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January 16 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Higher Ed Initiative: Affordability, Access, Quality (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Randy Boyd will join his administration as special advisor to the governor for Higher Education to focus on affordability, access and quality of state programs. Boyd will consult with a formal working group appointed by Haslam made up of the governor, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and president of the University of Tennessee. Although Boyd’s position will be full-time, he will be working for the state on a voluntary, unpaid basis.

Haslam states higher ed goal, names adviser (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday that he wants to put Tennessee on a path toward boosting college graduation rates by 23 percentage points by the year 2025. Haslam said the state’s current rate of 32 percent of adults holding a post-secondary degree is not enough to meet the requirements of the modern job market. The Republican governor said he wants to improve that number to 55 percent over the next dozen years. “It is an ambitious goal, but if we’re going to compete we’re going to have to do that,” Haslam told reporters after speaking to a Boy Scouts group in Wilson County.

Haslam names Randy Boyd as special adviser on higher education (Tenn/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam has asked a Knoxville businessman to serve as his special adviser on higher education, focusing on costs, access and the quality of Tennessee programs. Haslam’s office said Tuesday that Randy Boyd, the founder of an invisible fencing company, will work with the governor to come up with new proposals to improve the state’s higher education systems. His appointment appears to signal that Haslam plans to delay any major new higher education initiatives for at least a year.

Tennessee governor names special adviser for higher education (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday named a new working group and special adviser to focus on higher education affordability, access and quality — another indication that he won’t propose any major higher ed policy reforms this year. The governor announced that Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd will join his administration as special adviser for higher education in a full-time but unpaid, volunteer position. Boyd will consult with a newly appointed “formal working group” that includes the governor, Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Richard Rhoda, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan and University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro.

Gov. Bill Haslam names Randy Boyd as special higher-ed adviser (NS/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam has named Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd “special advisor to the governor for higher education,” a position that the governor’s office describes as full-time but without any salary. A news release says Boyd, founder and chairman of Radio Systems Corp., will focus on improving affordability, access and quality of the state’s higher education system. He will work with Haslam, Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Rich Rhoda, Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan and University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro.

Clarity and Confusion From Tuition Calculators (New York Times)

The annual ritual of college admissions has shifted from the season of applying to the season of waiting. While that means an anxious vigil for millions of teenagers like Zachary Ewell, it goes double for their parents. Heidi and Mike Ewell must wait not only to learn where Zachary will go, but also how many thousands of dollars they will have to pay. Zachary, a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School near Chicago, and his parents have a new window into college pricing that millions of families before them did not.

Vanderbilt Poll: Gov. Bill Haslam wildly popular in Tennessee (Vanderbilt News)

Tennessee’s Bill Haslam is a remarkably popular Republican governor during a politically divisive time in the nation’s history, making him a politician to watch, says a Vanderbilt University political scientist. Haslam has a 68 percent job approval rating, according to new analysis of data from a Vanderbilt Poll conducted late last year. In comparison, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has received a surge of national attention for his actions and comments in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, has a 67 percent job approval rating in his home state, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Auto parts supplier Denso injecting 130 jobs in Athens, Tenn. (TFP/Pare)

Auto parts supplier Denso is adding 130 jobs at its Athens, Tenn., facility as part of a $1 billion investment in North America. Denso plans to plow $50 million into the Athens facility as it brings production of its gasoline direct injection system technology to the state, according to the company. “It’s a good shot in the arm,” said Athens City Manager Mitch Moore about the project. The company, that already employs more than 1,000 in Athens, is expected to start staffing, training and tooling at the plant in June, said Moore.

DENSO adding jobs in Maryville, Athens (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

More than 130 new jobs are headed to East Tennessee as DENSO has announced plans to pump $1 billion over the next four years into its North American operations, including plants in Maryville and Athens, Tenn. The Japanese automotive technology supplier announced Tuesday that it will bring production of a gasoline direct-injection system to its facility in Athens, representing a $50 million investment that will create more than 130 jobs. DENSO will be adding new production capabilities to each of the four plants that make up its DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee location in Maryville.

Icy mix may coat roads (Tennessean/Haas)

A wintry mix of rain and ice threatened to coat Middle Tennessee Tuesday evening, making commutes dangerous and increasing the risk of downed tree limbs and power lines. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency around 4 p.m. as the National Weather Service put most of the area under an ice storm warning that will continue until about 8 a.m. today. Areas just west of Nashville were expected to get up to a half inch of accumulated ice in places such as western Dickson and Hickman counties, threatening power lines and tree branches.

TEMA declares state of emergency; ice storm warning issued (City Paper)

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has declared a state of emergency amid expectations of an ice storm and other hazardous conditions moving across the state Tuesday. The declaration, according to TEMA’s website, “describes an event or period when a serious emergency has occurred or the situation is deteriorating rapidly, and public warnings are being issued.” The Tennessee Emergency Management Plan and the State Emergency Operations Center are activated as part of that declaration.

