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June 11 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.  

TN educators submit feedback on evaluation system (Associated Press/Johnson)

The head of an education foundation commissioned by Gov. Bill Haslam to review Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system says it has identified a key concern teachers have about the testing data used to evaluate them and will propose recommendations to address it. Former state Sen. Jamie Woodson, a Knoxville Republican, met with The Associated Press late last week to discuss the report to be released today by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, which was launched by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

Chattanooga State launches honors college (Times Free-Press/Trevizo)

There are students at Chattanooga State Community College with grade-point averages and ACT scores high enough to enroll at essentially any school they want, but for one reason or another they choose to stay closer to home. Chattanooga State wants to make sure they are not being shortchanged. So the college is piloting an honors college program — College Within a College — this fall with 16 students who will first participate on a part-time basis.

UT offering free tutoring for learning disabled, ADHD-diagnosed children (NS/Brake)

Parents with children who have been diagnosed with a learning disability and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are encouraged to sign their children up for free tutoring sessions on the University of Tennessee campus this summer. The UT special education and school psychology programs are teaming up with the Korn Learning, Assessment and Social Skills Center to offer tutoring to students in grades first through sixth who are struggling with reading or math.

Scenic Cummins Falls makes latest addition to park system (NS/Simmons)

The parking lot was freshly graveled, and at the nearby overlook banners representing the Tennessee state flag were draped over the split rail fence as reminders of the dedication that took place here just before Memorial Day weekend. Cummins Falls State Park still bears the telltale signs of newness. On May 22 the 211-acre tract was officially dedicated as Tennessee’s 54th state park — the first addition to the state park system in 14 years following the 1998 dedication of Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail.

Tindell won’t endorse candidate to succeed him (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

State Rep. Harry Tindell will apparently vote for fellow Democrat Gloria Johnson as his successor in representing Knox County’s 13th House District, but he won’t flatly say so and says he won’t be actively campaigning for anyone. “I don’t sell Gloria short at all. I’m just choosing not to try to push my will on voters. She’s got a lot of energy and ideas,” said Tindell explaining his official silence in an interview. Tindell, who announced earlier this year that he won’t seek re-election to a 12th term in the state House, says he also knows the other candidates seeking to succeed him and “they all have some very positive traits.

Thompson announces candidacy for state Senate District 24 (Jackson Sun)

Brad Thompson, a longtime community advocate for Northwest Tennessee, has announced his candidacy for state Senate District 24, citing his career of strengthening the area’s infrastructure and growing the local economy. The district includes Benton, Carroll, Gibson, Henry, Obion and Weakley counties. A civic leader, farmer, educator and Bible class teacher, Thompson said in a news release that he will focus on results for working families, and he’ll work across party lines to ensure that each county in the district has the best opportunity for jobs growth.

New Course in College Costs (Wall Street Journal)

Rising student debt levels and fresh academic research have brought greater scrutiny to the question of whether the federal government’s expanding student-aid programs are driving up college tuition. Studies of the relationship between increasing aid and climbing prices at nonprofit four-year colleges found mixed results, ranging from no link to a strong causal connection. But fresh academic research supports the idea that student aid in the form of grants leads to higher prices at for-profit schools, a small segment of postsecondary education.

Hospitals Aren’t Waiting for Verdict on Health Care Law (New York Times)

Giant aquariums now soothe pediatric patients at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. It has added welcome signs in 10 languages, a state-of-the-art cardiac operating room and programs to keep chronically ill adults safely at home. But as Pamela S. Brier, the chief executive, was walking to the main entrance last week, she spotted a rain-soaked plastic bag on the front steps. Millions of dollars in revenue now depend on improving patients’ perceptions of the hospital.

For Many State Budgets, a Year of Relief (Stateline)

Few state economies — or state budgets — were hit as hard by the recession as those of Arizona, Michigan and Rhode Island. Three years ago, desperate for an infusion of immediate cash, Arizona decided to sell parts of its state Capitol complex to private investors. Two years ago, Michigan had endured a full decade of budget crises — the state lost jobs every year between 2000 and 2010 — but was still cutting its higher education budget. Last year, Rhode Island was forced to take control of bankrupt Central Falls, even as the state closed its own $300 million budget gap with a mix of service cuts and tax increases.

