This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman named 169 schools to the state’s top list this afternoon. The schools were named to the Tennessee 2012-13 Reward School list for being in the top 5 percent of schools in the state for either performance or growth over the last year. The schools include 52 districts across the state and come from a mix ofurban and rural school districts, Huffman said. “We’re making great progress,” Haslam said of Tennessee students.
Twice the number of Hamilton County’s schools were honored for high achievement and growth in 2013 over last year. Tennesse Gov. Bill Haslam recognized 169 reward schools, including 14 in Hamilton County. Last year, six county schools received the distinction. Reward schools are those that place among the top 5 percent for overall test scores or growth on test scores. That’s a list that Orchard Knob Elementary is happy to be included on, after previous test scores put it among the bottom 5 percent of schools for overall performance.
Memphis and Shelby County placed 33 schools on the state’s second annual list of “Reward Schools” — public schools that are in the top 5 percent statewide in academic performance or progress, or both — for the 2012-13 school year. That’s more than any other county in the state. “The principals and teachers in these schools, and especially the students and families, deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the achievement and growth,” interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson said Monday.
Low-income schools tumbled from the top of Tennessee’s “reward schools” list this year as the state struggled with a widening performance gap between poor students and their wealthier peers. Last year, 60 percent of the state’s top schools served mostly poor children. This year, the number plunged to barely above 40 percent, while a growing share of the honors went to schools in Nashville’s well-to-do suburbs. Seventy high-poverty schools did make the state’s reward list, landing in the top 5 percent on either test scores or improvement, and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman pointed to them Monday as an encouraging sign that low incomes don’t always result in low academic performance.
Five schools in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System have been recognized by the state as “Reward Schools,” among the top 5 percent in their categories. They are: • Glenellen Elementary, for student growth. • Norman Smith Elementary, for student growth. • Rossview Elementary, for student performance. • Sango Elementary, for student performance. • Middle College, for student performance in U.S. History and English 3. This is up three from last year and this marks the first time a CMCSS high school has received the honor.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he supports a decision by the Tennessee Board of Education to delay the implementation of new rules on teacher licensure until 2015. Under the proposal approved last week, teacher licenses would be tied to student test data. Many teachers oppose the changes because they’re concerned that flawed scores could cause qualified teachers to mistakenly lose their licenses. The board approved the changes but decided to delay their implementation in order to give the board time to hear concerns and make changes.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau awarded $1.6 million in Recreational Trails Program grants across the state on Friday. The Recreational Trails Program is federally-funded grant available to municipal agencies and non-profits. As part of the grant, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy will receive $40,000 to restore 6 miles of trails on the Tour de Wolf Trail System at Shelby Farms Park. “These awards will help fund some outstanding projects, including the development of new greenways and trails and more ADA-compliant facilities,” Martineau said in a news release.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Ritche Manley Bowden of Memphis to a five-year term on the Tennessee Arts Commission. She serves on the board of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Bowden retired in 2007 as chief operating officer for Colonics of Memphis and was previously administrator for Phillip R. Bowden, MD, and the Mid-South Gastroenterology Group-Ambulatory Surgery Center. She received her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Arkansas and a master of business administration from the University of Memphis.
Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker has been selected as the U.S. Travel Association’s State Tourism Director of the Year. The association is set to announce the honor today at a national conference in Richmond, Va. Gov. Bill Haslam reappointed Whitaker to the top tourism seat in 2011. She had held the post under former Gov. Phil Bredesen since 2003. The annual award is given to the state tourism director who most helps raise the profile of his or her state as a travel and tourism destination.
Leaders with Cloudswell, one of seven affiliated companies whose leaders announced layoffs Friday, submitted documents to the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development about the dislocated workers. Jeff Hentschel said that Cloudswell didn’t technically meet the requirements of the WARN Act, which mandates that companies with more than 100 employees must give 60 days’ notice when laying off more than 30 percent of its workforce. But state leaders often get notifications from businesses anyway, he said.
As Zarie Mitchell served pretend food she cooked in her play kitchen to her parents, Stephanie and Robert, her little brother giggled in his high chair. Stephanie, 38, and Robert, 41, live in Oakland. They have been foster parents for Agape Child and Family Services for over three years. After getting married in 2009, they accepted their first foster children, a sibling group of four from Agape, into their home at the beginning of 2010. They stayed for five months. Later in the year, two toddlers moved in and stayed for a month.
