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August 22 TN News Digest

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

Tenn. schools lauded for achievement, growth (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam is recognizing 168 Tennessee schools for their achievement and growth. They were lauded this week by Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman as the 2013-2014 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for academic achievement and the top 5 percent for annual growth. The schools span 49 districts across the state and include 90 schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations. This year’s list recognizes 67 schools for overall academic achievement and 84 schools for annual growth. The list also names 17 schools that earned both designations.

Governor visits Hazelwood to give Reward School status (Leaf Chronicle)
Boisterous students cheered as Gov. Bill Haslam entered the Hazelwood Elementary gymnasium Thursday morning to announce that the Clarksville school is one of four in the district to make the state’s list of top TCAP performers. Teachers and visitors clapped and students held their signs high, signs like “Hazelwood Stars” and “Hazelwood Shine.” Haslam told them they had the distinction of making that Reward Schools list in two ways: for both performance and progress. “We’re extremely proud of all schools that are recognized,” said CMCSS Director B.J. Worthington. “Schools across the district all work extremely hard,” he said.

State releases list of Tennessee’s top schools (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
More than a dozen schools in East Tennessee earned top marks with the Tennessee Department of Education. State leaders released a list of of Reward Schools Thursday. The list represents the top five percent of schools in Tennessee for highest achievement and top five percent in overall growth. This year’s list recognized 67 schools across the state for overall academic achievement and 84 schools for overall growth. In East Tennessee, 18 schools were named Reward Schools. Three East Tennessee schools were also among 17 schools in the state to earn both designations: Montgomery Ridge Intermediate, Eastview Elementary and Farragut High. Knox County had five schools on the list, the most of any system in East Tennessee.

Tennessee names high-performing schools statewide (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
Tennessee has named 168 ‘Reward Schools’ statewide for high performance or for making progress over the academic year. Reward schools are the top 5 percent of schools in the U.S. and the top 5 percent of schools for progress. Two Blount County schools have been recognized for progress: Fairview Elementary School and Friendsville Elementary School. Two Maryville Schools, Foothills Elementary and Montgomery Ridge Middle School were recognized for performance. Campbell County’s Caryville Elementary School was recognized for progress; so was Claiborne County’s Tazewell-New Tazewell Elementary School. Lincoln Heights Middle School in Hamblen County made the list for progress. Knox County has five reward schools in the district.

Hamilton Co. Schools Ranked Top-Performing In TN Accountability List (WTVC-TV)
A handful of Hamilton County schools are closing the gap in achievement, according to a release of the top-performing schools from the Tennessee Department of Education Thursday. The 2014 list includes: Allen Elementary School for Performance, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy for Progress, Middle College High School at Chattanooga for Performance, Lookout Mountain Elementary School for Performance, Snow Hill Elementary School for Progress and Thrasher Elementary School for Performance.

42 schools in Shelby County on state reward list (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
Days are often long for people who make a living in public education. If Thursday felt that way, it may have been the sugar buzz or the extra work of planning parties. By midmorning, principals in 42 Memphis-area schools had received word that their schools were in the top 5 percent in the state for test scores or gains over last year. Both come with the sweet praise of being a state Department of Education “reward” school, the leading 10 percent in a state making fast gains. Middle College High has the distinction of being the only school in Shelby County — one of 17 in the state — to pull off both the highest scores and fastest growth. “It’s a huge honor,” said principal Docia Generette, searching for words with her mouth wide open.

Holston Elementary earns Reward School status (Kingsport Times-News)
Sullivan County’s Holston Elementary School has been recognized as a Reward School by the Tennessee Department of Education. It was one of seven Reward Schools in Northeast Tennessee and 168 statewide announced Thursday. “While we had several schools close to the Reward School status cut, we are especially happy for the Holston Elementary community,” Sullivan County Assistant Director of Schools David Timbs said. “Their status as a Focus School two years ago for gap closure spurred an already high achieving school to go even higher while closing their gaps at the same time. The principal, John Weaver, and the staff set very high expectations and the students were engaged and inspired to meet them. Our entire district celebrates with HES.”

