This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Most existing fluorescent lights in the Oak Ridge Central Services Complex, Civic Center and Municipal Building are being replaced and retrofitted with light-emitting diode lights through a grant, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced. The city is receiving $200,000 in Clean Tennessee Energy Grant funding for the new LED lights, Haslam said. That will be matched with at least $200,000 from the city, City Manager Mark Watson said Tuesday. Watson said it’s expected it will take 90 days to get to the bidding process for the project.
Tennessee Department of Education this morning launched the state’s largest ever teacher training focused on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in math and English. More than 32,000 Tennessee teachers have signed up for this voluntary training held in 17 different locations over the course of six weeks. Math training will occur in June, and English language arts and literacy training will take place during three weeks in July.
Tennessee kicked off its most ambitious teacher training program in history on Tuesday, as thousands of teachers gathered to learn more about the changes that will accompany the new Common Core State Standards. More than 100 math teachers from the region were registered to spend Tuesday and today at South Pittsburg High School, one of 17 sites where more than 30,000 teachers will train this summer. Instead of just hearing about teaching strategies, teachers hit the books and practiced new lessons by solving word problems.
For Sabrina Osborne, who has been teaching first grade for three years, the thought of changing how she teaches her students because of new, rigorous standards is a lot to digest. “It’s more rigorous. It’s more in-depth,” she said. “It’s hard and it’s more difficult than what I’ve been used to.” That’s why Osborne decided to join thousands of other Tennessee teachers this week who will be learning how to implement the new state standards in their classrooms.
For a minute Tuesday, the library at Ridgeway High went quiet as 30 or more math teachers imagined what school will look like in 2026 when this year’s kindergartners are seniors. “At the rate we are going with graduation, I think a lot more international people will be performing our highest-level jobs,” said Pamela Cleaves, assistant principal at Hickory Hill Elementary. “But if we can get kids to start realizing how important their education is earlier on, I think we can change the outcome,” said Alicia Woods, third-grade math teacher at Shelby Oaks.
Training for Common Core math under way As an educator, Lisa Bogle appreciates that Common Core State Standards for math allow students to use more than one way to arrive at an answer. “The focus and emphasis on math practices is what I really like about Common Core. When I was in school and we were learning something new, the teachers said, ‘this is how you do it,’” said Bogle, who serves as Rutherford County Schools’ elementary education coordinator. She was among 500 midstate educators who signed up to attend a conference presented by the state Department of Education at Blackman High this week.
Tennessee has started a massive effort to train some 30,000 teachers this summer on new standards. It’s part of the shift to the Common Core curriculum most states are making. With classes underway this week for math teachers, some warn the new style will attract phone calls from parents. Instead of showing a kid a problem and giving the right answer, Common Core wants students to think about how they would solve it. In other words, the goal is understanding concepts, with less “chalk and talk” from teachers, as one put it.
Ron Jones third to leave job since department audit The head of the state Labor Department has terminated a high-ranking administrator, the latest change within a department that has seen numerous senior-level staff changes in the wake of a critical financial audit. Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips terminated Fiscal Services Administrator Ron Jones via letter on June 4, a move that takes effect today. A replacement has not been named.
The University of Tennessee is proposing student tuition increases of 6 percent at its Knoxville and Chattanooga campuses and 5 percent at the Health Science Center in Memphis beginning this fall. And steeper increases in mandatory fees will push the total bills even higher for most students. Annual tuition (two semesters) for in-state undergraduates at UT-Knoxville would rise from $7,802 in 2012-13 to $8,270 in 2013-14. But mandatory fees paid by all full-time students will increase 9.6 percent, from $1,290 to $1,414, pushing tuition and fees from $9,092 to $9,684, a 6.5 percent rise.
Two Chattanooga health care providers are among dozens of hospitals and clinics served subpoenas this week in connection with a federal lawsuit against the drug manufacturer at the root of last year’s devastating meningitis outbreak. Erlanger Health Care System and Chattanooga Neurosurgery and Spine each were issued subpoenas Monday, as lawyers said that two patients — one treated at each facility — became sick from fungus-infested drugs that originated from the New England Compounding Center.
Piedmont Natural Gas is taking an additional precaution to prevent spills of drilling fluid as it constructs a pipeline under Radnor Lake State Natural Area, state officials said Tuesday. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the drilling company is using a polymer additive known as a “super swell” to prevent drilling fluid from seeping into cracks and crevices in the ground. In early May, a mixture of bentonite clay and water spilled from one of two Piedmont drills into Otter Creek, prompting a cleanup effort that involved as many as 50 workers.
Changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system will be the focus of the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference this week. The three-day conference begins on Wednesday at the Nashville Airport Marriot. The conference includes specific sessions on getting ahead of the prescription drug abuse issue, how to reduce costs with safety and health programs, and navigating pain management. Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder will participate in a panel discussion on attorney and mediator ethics.
How many wildlife agents does it take to catch a wild hog? Only one — under a new remote system used by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Richard Kirk, an agency program manager, said the new system alerts an on-call agent when there is movement under the trap. Cameras are set up with the trap and the agent can watch feral hogs by video, springing the trap by pushing a button on a computer or smartphone from miles away. Agents set up a corral that is 35 feet in diameter and bait it with corn.
Wildlife agents in Tennessee are beginning to use high definition video streaming to trap and kill wild hogs. The new system dubbed HogWatch was developed by IC Realtime, a southeastern-based mobile video and security company. Feral swine have been a growing problem in the state over the last 15 years, and are now present in 80 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. In fact, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation describes the wild hog as “Tennessee’s Single Most Destructive Animal.” The Cumberland Plateau has the biggest problem with hogs, which dig up row crops as they forage for food. But in Middle Tennessee, 300 have been captured just since January.
A White House woman has been indicted for TennCare fraud known as “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances from multiple doctors, the state Office of Inspector General announced Monday. Katherine L. Fry, 32, of White House is charged with seven counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain hydrocodone and oxycodone, both strong painkillers, according to a press release by the inspector general’s office, which is working on the case with the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
A deputy attorney general and the former legal boss at restaurant chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Store are two of the 10 candidates to take a seat on the Tennessee Court of Appeals in a year and change. The Judicial Nominating Commission will consider Janet Kleinfelter’s and Forrest Shoaf’s applications alongside those of members of law firms Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, Butler Snow O’Mara Stevens & Cannada and Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin. The applicants are looking to fill the seat that will be vacated by Judge Patricia Cottrell, who last month said she will step down at the end of August 2014.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he has reappointed Nancy De Friece to the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission. In a statement Tuesday, Ramsey said De Friece is a former chairman of the Tennessee Arts Commission and a charter member of the Hands On! Regional Museum. She has received the Arts in Tennessee Award presented by the International Storytelling Center. The commission was created in 2009 to oversee operations and establish the strategic direction of the state museum.
Hiring additional school resource officers and buying more patrol cars and ambulances for Rutherford County will cost money, but a proposal to raise property taxes has met some opposition. Most of the 23 speakers at a public hearing Monday night told the Rutherford County Commission’s budget committee that they oppose a proposed 4 percent property tax increase. The tax hike amounts to a 10-cent increase to the existing rate of about $2.47 per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a home appraised at $150,000 would see a $37.50 increase to their property tax bill, which comes to $3.13 per month.
The Memphis City Council worked deep into Tuesday night trying to pass a budget, but ultimately recessed budget talks until next week. The council did vote to make a series of key cuts to the city’s budget that totaled more than $29 million but did not set the city property tax rate, which in the previous budget year was 3.11. Various tax rate proposals dipped above and below the new certified tax rate of 3.36, as determined by the county and state, to make up for revenues lost by the unprecedented drop in the city’s property values.
As the city of Memphis tallies its debts, officials with Shelby County say the debts to the county need to be included and that the city’s financial woes impact county finances as well. Officials say the city owes millions in payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) debts on Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division properties and that the county could have avoided a property tax increase had the city paid the schools the $55 million as ordered by a court. The city and county are in court, disputing how much the city owes the county for the electrical and gas PILOTs, said Harvey Kennedy, county CAO.
The city of Niota is now a shell of its former self. The city’s liability insurance expired Tuesday, and the Tennessee Municipal League Pool informed Niota’s leaders that it will no longer offer rates to the city. The risk is too great, the TML said. People have filed too many claims against Niota. Without the insurance, Mayor Lois Preece said, most departments of the city cannot function. The parks are closed. The library is closed. The street department has been laid off. The sewer department has been contracted out, Preece said, and the garbage department might be, too. The police department is closed.
Legal opponents of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann are fighting the congressman’s second request to conceal his own court filings from the public. Nashville-based political operative Mark Winslow filed a furious response Monday to Fleischmann’s May 29 motion to seal 1,800 pages of polling data, strategy memos and internal emails. The trove represents Winslow’s request for documents in a Davidson County lawsuit against Fleischmann dating to the 2010 election cycle. Winslow is suing Fleischmann and Chip Saltsman, the congressman’s longtime aide, for defamation stemming from the 2010 Republican primary.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn found herself at the center of an emotionally charged debate over abortion Tuesday, as she lead Republican efforts to pass a bill prohibiting the procedure more than 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Blackburn of Brentwood was appointed to lead the floor debate for the GOP after the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee passed the bill last week. There are no Republican women on the committee. She called the legislation, which passed 228-196, an “appropriate response to Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors.”
