This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam travels to Memphis Tuesday to launch “Healthier Tennessee,” a program to encourage Tennesseans to be more physically active, eat nutritious foods in healthy portions and not use tobacco products. The announcement is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Church Health Center, 1115 Union, where the governor will be joined by CEO Rick Johnson of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville that will direct the initiative. The foundation and Healthier Tennessee grew out of work started by the Governor’s Health and Wellness Task Force that he appointed in 2011.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer on Monday announced the award of a $241,948 transportation alternative grant to the city of McKenzie for the Stonewall Street Sidewalk Project. The project is located in the Stonewall neighborhood and includes the installation of sidewalks on the west side of Stonewall Street and a section of Brooke Avenue, according to a news release. The project will create a continuous sidewalk system from the area into the central business district of downtown McKenzie and will add ADA accessible ramps at each intersection.
General Motors is expected to unveil a major expansion for its Spring Hill plant Tuesday that could finally bring the long-promised two additional vehicles to assembly lines in Middle Tennessee, which analysts said Monday would most likely be a pair of premium midsize crossovers — one each from Buick and Cadillac. If the automaker holds to its earlier pledge made when the plant re-opened, the expansion should bring an additional investment of about $358 million and could double employment at the plant, which now has 2,002 workers.
General Motors will announce a “major investment” at its Spring Hill manufacturing facility Tuesday morning, a company spokeswoman said. “At this time we are not going to be announcing product,” Kristy Bergstrom, GM’s Spring Hill communications manager said late Monday, “but we are going to be announcing a major investment at the plant.” The community, and especially workers at the factory, have long anticipated the arrival of a new mid-sized vehicle to be built in Spring Hill.
General Motors is expected to make a major announcement at its Spring Hill plant Tuesday morning. In 2011, GM promised it would reopen the Spring Hill auto assembly line and add two mid-sized models in 2014. The (Columbia) Daily Herald reports analysts predict the new product to the plant will most likely be a pair of premium mid-sized crossovers, one from Buick and the other from Cadillac. Currently the plant produces the four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox. The expansion will reportedly bring an additional investment of $358 million and could double employment at the plant that currently has 2,002 workers.
Convergys Corp., which unveiled plans to hire nearly 500 people in Chattanooga earlier this year, is creating another 400 jobs in the city for its call center, officials said Monday. The latest jobs announcement by Convergys will put its head count in Chattanooga at upward of 1,700 people. Convergys has a 65,000-square-foot operation at Eastgate Town Center. The Cincinnati-based company will hire both full-time and part-time workers for an unnamed client in the health care industry, said spokesman Justin McCahill. The jobs will offer starting pay of about $10 per hour, he said in an email.
Nashville State Community College (NSCC) announced today the signing of an articulation agreement with the recently launched WGU Tennessee, http://tennessee.wgu.edu/. The agreement allows Nashville State graduates and staff to receive application fee waivers for the first year and discounted tuition as well as providing seamless transfer of credit hours from Nashville State to WGU Tennessee. Dr. George Van Allen, president of Nashville State, signed the agreement in an effort to facilitate the coordination and transfer of NSCC graduates or staff to programs offered by WGU Tennessee.
Tennessee school systems are beginning to realize just how many more computers they’ll need as standardized tests move online. And they’re complaining about a lack of state funding for the upgrade. As public schools shift to Common Core standards, many are also moving to a new test intended to be taken on a computer called PARCC. The testing company recommends at least one device for every six to seven students. The Tennessee Department of Education is conducting a survey to see how far some districts are from meeting at least the minimum requirements.
Every day, they come to court — sometimes different faces, but always the same story. Drug abuse by parents, most often of prescription painkillers, lies at the heart of 70 percent or more of Knox County’s cases of children taken into state custody due to abuse or neglect, Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin estimated Monday. He hopes a new recovery program aimed at getting mothers off drugs and reunited with their children can break that pattern or at least slow it down. “The law says having a drug-exposed infant is severe abuse, and we’ve been following the law by removing children from those homes,” Irwin said.
Governor’s office says too soon to rescale program The legislature’s loudest critic of pre-K is pointing to a recent study as reason to reject suggestions of expanding the program statewide. Vanderbilt University’s study released this month shows that initial gains by pre-K students over their peers who did not attend school under the program had diminished by the end of their kindergarten year or by first grade, and the gains were no longer statistically significant…The state’s pre-K program is geared toward low-income students.