ORNL cooperated on federal probe that led to DOE official’s indictment (NS/Munger)

A spokesman for Oak Ridge National Laboratory said lab officials cooperated fully in a federal investigation that led to the recent indictment of Michael Strayer, a former senior executive at the U.S. Department of Energy and longtime employee at ORNL, and his wife, Karen Earle, for a scheme that allegedly diverted $1.2 million in government funds to their personal use. Strayer, 69, and Earle, 48, were arraigned last week in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Both entered not guilty pleas, and a trial date was tentatively scheduled for mid-August.

Nashville vies for ‘hip’ tech workers (Tennessean/Williams)

Chamber says Music City is cool enough to take on coastal giants Can hip, young technology workers be enticed to move to Nashville from such cool places as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore.? That’s the question the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the Nashville Technology Council are wrestling with as they try to help businesses in Middle Tennessee find good candidates for nearly 1,200 vacant technology jobs.

Mystery over topic for discussion clouds special board meeting (CA/Roberts)

What will happen at today’s special-called school board meeting is the subject of as much speculation now as when chairman Billy Orgel called it in late May. The lone agenda item is a review of Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash’s contract. Shelby County unified school board member Martavius Jones is pushing to get the meeting canceled, saying he sees no reason to meet unless Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken’s contract is also discussed.

School district budgets up for vote (Jackson Sun)

Jackson-Madison County School Board members will vote on the district’s 2012-13 general purpose and capital budgets during this week’s meeting. After weeks of discussions, school officials have expressed confidence in the budget proposal that will initiate the first phase of the middle school turnaround at one building and capital project needs in other school buildings. The district’s annual budget is an estimated $98 million, while capital expenditures total nearly $3 million. Board members will discuss and vote on the budget during Thursday’s meeting.

More than 100 employees retire from Clarksville-Montgomery School System (LC)

Director says that many retire almost each year Joy Huggins, 65, retired as a high school counselor from Rossview High, joining more than 100 Clarksville-Montgomery County School System employees who began the retirement life this year. Huggins was an educator and counselor for 43 years, 36 of them at CMCSS. It was the inspiration of her biology teacher in high school that moved her to teach children science. “I’ve always liked the sciences and kids. There’s a thrill that goes when you are in the classroom and you see the sparkle when you are teaching,” Huggins said.

North Dakota: Flush State Ponders a Tax Cut’s Cost (Wall Street Journal)

An energy boom has flooded North Dakota’s coffers at a time when almost every other state is struggling to make ends meet. But when its fiscally conservative residents get the chance Tuesday to vote themselves a big tax cut, they are expected to say “no.” At issue is a referendum for a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate local property taxes, requiring the newly flush state government to make up the difference.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Council members wise to remove themselves from pension plan (NS)

Knoxville City Council members have been wrestling with a shortfall in the city’s pension plan, but some members have made their feelings about one aspect of the issue clear: Council members do not need to be part of the pension system. Councilman Marshall Stair emphasized the point. “I think it’s ridiculous that we get the pensions,” he said, “and we’re only part-time employees.” Under the City Charter, council members must join the plan. No doubt this charter provision arrived with good intentions during better economic times, but those times all but vanished during the recession that began in late 2007.

Editorial: Highway bill to nowhere (Commercial Appeal)

The Surface Transportation Act, called the highway bill for short, is the basic measure funding the nation’s roads, bridges and mass transportation systems. Typically, the bill lasts for four to six years, giving state transportation officials needed time for long-term planning. The last bill expired in 2009. Congress has temporarily extended it nine times since then, most recently in March. That extension expires June 30. So much for long-term transportation planning.

Editorial: Govt. is not answer to U.S. obesity problem (Jackson Sun)

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got the nation’s attention recently when he moved to ban the sale of extra-large sugared soft drinks in the Big Apple. We disagree with Bloomberg that it is the job of government to tell us what kind of soft drink to have or to tell private businesses what kind of soft drinks to sell. But the mayor did accomplish something important by raising the profile of America’s obesity problem. Clearly, something must be done. Soon after Bloomberg’s announcement, first lady Michelle Obama joined officials from the Walt Disney Co. to announce its decision to change how it advertises food products to children and to promote healthier alternatives.

Times Editorial: Boost the minimum wage (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Political candidates generally talk more about how they would get government off the backs of citizens than about the positive things government can and should do to help ordinary working Americans. Dr. Mary Headrick, a primary care physician and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 3rd congressional district, does not fit that mode. Her willingness to advocate for a higher minimum wage is a good example. She rightly notes, as do many economists, that the nation’s low minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, has failed miserably over decades to keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of living.

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