It will be years before a decision is made about a by-pass through the Ocoee gorge. But in the meantime, TDOT is taking steps to improve the troublesome and dangerous Highway 64 where possible. Here’s the latest project. Highway 64 through the Ocoee Gorge is the only paved road between Cleveland, Tennessee and Murphy North Carolina. Its best known as the site of this legendary video. News 12 photographer Allen Fairbanks shot that video in November of 2009. The road was closed for 5 months…dividing Polk county and effectively stopping tourism in its tracks. Residents know it can happen again at any time.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has unveiled a new alternative for the James White Parkway Extension, and has postponed a decision on the extension until it receives comments from the public. Based on conversations with local officials and comments received from a public hearing held on Dec. 6, 2012, TDOT has developed a “Modified Green Alternative,” designed to minimize impacts to urban wilderness, reduce residential and business relocation, and reduce the total amount of right of way needed to build the project.
In an effort to answer some environmental concerns, TDOT has presented an alternative route for the proposed James White Parkway extension. The proposed road would extend James White Parkway to Governor John Sevier Highway. Officials say it would reduce congestion and improve safety on Chapman Highway, and provide a quicker route between downtown Knoxville and Seymour and Sevier County. Critics worry about the roadways impact on South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. Some businesses are concerned that the bypass would take traffic and sales away from the area.
No sooner had the Tennessee Department of Transportation signaled an imminent decision to come on the long-debated extension of James White Parkway through South Knoxville than state officials announced yet another pause Monday to gauge public opinion on a newly proposed alternative route. Two public meetings now are tentatively set for early October to discuss a “Modified Green Alternative.” TDOT describes it as a scaled back boulevard-style design that would relocate fewer residents and minimize impacts to the area’s burgeoning Urban Wilderness corridor.
Buck Karnes Medal of Honor recipient When the bridge over the Tennessee River at Alcoa Highway was named to honor J.E. “Buck” Karnes, everybody knew why. But that was in 1933, just 15 years after his actions on a World War I battlefield in France earned Karnes a Medal of Honor. In a ceremony on the bridge Monday, complete with a Knoxville Police Department Honor Guard, a new sign was unveiled that designates its namesake as a “Medal of Honor Recipient.” State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and state Rep. Gloria Johnson sponsored legislation for the new sign.
A rockslide has blocked one lane of Interstate 40 West in North Carolina near the Tennessee state line Monday night, according to officials. The slide was reported about 7:45 p.m. at mile marker 7 in the right lane of westbound traffic, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. “Engineers from the N.C. Department of Transportation, including geotechnical engineers, are currently on the scene assessing the slide to determine how it can be cleared and when the road can be reopened,” according to an NCDOT news release.
Agents with the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission ran an undercover operation in Franklin to find out which businesses would sell alcohol to minors. The operation focused on both retail locations and businesses that sell alcohol by the drink. Of the 20 businesses the TABC visited, eight businesses, or 40%, were cited for selling alcohol to an undercover operative with the commission. Businesses and employees who sell alcohol to minors face fines, criminal charges and the possible loss of their liquor license.
Tennessee’s college graduates are leaving their campuses with some of the lowest levels of student debt in the nation. Tennessee ranked seventh for lowest student debt, with 53 percent of students graduating with debt, according to San Francisco-based personal finance website NerdWallet. Tennessee has an average student debt of $20,703, an amount that is below the national average of $26,600 as of 2011, according to the site. NerdWallet pointed to factors such as eligibility for the Hope Scholarships and Vanderbilt University’s grants and financial aid awards that are not tied to loans.
The Knox County Audit Committee might have broken the state sunshine law when it voted to fire the county auditor, according to a legal opinion, but officials say that doesn’t matter now. Knox County Commission will formally consider a proposal next week to allow auditor Richard Walls to retire instead. “It’s (the law violation) a moot point,” said David Buuck, the county’s chief deputy law director. The committee voted 4-1 at a special meeting July 9 to recommend firing Walls. That meeting followed a series of lunch gatherings between the committee’s chairman, Joe Carcello, and some of the committee members.
The Knox County Commission on Monday agreed not to fire long-time county internal auditor Richard Walls, and instead agreed to wait until next week to talk about whether to offer him a severance package that would cover four months of salary. The retirement proposal, if approved, would take effect Sept. 3 and also include single insurance coverage for 18 months. In addition, Walls could receive a payout of all unused vacation leave he accrued during his career, as well as any unused sick leave he has left at the rate of $100 per day.