A TBI review of an officer-involved shooting in Brownsville could take several months to complete, officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said on Monday. The TBI identified the man who was shot following a standoff with police on Friday as Larry Keith Petty, 42, of 1130 Ferrell St. in Brownsville. Petty was taken to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis in critical condition. The standoff started about 2 p.m., when officers with the Brownsville Police Department responded to a call that Petty had pointed a gun at his neighbors, according to police.
A Sullivan County woman was charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services after she received healthcare insurance benefits through TennCare when she was not eligible for the program. 35-year-old Michelle Davis of Bristol was arrested Monday. Authorities said Davis received TennCare benefits after she fraudulently claimed her minor children as members of her household in order to be eligible for TennCare. “People who misrepresent something about their current situation in order to qualify for TennCare are going to be caught and prosecuted,” Inspector General Deborah Faulkner said.
A 25-year-old Giles County man has been charged with TennCare fraud for the second time this year. Joseph Bowen was arrested after he fraudulently obtained the painkiller Hydrocodone by doctor shopping. He used the state’s benefits to pay for the clinical visits or prescriptions. Authorities said Bowen was also arrested in mid-April for TennCare fraud in an effort to allegedly obtain a controlled substance. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony that carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.
Although California officially has reported no cases of fungal meningitis in a nationwide outbreak, an apparent California victim has filed suit against the Massachusetts firm blamed for the illnesses. Her case has been transferred to a federal court in Boston, where dozens of other cases have been merged before a federal judge. The transfer of the California case came on the same day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported two more deaths from the outbreak, both in Michigan. Sixty-three deaths have been reported nationwide, 15 of them among patients treated in Tennessee.
Chattanooga’s citywide Wi-Fi network is still a few Krystals short of a sackful, even as taxpayers continue to pony up tens of millions of dollars for an Internet service that will remain exclusively available to local government. Mayor Andy Berke says he wants to spend another $20 million on the wireless network to curtail congestion around the city’s busiest intersections. But critics say that, after five years, the city is just throwing away good money on a muddled mishmash of pilot programs, and that the only thing the city will reduce is the amount of money it has left to spend on other priorities.
A proposed 7.72 cent property tax increase intended to fund a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School received little support from Bradley County commissioners Monday. The commission voted 11-3 against the measure, with Commissioners Jeff Morelock, Connie Wilson and Robert Rominger casting the yes votes. “We were elected by voters to make tough decisions, and this is one of the toughest,” said Morelock, who sponsored the proposal. “If we use [projected] growth money for this project, then we will be taking away from other departments in my opinion.”
Knox County has retained Aa1 and AA+ ratings from two leading credit rating agencies. Moody’s Investors Service awarded the county an Aa1 rating and Standard & Poor’s is giving it an AA+ rating. S & P’s also upgraded the county’s financial outlook from stable to positive. Bond investors use the ratings to evaluate whether they want to buy municipal debt. The higher the rating, the less a city or county has to pay in borrowing costs. The higher the rating, the more favorable the business community tends to view a city or county.
Suburbs across Shelby County began the process Monday night to approve ordinances to hold school board elections on Nov. 7. The votes from Collierville to Millington came after students ended their first day in the new countywide school system. Each of the elected bodies in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Millington approved the first reading on the ordinances. Lakeland approved its initial reading last week. Between now and Aug. 22, the suburbs will hold public hearings and their final votes for setting the school board elections.
Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is appearing a series of public events in Middle Tennessee this week while Congress is in recess. Corker, who was re-elected to a second six-year term in November, plans to focus on his proposals for solving financial problems facing the country in his meetings with business and community groups this week. The series of events kicks off in Murfreesboro, Columbia and Brentwood on Tuesday, followed by meetings in Springfield, Hendersonville and Lebanon on Wednesday. Corker wraps up the tour with speaking engagements in Nashville and Franklin on Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais will announce he’s running for re-election at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Franklin County Courthouse in Winchester, his spokesman reported. The courthouse is at 1 S. Jefferson St. The announcement is a year from the Republican primary for those running for Congress here. “My first priority has always been to do my job in Congress, representing the people of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District,” said DesJarlais, a physician from South Pittsburg who won his seat as a Republican in 2010 and re-election in 2012.
