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June 12 TN News Digest

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

Higher education in Tennessee now Gov. Haslam’s focus (Times Free-Press/Sher)

After pushing changes to teacher tenure laws in 2011 and overhauling civil service this year, Gov. Bill Haslam now plans to take a close look at Tennessee’s system of higher education, including its “cost structure.” “You’ll see us turning our attention a lot more to post-secondary education,” the governor said in an interview with Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters and editors last week. “I do think it’s kind of where the challenge is right now.”

Gov. Haslam Says Pulaski Expansion Will Create 800 New Jobs (WDXE-Radio)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced today that Magneti Marelli will expand its Pulaski outfit, a $53.7 million investment that will create 800 new jobs. Marelli is a top global automotive systems and components supplier, and a new automotive lighting operation will be housed inside the company’s existing Pulaski facility. “Congratulations to Magneti Marelli on this announcement,” Haslam said.

Haslam Appreciates SCORE’s Eval Review (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today released a statement about the comprehensive report on the state’s teacher evaluation system issued by independent non-profit State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). In December 2011, Haslam asked SCORE to collect input and feedback on Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system, a key piece of the First to the Top legislation that positioned Tennessee to be one of the first two states awarded Race to the Top funding.

SCORE Hands State 7 Tips for Improving Teacher Evaluation System (TN Report)

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released a report, Supporting Effective Instruction in Tennessee, regarding Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system. The report follows a five-month listening and feedback process SCORE led on the evaluation system to identify what is working well, gather input on challenges and concerns, and report back with a range of recommendations to the Tennessee Department of Education and State Board of Education.

Study: De-emphasize test scores for most teachers (Associated Press/Schelzig)

About two-thirds of Tennessee teachers should be allowed to opt for a smaller portion of their evaluations to be based on student testing data, according to a study released Monday. The report by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, was commissioned by Gov. Bill Haslam to review the state’s new teacher evaluation system. The Republican governor asked lawmakers not to enact any changes to the system while the study was being conducted.

SCORE report suggests tweaks to teacher evaluation system (City Paper)

State Collaborative on Reforming Education released a report Monday that offered several recommendations for the state’s recently implemented teacher evaluation system. The report, titled “Supporting Effective Instruction in Tennessee,” suggests that the state address challenges with the current system and also be open to tweaks in the future. The state revamped its teacher evaluation system last year, requiring that all teachers receive yearly evaluations — and that those evaluations can be used in personnel decisions.

Tennessee panel urges flexibility in using student test scores (TFP/Hardy)

Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system might rely less on student test scores as officials examine ways to improve the system, still in its first year of implementation. On Monday, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, known as SCORE, released its findings and recommendations from a statewide review of the teacher evaluation program. One of the seven recommendations suggested that the state offer flexibility in how it weights student test scores in evaluations.

SCORE leaves options open on teacher evaluations (Tennessean/Sisk)

Report gives no specific suggestions, only general feedback A report released Monday outlines ways to improve Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, but it defers some of the major questions vexing the program. SCORE, the Tennessee education group founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, recommended seven ways in which teacher grading could be made better. But the organization laid out only general suggestions for improvements, saying it wanted to leave specifics to Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and state lawmakers.

Study: De-emphasize test scores for most Tennessee teachers (CA)

Teaching is improving across Tennessee with the introduction of new evaluation methods, and it will continue improving with the adoption of a set of recommended changes, a Nashville-based education reform group said Monday. Many teachers aren’t sold on the process, conceded the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a group founded by former U.S. senator Bill Frist and headed by former state Senate Education Committee chair Jamie Woodson.

SCORE education group suggests changes to teacher evaluations (NS/Humphrey)

An education advocacy group recommended changes Monday to a Tennessee teacher evaluation system that many classroom instructors now see as skewed toward punishing them rather than helping them improve. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) report, based on a five-month review and involving commentary from more than 27,000 individuals, says only 29 percent of teachers participating in the review think the system will help them become better educators.

State Should ‘Address Challenges’ On Teacher Reviews: SCORE (WPLN-Radio)

A long-awaited review of Tennessee’s system for evaluating teachers came out yesterday. Six months ago Governor Bill Haslam asked the education group SCORE to study the new system, after hearing complaints from educators about the fairness of the evaluation, and how much time it takes. The 46-page review doesn’t give a ton in the way of concrete recommendations. Teachers in subjects that don’t have standardized tests, like art, have complained that too much of their evaluation comes from results from students they’ve never met.