DCS leaders hear concerns of children’s nonprofits (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Dozens of experts who counsel, teach and rehabilitate at-risk families aired concerns about the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services on Tuesday and asked the department to be more responsive and collaborative when protecting children. And this time, the message went straight to the top of the department. An uncommon meeting at the Center for Nonprofit Management in Nashville brought DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day and three of her highest-ranking officials together in one place. It was the second such meeting at the center to improve relationships between nonprofits and government, said Lewis Lavine, the center’s president.

Tenn. to release annual total of traffic deaths (Associated Press)

The state plans to release Tennessee’s annual traffic fatality figures on Wednesday. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer are holding a press conference to announce the totals, as well as the preliminary figures for how many deaths involved alcohol or unrestrained motorists. The Transportation Department announced earlier this month that it will begin displaying the year-to-date fatality rate only on Fridays after months of running the numbers daily on digital message boards across the state.

Tennessee Capitol closed during brief power failure (Tennessean/Sisk)

The Tennessee Capitol experienced a power failure shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday as a winter storm moved into Middle Tennessee. A spokeswoman for the Department of General Services said the main breaker at the Capitol was tripped, causing electricity to go out throughout the building. The department was investigating what set off the breaker, but the spokeswoman said officials did not believe it was related to a recently completed, six-month, $15.7 million renovation of the Capitol, the building’s first overhaul in half a century.

Judicial Redistricting on Legislature’s Docket (TN Report)

Tennessee just got through redistricting. But another round might be on the way. Judicial redistricting, which would change the way judges, district attorneys and public defenders are allocated throughout the state, has a bearing on the workload of judges and court workers and the efficiency of the state justice system. The state’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. And some powerful voices in the General Assembly are saying it’s high time because while judicial maps have not changed in 30 years, the state’s population certainly has.

Rhea County chief wants TVA legislation (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Davis)

Rhea County Executive George Thacker is seeking state legislation to provide for TVA impact payments to counties where the federal installations are located. Thacker told county commissioners Tuesday that he has talked with state officials “and I’m going to keep meeting with legislators to get this to happen. If the law is changed to consider [TVA] assets rather than construction, as long as a plant is in operation we will continue to get money” from TVA. He reminded commissioners that under current law, once construction on the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor is completed in the next few years, TVA impact payments to the county will end.

Herron brings experience, baggage in fight to lead state Dems (C. Paper/Zelinski)

It felt odd for Roy Herron to be away from the Capitol on the opening day of the legislative session. For 26 years, he had made the trek from the town of Dresden in West Tennessee to Nashville to be there every first Tuesday of January to ring in a new year of trying to pass what he thought were good laws and fight bad ones. But he wasn’t there when the speakers gaveled in the session last week. He was out asking for votes for a new job — one as the chairman of the state Democratic Party. Last month, the recently retired state senator jumped into an already bustling race for party chairman to replace outgoing Chip Forrester, who oversaw the party as it lost 27 legislative seats in the last two elections.

Auditors find problems in Trustee’s Office (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Donila)

The Knox County Trustee’s Office again failed to complete, review and approve its monthly bank reconciliations “in a timely manner,” something officials say will now cost taxpayers more than expected as auditors take tougher measures to monitor the department, according to an annual audit report released Tuesday. In addition, the office overstated two accounts by a combined $1.4 million, although officials said the bookkeeping errors were “accidental” and stressed that no money was actually missing.

Chuck Fleischmann gets key U.S. House subcommittee spot (TFP/Carroll)

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has landed a spot on a crucial panel for Tennessee’s 3rd District. The second-term Republican, whose district includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority, was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy & Water Development Subcommittee. The news was announced Tuesday after the Ooltewah Republican expressed interest in joining the subcommittee, which oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Energy — the federal agency that operates Oak Ridge.

Electrolux shows off the Memphis oven plant taxpayers helped build (CA/Bailey)

Electrolux on Tuesday showed off its nearly completed oven plant, modern robotics, and the first 90 of its blue-shirted employees, and gave reasons why the $266 million facility won’t be like another new, publicly supported Tennessee plant that’s already announced massive layoffs. The glistening 750,000-square-foot facility at Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park will hire 160 more people by May, plans to be fully operational next year and expects to employ 1,200 as production ramps up in three to five years, said Jack Truong, president and CEO of Electrolux Major Appliances North America.

By the numbers: Tennessee’s solar investment (Nashville Business Journal)

It may be years before Hemlock Semiconductor’s $1.2 billion polysilicon plant in Clarksville begins paying dividends, following the company’s announcement Monday that it is laying off most of its local workforce. The announcement reflects a delayed return on investment for Tennessee, which has invested or pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for the state’s fledgling solar industry. A Nashville Business Journal analysis in 2011, drawing on public records from state agencies, found that more than $676 million in state, local and federal dollars had been invested or committed to Tennessee’s solar industry.