The new U.S. Secretary of Commerce will travel to Nashville this week to meet with business leaders, primarily in music publishing. Since being sworn in the last week of June, Penny Pritzker has been on a listening tour that’s included stops in Colorado, Connecticut and upstate New York. Pritzker’s Nashville trip will take her to Loud Recording Studios to meet with heads of the Recording Industry Association of America and Sony Music. The Commerce Secretary also plans to see the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. The business incubator was the recipient of a Department of Commerce grant worth $2.5 million.
Just about four in 10 borrowers with direct federal student loans are paying them back, according to a report released Monday that offers the first comprehensive snapshot of the program since the government created it in 2010. Many of the 27.8 million borrowers with these newer direct federal loans aren’t yet required to make payments: About 35% are still in school or within a six-month grace period after graduation, the report said. But about 18% are in programs designed to help distressed borrowers or have returned to school.
Opening day for the new health-insurance marketplaces is two months away, but efforts to recruit and train workers to help people enroll are barely off the ground in many states. With time running short before enrollment kicks off Oct. 1, the Obama administration last week cut back on training requirements for these “navigators.” Officials were concerned there might not be enough time to do more-extensive training before the health-insurance exchanges open.
The Tennessee Valley Authority didn’t sell as much electricity in its third fiscal quarter as last year’s equivalent period, but it produced more cheap power. “Both sales and revenues were down in the third quarter. This was offset largely by our efforts to reduce operating costs,” TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said. The federal utility released its April-June financial results on Monday, showing power sales were off 4 percent in the third quarter. TVA officials said mild temperatures were the reason. However, the cooler temperatures were often caused by rainy weather and hydroelectric generation — TVA’s most economical source — was up 226 percent.
The Tennessee Valley Authority today reported a loss of $12 million for its third quarter. “Both sales and revenues were down in the third quarter. This was offset largely by our efforts to reduce operating costs,” TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said in a news release. “We are focused on making sure TVA lives within our means to continue to keep rates low for our customers and the people of the Tennessee Valley.” The utility reported that power sales this spring were 5 percent below year-ago levels, pushing revenue to $2.6 billion, down from $2.74 billion a year ago, when TVA posted a $23 million quarterly loss.
The mild and wet weather is taking the heat off electricity bills this summer in the Tennessee Valley, but it’s also both costing and generating plenty of cold cash for TVA. The Tennessee Valley Authority announced Monday it sold 4 percent less power to local distributors and took in 6 percent less revenue than a year ago because of the mild weather, weak economic recovery and cheaper fuel prices. But TVA enjoyed record generation last month from its rain-swollen reservoirs, which produce TVA’s cheapest source of power when water pours through the utility’s 29 power-generating dams.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says its customers are using a lot less power. Mild weather means people aren’t running their air conditioners as much. But the federally owned utility says it’s starting to see a long-term downward trend. TVA says electricity sales were down more than $120 million in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year. The utility lost its biggest industrial customer, a massive uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky. Overall, CEO Bill Johnson says customers are using less power. Johnson says the difference is large enough for TVA to take a second look at its long-term projections.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has once again cut off applications for homes and small businesses wanting to add solar panels and sell power back to the utility. TVA opened up the pipeline for hopefuls last week, and within hours got more than enough to close it again for months. When you get power from solar panels on your roof, you can sell some of it to TVA, spinning your electric meter backwards and shrinking your bill. In fact, TVA pays more to buy solar power you create than it charges to sell people electricity off the grid. But with a limited budget for TVA to buy solar, not every project gets approved.
McNairy County is likely to be home by next spring to the two largest solar energy installations in the Tennessee Valley Authority region. Plans call for the two solar farms near Selmer to have more than 160,000 photovoltaic solar panels spread over parts of 326 acres, with a total output of 40 megawatts. Each farm will be four times bigger than the largest current solar installation in the TVA system — the University of Tennessee’s 5-megawatt West Tennessee Solar Farm that opened last year alongside Interstate 40 in Haywood County.
Layoffs continued at The Tennessean Monday. In the latest round, 16 more employees were let go, including three in the newsroom, said Bob Faricy, The Tennessean’s vice president for market development. The layoffs also hit 10 advertising employees and three marketing staffers. The three newsroom employees let go were Senior Editor Deb Fisher, sports reporter John Glennon and Sumner County Editor Mike Towle, according to The City Paper. Last week, the paper let go Bobby Allyn, a courts reporter.