Teacher Evaluation Change Barred By Current Law (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A new review of how Tennessee evaluates its teachers makes relatively few recommendations that would take approval from state lawmakers. But an outgoing Republican senator says one of them is a doozey. Governor Bill Haslam called late last year for the review from SCORE, the education reform group founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Some saw it as Haslam keeping lawmakers from tampering with the new evaluation system this spring.

Civil Service Changes Gain a Foothold (Stateline)

The campaign to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for his anti-union initiatives was the most talked-about issue on the state labor front this spring. Walker, who sponsored legislation banning collective bargaining for most public workers, survived his recall election on June 5, emboldening fellow Republicans who remain eager to do battle with unions. But while the Wisconsin campaign was attracting national attention, important developments for state workers were proceeding with less fanfare elsewhere in the country.

Haslam won’t endorse in 3rd District race (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t plan to endorse any candidate in the contested Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District. The Republican governor told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he has decided to support certain incumbents in the state Legislature, saying “those are folks we work with every day.” But Haslam said he will stay out of the 3rd District race where freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischman faces dairy executive Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, the son former longtime congressman Zach Wamp.

State Rep. Curry Todd indicted on DUI, gun charges (Tennessean/Rau)

State Rep. Curry Todd has been indicted by a Davidson County grand jury on charges of driving under the influence and possession of a handgun while under the influence stemming from his October arrest. Todd, a chief proponent of a 2010 law that allowed permit holders to carry guns into places that serve alcohol, was arrested after officers found a loaded handgun in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Todd’s attorney said Friday’s indictments were not a surprise.

Dean Tugs Heart Strings Selling Tax Hike to Rotary (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean made a more personal plea for a 53-cent property tax hike Monday. He found a receptive audience with the influential Downtown Rotary Club. Most of the increase is slated for Metro Schools. It would be used to bump starting pay for teachers from $35,000 to $40,000. Another big chunk would go toward renovations particularly in Southeast Davidson County, which has the city’s fastest growing population. Reflecting on a recent tour of Antioch Middle, Dean recalls classrooms vacated because of mold, while other parts of the building overflowed with children.

Dean paints picture of students in need during tax-hike homestretch (CP/Garrison)

Aging Antioch Middle School has broken windows, shuttered ramshackle classrooms and a hallway that “just smells bad” because of mold, a passionate Mayor Karl Dean said Monday, entering the homestretch of his push for a property tax increase. “Look in the face of those young kids, who are working so hard trying to get ahead, and say, ‘Is this good enough for you?’ ” Dean said, recounting a recent trip to Antioch Middle, a school built in the Harry Truman era with a student population primed to explode.

Nashville Mayor Dean appeals for tax plan support ahead of final vote (TN/Cass)

With Metro Council members looking for budget cuts, Mayor Karl Dean made a passionate pitch Monday for his plan to raise Nashville’s property tax rate, offering new details about the impact additional revenue would have on teacher recruitment, school buildings and public safety. In a speech that borrowed from presidential State of the Union addresses by spotlighting a devoted music teacher here and a heroic police officer there, Dean said he proposed the 53-cent property tax increase with the long view of the city’s welfare in mind.

Reforms for police, fire pension eyed in Chattanooga (Times Free-Press/Hightower)

Chattanooga taxpayers will pay millions of dollars in coming years to stabilize the city’s fire and police pension fund. But opinions differ on whether the plan needs major reforms to control costs in years ahead. Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said basic reforms need to happen sooner rather than later. “It’s going to be hard to sustain it without major [city] contributions,” he said. He pointed out that the pension plan doesn’t have a minimum retirement age, like similar plans in other Tennessee cities.

Montgomery Co. Commission signs off on budget, keeps nonprofit funding (LC)

Despite a surge of interest from nonprofit supporters, commissioners voted to pass the proposed county budget without changing the funding for those groups. Several nonprofits saw their funding for the next fiscal year cut by the Budget Committee. Three amendments made during Monday night’s County Commission meeting aimed to restore those cuts either fully or partially. All of them were defeated. The budget, which also cut more than $7 million from county department requests, passed unchanged with 15 yes votes.