Government officials have missed several deadlines in setting up new health-insurance exchanges for small businesses and consumers—a key part of the federal health overhaul—and there is a risk they won’t be ready to open on time in October, Congress’s watchdog arm said. The Government Accountability Office said federal and state health officials still have major work to complete, offering its most cautious comments to date about the Obama administration’s ability to bring the centerpiece of its signature law to fruition.
Three more Pilot Flying J employees pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a scheme to defraud trucking companies out of rebates as a federal investigation continues to unfold into the country’s largest truck stop company. One of the employees was a sales manager who helped set up a training session to teach others how to carry out the fraud. Another was a sales manager who was secretly recorded bragging about his role in shorting customers. The other was an account representative based in Knoxville who helped handle the reductions.
Holly Radford embraced the “gray side” of sales. Jay Stinnett warned his boss not to get “too cute.” Kevin Clark couldn’t believe he and his colleagues got away with it. They didn’t. All three Pilot Flying J employees pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud — bringing to five the total of Pilot workers who have admitted to helping cheat trucking customers out of promised fuel discounts and rebates.
Advocates for solar energy are looking to bend the ear of the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA is reassessing its long-range plan for different ways it will produce power, and an agency spokesman notes in recent years solar has gotten a lot cheaper. The solar push comes as TVA’s new CEO is halfway into his first year, and as federal officials discuss selling off the massive agency. With so much change afoot, Karl Rábago thinks TVA could rework how it measures the costs and benefits of solar.
Agency to take steps after audit TVA plans to tighten its policies after an audit found a poor job of keeping records on vehicle allowances to employees and use of company vehicles. The TVA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released the results of an audit of Tennessee Valley Authority vehicle allowance and assigned vehicle programs for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Among the results, the OIG reviewed approval documentation on 37 of 71 TVA employees who received a vehicle allowance and found the paperwork for 34 gave no indication whether eligibility criteria for the allowance was met.
Old Dominion Freight Line wants to move and expand its Memphis operations near — but not across — the Mississippi border, creating 188 new jobs and spending $31.3 million on new facilities. Barnhart Crane and Rigging also wants to grow in Memphis, buying extra property, hiring 20 more people and spending $5.2 million. The two companies are scheduled to go before the EDGE board Wednesday seeking tax breaks in return for their expansion projects. The Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County meets at 3 p.m. at Memphis Bioworks, 20 S. Dudley.
The nation’s teacher-training programs do not adequately prepare would-be educators for the classroom, even as they produce almost triple the number of graduates needed, according to a survey of more than 1,000 programs released Tuesday. The National Council on Teacher Quality review is a scathing assessment of colleges’ education programs and their admission standards, training and value. The report, which drew immediate criticism, was designed to be provocative and urges leaders at teacher-training programs to rethink what skills would-be educators need to be taught to thrive in the classrooms of today and tomorrow.
When school starts back up in August, all Franklin Special School District administrators, teachers, students and parents will be signing a contract. The school board approved its own version of a school-parent contract recommended by the state and designed to encourage parental involvement. The contract is a first for the district of about 3,800 students. All Title 1 schools — which receive certain federal funds and serve a high percentage of low-income students — are required to implement such a contract.
Bradley County seems to be preparing to become one of the first school systems in Tennessee to allow some teachers to arm themselves in the classroom. That’s a frightening thought. Just weeks ago, a Lafayette, Ga., school resource officer turned his taser on a girl who was in a hair-pulling fight with another girl. The scene was caught on video by a student who later posted it online — something unheard of until cell phones made everyone a photographer, videographer and town crier. So in Bradley County, will a teacher lose his or her head and pull a gun on students? Or mistake a fake gun for a real one? Or be killed by a police officer who mistakes him or her for a school gunman if there’s a lock down for some false alarm?
As expected, the Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, is now the world’s fastest supercomputer. The announcement of the new TOP500 List was made at the International Supercomputing Conference being held at Leipzig, Germany, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Titan, a Cray XK7 system, was dropped to second place after holding the top ranking for the past six months. According to the announcement, Tianhe-2’s qualifying performance on the Linpack benchmark was an astonishing 33.86 petaflops, which means it’s capable of more than 33 million billion mathematical calculations per second.