The controversy surrounding the push to fire Knox County Internal Auditor Richard Walls has now spawned a Sunshine Law complaint, as commissioners discussed his retirement settlement. Knox County Commission discussed Walls’ retirement settlement at a work session Monday, but made no recommendation ahead of next week’s meeting. However, Walls, Commission Chair Tony Norman, and Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong have all signed off on the memorandum, which takes effect in two weeks.
A video of Rep. Scott DesJarlais answering a question at a town hall to cheers last week has begun receiving national attention. The video, posted on YouTube Friday, shows the congressman taking questions at an event in Murfreesboro. An 11-year-old girl takes the microphone and asks DesJarlais what could be done to ensure her father, who is an undocumented immigrant, is able to stay. “I have a dad who is undocumented,” says the girl, who identifies herself as Joanna. “What can I do so he can stay with me?” DesJarlais, who was a critic of the recent immigration bill approved by the U.S. Senate, answered the girl by suggesting she look to the law.
A videotaped exchange between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and a child who asked how she could keep her undocumented father in the United States has gone viral, with a YouTube clip attracting more than 50,000 views and national news coverage. The shaky, 49-second clip, shot at a town hall meeting in Rutherford County last week, shows Josie Molina, 11, asking the South Pittsburg Republican what she can do so her father “can stay with me.” DesJarlais thanks the girl for having the courage to ask the question in front of “a big, intimidating crowd.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker insists his willingness to work with Democrats doesn’t make him a moderate, but ardent conservatives think otherwise. According to The Tennessean, Corker recently came under fire throughout an eight-stop swing through Middle Tennessee during the congressional recess earlier this month. During one stop, Corker sparred with a Nashville lawyer over the senator’s plan to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s main backers of home mortgages.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker called on the U.S. to “recalibrate” its offering of foreign aid to Egypt in the wake of ongoing violence in the country. Corker, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made his comments upon returning from a weeklong trip to the Middle East, visiting Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. During his interview, the senator said U.S. aid to Egypt should be re-examined, but not in a way that jeopardized the country’s national interests.
Last year about 1 million of the nation’s poorest children got a leg up on school through Head Start, the federal program that helps prepare children up to age five for school. This fall, about 57,000 children will be denied a place in Head Start and Early Head Start as fallout from sequestration. New estimates about the automatic budget cuts were released Monday by the federal government. The cuts have slashed over $400 million from the federal program’s $8 billion budget. Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, said sequestration represented the largest hit to Head Start funding in terms of dollars since the program began in 1965.
New laws are polarizing gunmakers One of the nation’s largest gun manufacturers, Remington Arms, has looked at sites around Nashville for a potential corporate relocation or expansion that would likely include hundreds of manufacturing jobs. The Madison, N.C.-based company, which is part of the nation’s largest firearms company and has its largest plant in Ilion, N.Y., has scouted sites near Nashville’s airport, Lebanon and in Clarksville, Tenn. Remington is among a growing number of gun manufacturers nationwide that have been courted by states pitching themselves as more gun-friendly.
Erlanger Health System is putting two large physicians’ office buildings — one downtown and another in Soddy-Daisy — on the market. The hospital hopes to sell its downtown Chattanooga Lifestyle Center between Market and Broad streets, which houses Erlanger’s cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs along with a large swimming complex and doctors’ offices. “We believe the timing is right,” said Erlanger’s chief administrative officer, Gregg Gentry, at the hospital board’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday.
Minutes after Carey V. Brown’s payday companies announced massive layoffs on Friday, Twitter lit up in response to the unexpected shutdowns that have cost Chattanooga 300 high-paying jobs. For the most part, the tweets reflected neither condemnation nor consolation. In fact, they were mostly job offers. “Send some resumes this way,” tweeted Nick Macco, co-founder of Southtree. “Send them my way,” tweeted AudiencePoint, led by former Brown official Andy Perez. “Quickcue is always looking for talented people,” said Jeff Cole, who heads up marketing for the young firm.
A judge may end up deciding what teacher contract negotiations are supposed to look like. With collective bargaining outlawed in Tennessee, the teachers’ union in Rutherford County has taken its grievances to court. A state law passed in 2011 replaced the sometimes-adversarial back-and-forth of collective bargaining with meetings called “collaborative conferencing.” There’s still a lot of confusion about exactly what these sessions were intended to be and whether the outcome is binding. But one thing is spelled out in the law. Instead of a contract, teachers would sign a “memorandum of understanding.”
