705,088 left over from $32 million it received. School officials also have specific plans on how to use that money, members of the Roane County Economic Development Foundation were told Monday. Schools received the lion’s share of a $43 million payout to Roane County from TVA as its response to the disastrous December 2008 ash spill at its Kingston Fossil Plant.
Metro Nashville school board will take the first step toward creating an official diversity plan tonight by considering a proposal drafted by Director of Schools Jesse Register and consultant Leonard Stevens. The plan, billed as a “thought-starter for discussion only,” includes a requirement that charter schools in the district use diversity plans that meet the same standards as one that the district will create. Metro officials have denied that the creation of an official diversity plan is related to the recent denial of the Great Hearts Academies charter school.
Tennessee is ripe for a parent-trigger law like the one used in “Won’t Back Down,” a representative from education nonprofit Parent Revolution said after a special screening of the movie Monday. The California-based group helped schools in that state use a parent-trigger law to take over failing schools, and Ryan Donohue, its deputy national advocacy director, urged the audience to promote the movie by word-of-mouth and on social media sites. “If the parents want us to get involved and get active, we certainly will,” Donohue said.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre assured parents that the details of a rezoning plan for a new elementary school set to open next fall won’t be made without their feedback. “No lines have been drawn, no proposals have been put forth — we really want to hear from you first,” he told more than 100 people gathered in the Hardin Valley Elementary School gym Monday night for the first of four planned public input meetings. Parents said they appreciated the outreach effort, as no one welcomed the prospect of their child being uprooted next year.
After nearly a year, Wayne Goforth will return to work as the superintendent of the Union County school system — effective today. “I’m ready to go back to work. I’ve always been ready to go back to work,” Goforth said after a 4-3 vote by the school board Monday night officially put him back in the position. “In fact, I think my granddaughter has had a very high paid baby sitter for the past year. But the downside of that is the schoolchildren didn’t get the benefit of my salary.” In February, the school board voted that six administrative charges filed against Goforth were cause to terminate his contract.
The Metro Nashville Hospital Authority Board has asked the community to join a critical conversation about the future of one of Nashville’s historical and important hospitals. As we continue the dialogue, Nashville General Hospital’s role in serving our community’s uninsured and underinsured residents is not up for debate. The issue here is clear: The way General currently delivers services is no longer meeting community needs or using public funds in an acceptably effective manner. The numbers speak for themselves. Nashville General admits an average of just 11 acute care patients per day. Last fiscal year, the hospital captured just 6 percent of Davidson County’s inpatient hospital discharges, but required more than $46 million in subsidy to meet its financial obligations.
Sometimes when parents want to drive home a message to their children to get them to do what they need to do, one tactic is to put a hold on a child’s allowance until the chores get done. It’s a useful parenting tactic that can help teach a lesson about responsibility. Because many members of the U.S. Congress these days are acting like a bunch of spoiled kids, and refusing to do the jobs they were elected to do, a similar tactic is emerging to cut off congressional pay until they get to work and pass a national budget. This seems a bit childish, but then, maybe it fits the nature of the problem. So far, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, 87 other members of the U.S. House, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., all have signed on to pass legislation to suspend congressional pay any time Congress doesn’t pass a national budget and appropriations bills by Oct. 1, as required by law.