This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
If a Chattanooga State program works as well in the rest of Tennessee as it does here, about 8,000 students each year will save some money and never have to take a remedial math course in college. That’s what Gov. Bill Haslam hopes, and that’s why he dedicated more than $1 million earlier this month to expand Seamless Alignment and Learning Support, a program in which community colleges reach out to struggling high school seniors. The students — all of whom scored lower than a 19 on their ACTs as juniors — are on pace to take remedial math in their first semesters in college after high school.
Tennessee’s construction employment was flat in May, although this was still good enough for a No. 30 ranking nationally based on year-over-year percentage change. Tennessee had 110,300 construction jobs in May, a 0.4 percent loss compared to 110,700 in April and a 0.5 percent increase compared to 109,800 in May 2012. The majority of U.S. states saw an increase in construction employment last month, driven in part by oil and gas activity. These numbers were at all-time highs in Louisiana and North Dakota, according to an Associated General Contractors of America analysis of Labor Department data.
Tennesseans drawing unemployment benefits will soon lose a weekly $15-per-child allowance as part of a new law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Friday that the change will help bolster the state unemployment trust fund, which could lead to a reduction in unemployment taxes paid by businesses. According to the department’s projections, ending the allowance for dependent children in the budget year beginning July 1 will save the state $40 million per year.
A new economic report card from Ball State University in Indiana gives high marks to Tennessee’s manufacturing sector, but it also criticizes the low level of education in the state’s workforce. Around six percent of Tennesseans have an associates degree. That number is way too low, according to the Ball State report card. Researchers were especially interested in the number residents with two-year degrees, since that’s where most workers learn skills needed in manufacturing jobs. They also looked at the number of adults who stick with community and technical colleges after their first year and how many associates degrees are awarded annually.
Opponents to a new Tennessee rule that will reward teachers based on student outcomes or what subjects they teach instead of degrees and experience say they’ll fight back next legislative session. The state board of education passed the rule Friday over the noisy objections of more that 150 Tennessee Education Association union members from across Tennessee, who wore red to show solidarity. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, a special education teacher, was among the opponents. “I”m just really embarrassed,” she said.
Tennessee teachers will see a new state minimum pay schedule that places far less emphasis on their experience and advanced degrees after the State Board of Education on Friday gave final approval to the controversial Haslam administration proposal. The plan eliminates most step increases and does away with mandatory adjustments after a teacher’s 11th year rather than 21st year, as now. The 6-3 vote drew groans and angry grumbling from dozens of teachers who packed the board meeting. Board member and former teacher Vernita B. Justice, of Chattanooga, voted no.
The State Board of Education on Friday approved controversial major revisions of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers that sharply reduces the value of experience and advanced degrees. The board approved the changes sought by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on a 6-3 vote despite opposition by teachers who packed the meeting room. They said the new plan could freeze their salaries at their 11th year in the profession. The plan proposed by State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman tops out at year 11, while the current plan tops out at year 21.
The nine-member state Board of Education approved the measure Friday in a 6-to-3 vote, Davis said. Board members Melvin Wright, Jean Anne Rogers and Vernita Justice voted against the measure. Wright, who is from Jackson, heard from local teachers earlier in the week and voiced support for them during Friday’s meeting, Davis said. Board chairman B. Fielding Rolston and members Mike Edwards, Lonnie Roberts, Carolyn Pearre, Janet Ayers and Teresa Sloyan voted in favor of the proposal. “We were there to show our disapproval because we feel this will have a negative impact on a new teacher’s lifetime earnings,” Davis explained.
The State Board of Education has agreed to rework minimum pay levels for teachers across Tennessee. Drawing groans from dozens of teachers at a meeting Friday afternoon, the shift gets rid of scheduled raises after a decade in the classroom, effectively flattening salaries for many long-timers. State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman notes it would not be legal to lower pay for current teachers. While saying little to ease concerns that veteran teachers won’t have guaranteed raises like under the old plan, Huffman argued the state’s budget for teacher pay has gone up.
State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman on Friday proposed eliminating licenses for Level 1 teachers showing no improvement. Under the plan presented in a first reading at the State Board of Education, teachers whose licenses are up for renewal would have to earn 2s on their job performance review in two out of the last three years. If a teacher cannot meet the requirement, the license will be extended for one year. During the year, the local school district is responsible for creating an improvement plan.
The Tennessee Board of Regents today approved maintenance fee/tuition recommendations at its universities and community colleges. Maintenance fee increases are lower this year than in the past two years and will not affect the Tennessee Technology Centers. It also took action on recommendations by a number of committees, including Finance and Business Operations, Personnel and Compensation, Academic Policies and Programs, and Tennessee Technology Centers.