Layoffs continued at The Tennessean on Monday as two more newsroom employees were laid off and another gave notice. Senior editor Deb Fisher, sports reporter John Glennon both lost their jobs. Additionally, Sumner County editor Mike Towle was laid off. Towle’s Gallatin News Examiner was named one of the best small papers in the state by the Tennessee Press Association last week and received top honors in investigative, lifestyles, features and design categories. Calls to the paper were referred to Bob Faricy, The Tennessean’s vice president for market development, who confirmed the newsroom cuts as well as 10 more in advertising and three in marketing.
With dreams of one day getting a degree from an American university, Remilia Li, 15, in January boarded a plane, left behind her parents and traveled 15 hours from her home in China to come to the United States. For the next three years, Li will be living in Middle Tennessee while attending Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville as part of the school’s International Scholars Program, now in its first year. “It’s a big change, but it’s good,” Li said about coming to America. When 600 Pope John Paul II students return to school this week, Li will be one of 10 international students — from Germany, China, Korea and Thailand — who will be attending classes.
The Metro Nashville school system has begun accepting payments online with debit and credit cards. Fees that can be paid directly to the district include those for the use of facilities or buses, and tuition for virtual schools and pre-K. Some schools also have the ability to accept online payments for field trip deposits and other activities. To make a payment to the school system for tuition fees, go to https://paydirect.link2gov.com/MNPSTuitionFees. To pay other bus or facility fees, go to https://paydirect.link2gov.com/MNPSOrgFees. A 2.3 percent fee will be charged on debit and credit cards. E-checks are also accepted with a $1 convenience fee.
Summer quickly is winding down for Hamilton County Schools students, who spent Monday registering at school, catching up with friends, meeting their teachers and checking out classrooms. Classes for the estimated 43,000 students countywide begin Thursday. The county will open two new schools this year, the 136,000-square-foot Ooltewah Elementary School, with a capacity of about 1,100 students, and Red Bank Middle School, which registered about 620 students Monday. The schools cost a combined $50 million, and are designed with the latest in classroom technology, heating and cooling systems.
Knox County students could soon have some input on how they believe their teachers are performing in the classroom. Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre presented the idea to members of the school board at their meeting Monday night, telling them that the State Department of Education has encouraged them to include the surveys as 5 percent of teacher evaluations. The payoff for the district from the state — an additional $700,000. McIntyre told the board that he initially had some “trepidation” about including student input in teacher evaluations — the school system did a pilot program last year and surveyed students at 75 schools — but after looking at the research, questions that were asked and students’ responses, he thought it was a good idea.
Missed buses and late buses as well as late registration were an expected part of opening day of the consolidated school district. And the problems arrived just as expected Monday, Aug. 5, but not in large enough numbers to cause any major disruptions on the opening day. A bus load of school board members, school system staff and superintendent Dorsey Hopson toured eight schools across the system over the first seven hours of the new school year. The schools ranged from Carver High School in South Memphis and Melrose High School in Orange Mound to Kate Bond Middle School in Bartlett and Millington Middle School.
Preliminary data from a major study by Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute show just how difficult it is to measure what works and what doesn’t in children’s education. And observers are learning that no matter how urgently the results of the study are needed, good research cannot be rushed. At center is the question of whether pre-kindergarten helps kids later in school, and in life. Unfortunately, the issue has become highly politicized because there is a government (taxpayer) component.
If we consider the learning process as an assembly line … we find that often our first reaction is to say the assembly line is broken in high school — after all, that’s where the dropouts occur. But although high school is where the dramatic evidence of the system’s failures is recognized, that is not when the break occurs, and therefore, that is not the point at which it can be fixed. By then, it is too late! Looking at the assembly line we realize the following: • If a child does not read with a reasonable degree of comprehension upon completing the third grade, research tells us that the likelihood of that child becoming a dropout is well over 90 percent.
Tennessee municipalities seeking to help law enforcement with its war on methamphetamine are finding themselves running up against a brick wall: their own state and some conservative lawmakers. Since the first of the year, seven cities in the region have passed ordinances requiring a doctor’s prescription for pseudoephedrine-based cold and allergy medicines — the main ingredient in home-cooked methamphetamine. Six more area cities are in the process of passing such an ordinance, and law enforcement officials are courting 25 across the state.