Planning Commission votes 6-1 to appeal mosque ruling (Daily News Journal)

Kusch: ‘(Judge) was asking us to discriminate’ County planners voted 6-1 Monday to appeal a court ruling that declared their approval of a mosque void for not providing adequate public notice. “In my opinion, he was asking us to discriminate,” Rutherford County Regional Planning Commissioner Mike Kusch said. “We did everything we were supposed to do. We are not allowed to discriminate against race, creed or color. We should appeal. We didn’t do anything wrong. ”

6th District GOP rematch may shape future of party in TN (Tennessean/Sisk)

First round ended in acrimony, lawsuit The nasty primary between U.S. Rep. Diane Black and tea party activist Lou Ann Zelenik two years ago is being repeated this summer, and signs are gathering that the race once again will feature the religiously charged and personal attacks that left the two camps bitter and bruised. With the dust from 2010 barely settled, Black and Zelenik once again will face off in August for the Republican nomination to represent Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District.

Mitt Romney visits Williamson County today for third local fundraiser (TN/Cass)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will make at least his third fundraising visit of the 2012 campaign to Middle Tennessee — but still won’t appear before ordinary voters — when he touches down in Williamson County today. When he gets there, he’ll find that being his party’s standard-bearer has won him some new friends, bringing social conservatives under the same tent as the more moderate, pro-business types who always have been his strongest backers.

ORNL’s Jaguar being phased out, but Titan could be No. 1 (N-S/Munger)

A major upgrade will take place later this summer at the Cray “Jaguar” supercomputer, which will be renamed “Titan” after that work is completed, and it’s possible that Oak Ridge National Laboratory could again have the world’s fastest computer by sometime this fall. Jaguar, a Cray XT5 system that’s currently No. 3 on the world list, is being revamped with a hybrid architecture that will get a significant boost from the installation of Nvidia’s next-generation Kepler graphical processing units (GPUs) as soon as they become available in the next couple of months.

Tennessee sixth least costly state for hiring new employees (Memphis Biz Journal)

Tennessee ranked favorably as the No. 6 least costly state for hiring a new employee, according to a survey conducted by Thumbtack.com, a web-based small business locator, and the Kauffman Foundation. The survey showed that West Tennessee fared the best in the state in terms of hiring costs, though it was the lowest-rated of the three state regions when considering overall business friendliness. Tennessee received a business friendly grade of ‘B-,’ coming in at No. 30 nationwide.

Ethanol’s Long Boom Stalls (Wall Street Journal)

For years, the biggest employer in this city of 1,000 people near the Canadian border was the ethanol plant on County Road 9, which pumped out the corn-based fuel additive to satisfy demand driven by federal mandates requiring its use in gasoline. In April, plant owner Archer Daniels Midland Co. ADM -0.50% closed it, citing lackluster returns. The plant’s 61 employees lost their jobs, and Walhalla lost its biggest source of tax revenue. “Jobs like that are hard to come by,” said Chris Jackson, Walhalla’s 32-year-old mayor and proprietor of its main watering hole, Jackson’s Bar.

Unified school board debates who started buyout discussions (CA/Roberts)

Supt. Kriner Cash is still the head of Memphis City Schools after a board meeting Monday that lurched along in fits of pique and anger and eventually recessed to a private talk with the board’s attorneys. When the board meets next in mid-June, it will discuss letting the contracts of both Cash and Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken expire, an unexpected twist after weeks of confusion about who the board will choose to lead the new district and how it will decide.

Cash Contract Buyout Talks Began Last Year (Memphis Daily News)

Talks to buy out the contract of Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash began last December after a heated conversation between Cash and countywide school board chairman Billy Orgel. That’s what Orgel told school board members Monday, June 11, at a board meeting that adjourned after board members met behind closed doors for 35 minutes with their attorneys. Orgel said the “very heated exchange” with Cash came during a meeting with Orgel and the staff of both school systems to talk over agenda items for a coming school board meeting.

Commissioner questions link between Herenton’s, TX group (CA/Bailey, Roberts)

County Commissioner Terry Roland wants answers about whether a charter school group headed by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton is linked to Harmony Public Schools — a Texas-based group with a controversial past and questionable affiliation. On Monday, Roland asked the County Attorney’s Office to look into any connection between Herenton’s W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools and Harmony.