It was “inappropriate” for a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy director to warn a handful of Mt. Pleasant residents that unfounded complaints on water quality could lead to terrorism charges. That’s according to a detailed statement put out by the agency Friday, a day after audio recordings of the statements went public to significant outcry. TDEC couldn’t say whether Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, would be disciplined for the remarks but said it still was investigating the matter.
The system worked. In order to get a license to process radioactive waste in Tennessee, a company has to post a surety bond — to cover costs, in case things go wrong. So, when things went wrong for IMPACT Services, the state put the company’s $1.2 million bond to good use. IMPACT Services closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in May 2012, leaving behind a broad inventory of radioactive wastes at the company’s processing plant on the far west end of the East Tennessee Technology Park.
Weekend drivers who use Interstate 440 are in for a mess as construction will close lanes for 10 weekends from June 28 through Oct. 13. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will close eastbound I-440 down to one lane for a one-mile stretch between Interstate 65 and Interstate 24 as part of its $9.7 million widening project. Crews will use that time to replace large sections of concrete that need repairs. “While we know it’s not ideal — roadwork never is ideal — that’s one of the things we have to grapple with here,” said BJ Doughty, spokeswoman for TDOT. “This is the fastest option.”
Representatives of five energy companies got an up-close view Friday of a vast wilderness owned by University of Tennessee where a variety of issues linked to natural gas drilling and fracking will be studied, and the firms are competing to see who gets to drill there. Also on hand and watching with a wary eye were members of green groups worried that fracking could wreak environmental havoc on an untouched natural area. The occasion was a pre-bid proposal conference at the headquarters for the 8,600-acre Cumberland Forest, part of UT’s Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center.
The University of Tennessee’s athletic program is looking at another season in the red. According to WBIR-TV, the UT athletic department is expecting a budget deficit of at least $2 million or as much as $3 million. Last season, the athletic department had a deficit of $3.98 million, according to a review by the board of trustees. The athletic department’s overall budget was cut from $106 million to $99 million for the 2012-13 season. However, revenue is projected to be less than $97 million. The firing of football coach Derek Dooley cost UT $5 million in Dooley’s buyout and new football coach Butch Jones’s contract is worth $18.2 million.
The owner of the downtown L&C Tower filed a claim with the state earlier this week in response to the state’s plans to sever its lease and move out of offices it has occupied in the tower since 2004. 401 Church St., which owns the building, names the Department of General Services, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Finance and Administration as defendants in its complaint with the state Division of Claims Administration. The complaint seeks $4.15 million in potential lost rent and between $250,000 and $2 million in additional damages.
The Shelby County Commission has approved a $374 million general fund budget with money for nonprofit organizations and an additional $20 million for schools. But with a final vote to raise the tax rate to fund the budget scheduled for July 8, there may not be seven votes on the 13-member body to get the necessary tax ordinance passed. And under one scenario, a lack of political will for a tax-rate increase would lead to layoffs of nearly 900 county employees. Typically, five of the commission’s six Republicans vote as a block, outnumbered by the seven Democrats who are sometimes joined by Mike Ritz, a Republican who this year is chairman of the body.
Collierville officials are expected to approve the town’s budget Monday night without a property tax increase. Of the $47.8 million in general fund revenues, about $4.2 million will be set aside for school expenses, including hiring three more police officers who will be assigned to the public schools in Collierville. While the eight schools in Collierville will be in the unified Memphis-Shelby district for at least a year, town officials wanted to station an armed police officer called a school resource officer in each school. They hope to start a municipal school district soon.
Under the lights at Nationals Park here, Zach Wamp let himself grin; it was a big-league night for the former eight-term congressman from Chattanooga. A lifelong Braves fan and onetime McCallie School athlete, Wamp was getting inducted into the Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame. Before he made a speech and threw the first pitch in the annual game among lawmakers, he shook hands with old buddies as House Speaker John Boehner gave him a “Zach!” and a slap on the back. “I didn’t expect this,” said Wamp, a Republican who gave up his seat to run for governor in 2010. “I’m very, very honored.”
Insurers that failed to spend 80 cents of every premium dollar on medical care last year are set to issue over $500 million in rebates to Americans under a new mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Tennesseans can expect to see $69, on average, of that back. A new state-by-state breakdown released by the government tracking the insurance rebates shows that 131,826 Tennesseans will receive insurance rebates this year, totaling about $5.6 million dollars. The majority of that money – $3.6 million – is coming from the individual market, where roughly 50,000 Tennesseans will receive, on average, $94 back in rebates.