For a second time, results in the August 2012 elections have been successfully contested in court. Shelby County Chancellor Kenny Armstrong, in a long-awaited ruling issued Monday, Aug. 19, ordered the Shelby County Election Commission to conduct a new election for countywide school board District 4. Kevin Woods and Kenneth Whalum, both incumbents on the 23-member school board, were running for one of the seats on the seven-member school board that takes effect Sept. 7. The election ended with a certified vote count showing Woods was the winner.
Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr. will get a second chance to represent Dist. 4 on the Shelby County Schools board after Chancery Court Judge Kenny W. Armstrong voided last summer’s election and ordered a new one. The ruling caps more than a year of controversy over the August 2012 election, which Whalum lost by 106 votes to political newcomer Kevin Woods. That margin of victory represented less than one percent of the ballots cast. Whalum sued for a revote, citing balloting errors.
A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays neatly sliced through a Gordian knot regarding the Unified School Board’s future composition. Now another ruling, this one by Chancellor Kenny Armstrong, has snarled the issue again. In the first instance, Mays postponed by a year the planned expansion of the Unified Board from 7 to 13 members, thus extricating the County Commission from the puzzle of how — and when — to reconfigure the District 6 seat vacated by Reginald Porter, who resigned it to become the school system’s new chief of staff.
There is uncertainty on the Shelby County School Board as it prepares to drop down from 23 to just seven members in two weeks. One of those seats is vacant from Reginald Porter’s resignation so he can work for the district, and now a judge is ordering a re-vote for the seat held by Kevin Woods. Woods beat Kenneth Whalum for the District 4 seat by just more than 100 votes, but a judge ruled that election doesn’t count because more than 600 votes were improperly cast in that election two years ago.
Having a teacher is part of going to school, but that’s not the case for many students in Shelby County. Right now the district says there are a lot of classrooms that don’t have a teacher because they didn’t get an accurate count. The school district says this is a normal part of the beginning of the school year and has nothing to do with the merger. The district says they don’t know how many students are impacted, but say it’s ‘a lot.’ “It’s very frustrating,” said Angela Ross. Ross is the wife of a News Channel 3 photographer, and is livid her second grader at Oak Elementary in Bartlett still doesn’t have a teacher two weeks into school.
The Bradley County Commission on Monday voted to provide up to $12 million in 2017 toward a proposed $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School. Commissioners voted 13-0 for the measure introduced by Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones. The plan relies on projected revenue increases and does not include the purchase of furniture or equipment not associated with the school’s technological infrastructure. Funding will go toward construction of a 57-classroom academic building that will replace about a dozen classroom pods spread across the school’s 75-acre campus.
Public education faces many challenges, and often the focus is on under-performing schools and students who are not doing well. But there is another side to public education, too, public school success. Unfortunately, it is an aspect of public education we don’t hear enough about. With that in mind, we offer congratulations to the eight public schools in our area that have achieved Reward status for increasing student achievement and/or making progress on the 2013 state tests given earlier this year.
An open letter to my South Knoxville friends: Hang in there. The boogeyman might not show up after all. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is poised to reveal a decision about extending the James White Parkway (JWP). Early signals do not bode well — unless you’re a developer lusting for fresh pavement and new interchanges. TDOT appears to be leaning toward full speed ahead, although on Monday it announced a “modified green alternative” plan and final decision delay. Stay tuned. Agreed, all proposed roads are fraught with controversy. Very rarely do homeowners in the path leap with joy. Instead, they wish to keep things the way they are. No crowds. No noise. No traffic.
Dear fellow Tennesseans, Last week, some well-meaning Tennesseans wrote a letter suggesting that I “retire with dignity” from the United States Senate because of a record of “compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.” Ever since walking 1,000 miles across our state, I’ve listened carefully to the 6 million Tennesseans I’m elected to represent. So the letter deserves respect and this response: I appreciate the suggestion, but if the people of Tennessee will allow it, I’d rather continue to serve — hopefully, with dignity. Here’s why: Our country’s on the wrong track. Our state’s on the right track.
Recently, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said that Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s proposal to defund Obamacare was “a silly effort.” Protecting individual liberty and economic freedom is anything but silly. It is serious business. Corker, along with Tennessee’s other senator, Lamar Alexander, prides himself on working with Democrats to keep the federal government running effectively. However, simply keeping the government humming along and making sure the trains run on time should not be the ultimate goal of conservative Republicans. Their goal should be limiting the size and scope of the government.