Hackers release info on Clarksville schools students, employees (Leaf Chronicle)

Data on 110,000 accessed; Social Security numbers, email passwords leaked A hacker group seeking to avenge “the murder of America” claims to have stolen private information on about 110,000 Clarksville residents and has released a massive amount of that data online. A group calling itself Spex Security on Monday published the information – including email passwords and Social Security numbers – on thousands of students and Clarksville-Montgomery County School System employees and claimed to be releasing data on more than 14,500 people.

Florida: Voter Purge Results in Countersuits (Associated Press)

The Department of Justice said Monday that it will sue Florida to stop its push to remove what it says are ineligible voters from their rolls, while Florida said it was suing the Department of Homeland Security over the purge. Florida says as many as 182,000 registered voters may not be citizens, but the Homeland Security Department has denied its request for access to a federal immigration database to verify the matches. Federal officials say the purge violates voting laws.

North Dakota: North Dakota Considers Eliminating Property Tax (NY Times)

Since Californians shrank their property taxes more than three decades ago by passing Proposition 13, people around the nation have echoed their dismay over such levies, putting forth plans to even them, simplify them, cap them, slash them. In an election here on Tuesday, residents of North Dakota will consider a measure that reaches far beyond any of that — one that abolishes the property tax entirely. “I would like to be able to know that my home, no matter what happens to my income or my life, is not going to be taken away from me because I can’t pay a tax,” said Susan Beehler, one in a group of North Dakotans who have pressed for an amendment to the state’s Constitution to end the property tax.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Teacher evaluation system is inadequate (Jackson Sun)

When it comes to unintended consequences, the Tennessee General Assembly appears to have won top prize when it passed education reform legislation that included new standards for measuring teacher effectiveness. Careful after-the-fact analysis of Tennessee’s proposed teacher evaluation system shows it to be flawed, and some parts unworkable. In 2010, the General Assembly passed broad public education reform legislation as part of the state’s application for federal Race to the Top grants. Tennessee was one of the first two states to receive a grant, and was awarded $501 million. A significant part of the overhaul was a new statewide teacher evaluation system that called for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student test results.

Times Editorial: Preserving Tennessee’s heritage (Times Free-Press)

Preserving Tennessee’s historic and archeological sites, neighborhoods, towns, districts and structures is vital work that requires expertise and significant investments in time and money. State residents have proved consistently over the years that they will willingly share their expertise, time and funds for such projects. Individuals and communities, though, often are hard-pressed to raise enough money to underwrite such projects. The Tennessee Historical Commission often is able to provide assistance. This year is no exception. The commission and Gov. Bill Haslam recently announced the award of 28 grants to community and other organizations within the state for such projects.

Editorial: Taxing questions for Memphis (Commercial appeal)

A proposal to raise the sales tax could lead to serious public discourse on stabilizing the city’s finances. A lot of points can be made for and against raising the sales tax in the city of Memphis. Hopefully, the upcoming discussion about a proposal to ask city voters to decide whether the sales tax should be increased will become the catalyst for a broader discussion about the city’s future financial health. But in a city where more than 25 percent of the population lives in poverty, is it really wise to push for raising a regressive tax — one that hits low-income individuals harder? Sales taxes are called regressive because, proportionately, they take a larger percentage of income from low-income individuals than from those with higher incomes.

Sam Stockard: Mosque was missing throughout arguments (Daily News Journal)

Just when you thought every angle of the mosque case — legal or otherwise — had been covered, here’s another one: The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was never brought into the court argument and, thus, never got due process. As plaintiffs argued that Islam is not a religion and, therefore, the ICM had no protection through the First Amendments freedom of religion, one glaring omission was in the courtroom. Not one person from the mosque took the stand. Quite simply, they couldn’t testify because they were never joined in the lawsuit.

Editorial: Health Reforms Consumers Want (New York Times)

UnitedHealthcare, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, announced this week that it would keep some of the popular benefits and consumer protections required by the federal health care law even if the Supreme Court strikes down all or part of it. UnitedHealthcare’s commitment is welcome recognition that elements of health care reform are already in place and that the market wants them. But such voluntary actions are not a substitute for the broader mandatory reforms that will take effect after 2014 under the law.

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