Getting face time with the family doctor could soon become even harder. A shortage of primary care physicians in some parts of the country is expected to worsen as millions of newly insured Americans gain coverage under the federal health care law next year. Attempts to address the provider gap have taken on increased urgency ahead of the law’s full implementation Jan. 1, but many of the potential solutions face a backlash from influential groups or will take years to bear fruit. Bills seeking to expand the scope of practice of dentists, dental therapists, optometrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and others have been killed or watered down in numerous states.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is agreeing to let some more sunshine into its renewable energy program, starting in August. But solar enthusiasts complain that the move may not be enough to avoid a kind of solar eclipse for many in the burgeoning industry. With its annual allotment for its Green Power Provider incentives already filled in the first four months of the year, solar installers complained that they will soon lay off workers unless TVA agrees to expand the program. In meetings with solar industry representatives this week, TVA agreed to expand the initial 7.5 megawatt-allotment for its solar incentive program for 2013 up to 10 megawatts.
Nashville is keeping “Nashville,” according to production staff. While the show had been renewed for a second season, the filming location for the show had not been announced as producers waited on incentive decisions from the state and city. The show was expected to generate $75 million in overall economic impact in its first season. The decision to stay in Nashville was confirmed by Brian Giannone, assistant line producer for the show, and Wendall Hinkle, key assistant location manager.
After ABC confirmed earlier today that its primetime drama Nashville will continue filming in Music City next season, Mayor Karl Dean’s office has confirmed that Metro plans to pay the show for the privilege. Dean spokeswoman Janel Lacy told The City Paper in an emailed statement Friday afternoon that the mayor’s office is not prepared to reveal the details yet but that an announcement will come soon. “Mayor Dean is thrilled that the show will continue to film in Nashville,” Lacy said.
Music City’s entertainment community is welcoming the return of production on ABC’s “Nashville” as a means to further develop the film industry, bring jobs to Nashville and support local workers. “Anytime you have a legitimate hit show filming in an entertainment center like this, it encourages others to do the same thing,” said Ed Nash, an artist manager and producer in Nashville. “So much of this business is about impressions. People who are funding film projects and developing film projects need to have the impression that Nashville is s great place and is a feasible place to be able do this.”
ABC’s “Nashville” choosing to film in Music City is “critical” decision for the city’s momentum, Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., said Friday. “It’s probably as critical as anything we could do to sustain our momentum as a destination,” he said. “Besides the fact it means $40 million injected into the local economy, it’s critical to our local success in attracting more visitors.” Production crew confirmed the ABC show would be filming in Nashville today after announcing in May it would renew the show.
The casting agency that finds extras for the TV show “Nashville” is reopening its Music City office next month, according to a Facebook announcement. The company has been told shooting resumes July 17th, even though the show has not confirmed publicly it plans to keep filming in Nashville. Producers of the show wouldn’t comment. Neither would Mayor Karl Dean’s office. But Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation CEO Butch Spyridon says he’s becoming more optimistic. “The fact that they haven’t started packing up the sound stage, the studios, is a good sign, I would think.”
A top global official for Volkswagen’s works council says the group will block the automaker’s expansion in Chattanooga unless a similar labor panel is put into place at the factory. A German newspaper reported that VW Group deputy council chief Stephan Wolf said, “We will only agree to an extension of the site or any other model contract when it is clear how to proceed with the employees’ representatives in the United States.” Wolf’s remarks, reported by the daily Handelsblatt, were made at a recent event at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, marking production of the 30 millionth Golf.
Cleveland City Schools will boost the presence of electronic media in its classrooms and at its sporting events in the coming school year. The city school board recently voted 6-1 to accept a donation from businessman Allan Jones to buy a 13-foot, remote-controlled helium blimp equipped with a camera and wireless transmitter for live streaming of athletic events. The blue Cleveland Raiders blimp will feature the logo of Buy Here Pay Here USA, a car dealership owned by Jones that offers in-house financing and uses a blimp as a landmark.
Federal prosecutors in a widening teacher test-taking scam said Friday they have entered into diversion agreements with 16 defendants, including at least a half-dozen former Memphis high school football or basketball coaches. The announcement came as two more teachers were indicted on charges that they paid to have someone take their teacher-certification exams, bringing to 48 the number indicted, sentenced or placed on diversion.
Watch out, Tennesseans, the fun police are back, and this time they have their sights set on making sure that you won’t be able to sit back and enjoy a house-infused liquor at your favorite restaurant or neighborhood bar. Keith Bell, the newly minted director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, has misconstrued an esoteric 2006 law that requires a manufacturer’s license to blend “nonalcoholic products with alcoholic beverages on premises,” and decided to enforce it — or, at least, what he thinks it means. Even though the law was enacted to allow Jack Daniel’s to manufacture premixed Lynchburg Lemonades and other drinks at the company’s Lynchburg, Tenn., headquarters, Bell decided that the policy should be applied to prevent restaurants and bars from creating house-infused spirits.