Hemlock news a ‘setback’ for Red River Preserve business park (N. Biz Journal)

A 75 percent job cut at Clarksville’s Hemlock Semiconductor plant is a setback for the Red River Preserve that had been planned in Cheatham and Robertson counties. Planners had hoped that nearby Hemlock might draw a solar focus to the $16 million corporate park project. “We have other target industries we are looking at,” said Margot Fosnes, Robertson County Chamber of Commerce president. “Obviously, it’s a setback because we expected that eventually there would be some polysilicon users who might locate in the area to be close to Hemlock. … That possibility is definitely still there, it’s probably just a longer timeline.”

Falling silicon prices hurt Hemlock, but help solar installers (Nashville Biz Journal)

While the oversupply and price decline of polysilicon has hurt the prospects of Hemlock Semiconductor, it has helped those companies further along on the solar supply chain. Steve Johnson, president of solar panel design and installation company LightWave Solar, based in Antioch, said the roughly 20 percent decline in silicon prices in the past five years has allowed him to drop his installation charges by the same amount over the past six months. His business has grown each year since opening in 2006, increasing as much as 40 percent in 2012, he said.

Schools Court Case Continues on Two Fronts (Memphis Daily News)

No new mediation sessions were scheduled as of Monday evening in the municipal school district court case in Memphis federal court. But the continued lack of specifics by the parties about what is happening is an indication that the talks will likely continue. Meanwhile, attorneys for the state have moved ahead with their motion for Memphis federal court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to reverse a ruling by Magistrate Judge Charmiane Claxton. At issue is a request by attorneys for the Shelby County Commission for email and other communications state legislators had among themselves and with their constituents about the passage of legislation permitting the formation of municipal school districts in the suburbs.

Anderson County School Board, commissioner sued over student fight (N-S)

The mother of a student injured in a fight in the Clinton High School gym is suing the Anderson County Board of Education and others over the incident. Also named as defendants in Donna Noble’s complaint: the teacher who allegedly supervised basketball practice, the other student involved in the fight and the boy’s father, Anderson County Commissioner Robert McKamey. According to the complaint, McKamey’s son, a juvenile at the time and enrolled in Clinton High, launched a “vicious, unprovoked attack” on Noble’s son.

Maryland: Death-Penalty Ban Pushed in Maryland (Wall Street Journal)

Calling the death penalty expensive and ineffective in reducing violent crime, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday that he would push to make his state the latest to do away with capital punishment. “The death penalty does not work in terms of preventing violent crime and the taking of human life,” Mr. O’Malley said at a news conference in Annapolis. He added that “year after year,” murder rates in states with death penalties are higher than in those without them. Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat seen as a possible presidential hopeful in 2016, said he would introduce a bill to the state legislature this week calling for the full repeal of the state’s death penalty.

 

OPINION 

Gail Kerr: Schools that take vouchers must be accountable (Tennessean)

Gov. Bill Haslam surprised the world at an education forum Monday, committing to school voucher legislation. Earlier, he had indicated that would not be part of his legislative agenda. Why the switch? Probably because he wants to control what a voucher system would look like. The only detail he’d release was that it would target children from low-income families who are going to the state’s worst schools. That leaves some big questions: How much taxpayer money would go to pay their private school tuition? He wouldn’t say. Will it be statewide or just in urban school systems? He wouldn’t say. And the biggest question of all: how will he hold private schools accountable that public school kids are learning in their care?

Editorial: One step forward, two back at TVA (Tennessean)

Marilyn Brown must have been quite the fly in the ointment on the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors. But Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have seen to that by blocking her reappointment. The Georgia Tech professor was the only person on the board of the giant federal utility with expertise in energy efficiency and sustainability. Think of that: the only director for a seven-state utility who would know the best practices for saving ratepayers’ hard-earned money; yet Alexander and Corker deemed her unsuitable for the board of an agency that is going to need all the expertise in sustainability that it can get in coming decades. Who is it exactly that Sens. Alexander and Corker work for? They owe it to the people of this state to explain why Marilyn Brown did not deserve reappointment.

Editorial: Communication should come first (Commercial Appeal)

The tension between parents and staff at Cornerstone Preparatory School in Binghamton definitely reflects a clash of cultures. It is the type of discord that may be inevitable to some degree in the realm of school reform, but it also raises the question of whether opportunities to lessen the turmoil were missed early on. Cornerstone is a start-up charter school chosen by the state’s new Achievement School District to operate Lester School, a low-performing elementary/middle school that was formerly part of the Memphis City Schools district. The ASD’s job is to turn around achievement scores in Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools, either by running the schools directly or contracting with charter school companies to do it.

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