Local schools achieve Reward status (Daily News Journal)
Lascassas Elementary Principal Lyndal Duke knew his students posted impressive scores on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, administered in April. He found out just how good they were Thursday morning, as Lascassas was one of six local schools named among the top five percent in the state based on student performance on the annual TCAP tests. The Tennessee Department of Education released its list of 168 reward schools, and Lascassas made the cut for the third consecutive year. “I knew we’d be close, but I wanted to wait until it was official until I told the faculty,” Duke told The Daily News Journal about 30 minutes after the results were announced by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

Three JMCSS schools earn top places in TCAP (Jackson Sun)
Three Madison County schools rank among the top 5 percent in the state for academic performance and/or progress on TCAP tests. The Tennessee Department of Education on Thursday released its list of Reward Schools based on the 2014 TCAP test results. The list includes 12 West Tennessee schools outside of Shelby County. In Jackson-Madison County, Denmark Elementary School, Madison Academic Magnet High School and South Side High School are all recognized as Reward Schools. Anita Tucker, principal of South Side, credits quick interventions, low staff turnover and increased parental involvement for the school’s success.

Williamson County’s average ACT score: 23.5 (Tennessean/Giordano)
Williamson County high school students are hitting new highs. For the third year in a row, students have topped the average composite score for the district on the ACT, this time going from 23.4 to 23.5 out of a possible 36. The increase on the college entrance exam continues to put Williamson County ahead of other public school systems in the state. The state average is 19.3, which also is up over last year by three-tenths of a percentage point. The national composite ACT score is 21. As Williamson County students continue to break district records, the steady increase is in line with one of many goals set five years ago by parents and educators in the district’s strategic plan to achieve a composite score of 24 on the ACT for each senior class.

North ACTs make remarkable leap (Kingsport Times-News)
Sullivan County’s Sullivan North High School increased its ACT scores for 2014 by 1.3, markedly better than what ACT officials called a “noteworthy” statewide increase of .3 The state average composite increased from 19.5 to 19.8, but administrators this week said the halls of North are abuzz with students talking about North’s score going from 18.0 in 2013 to 19.3 in 2014. That marks the highest score for North in five years. Sullivan Central’s composite jumped from 19.3 to 19.7, while Sullivan East dipped slightly from 19.6 to 19.4, “We are as a school and staff so proud of our students,” North Assistant Principal Jimmy Barker said. “It (ACT test preparation results) finally came through in the results.”

Tennessee Now Seeks to Renovate Cordell Hull Building (A. Press/Schelzig)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is backing off earlier plans to demolish the 60-year-old Cordell Hull office building located next to the state Capitol in Nashville and instead hopes to renovate it. Bob Oglesby, the commissioner of general services, told the State Building Commission on Thursday that renovating the building would create space to house workers while other office buildings are overhauled in the future. The original recommendation to demolish the building was made by consultant Jones Lang LaSalle, which said it would be cheaper to tear down than to fix up and maintain. Oglesby said the long-term savings of using the building to house other state employees would offset some of the cost of estimated $70 million overhaul.

State Offers Plan To Save Cordell Hull Building (WTVF-TV Nashville)
The Haslam administration now has second thoughts about destroying a historic building on the grounds of the state Capitol. It formally recommended Thursday that the Cordell Hull be saved and renovated. NewsChannel 5 Investigates first raised questions about the decision to demolish it more than year ago after lawmakers approved the money to destroy the building. But while the State Building Commission did not formally approve the recommendation Thursday, they made it clear that it’s one they are likely to follow. “I think what we have come up with is an appropriate compromise on this,” House Speaker Beth Harwell said.

Grants to encourage students to walk, bike (Associated Press)
Nearly 20 Tennessee communities are getting grants to encourage elementary and middle school students to walk and bike. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the Safe Routes to School grants this week for 17 municipalities. The Safe Routes to School Program is a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing alternative for students. The funds totaling $1.8 million will be used by schools to improve sidewalks, crosswalks and signs and fund walking and biking educational activities. The grants are made possible through a federally funded program administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Straight-line winds, not tornado, caused damage in Philadelphia (N-S/Wilson)
Officials say it may be several days before they have a dollar estimate of the damage from a Wednesday storm that rumbled through the heart of this Loudon County hamlet, snapping branches and tree trunks and downing power lines. There were no injuries in the maelstrom, officials said, but as many as 105 structures may have been damaged by the straight-line winds that meteorologists clocked at 85-90 mph. Power to almost all the 656 residents of the community was restored by noon Thursday, and emergency personnel from multiple county and state agencies were on hand to assess the damage and begin the cleanup.

NWS: No tornado in Loudon Co. (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
The National Weather Service visited Philadelphia, Tenn. Thursday to investigate whether a tornado actually touched down in that area on Wednesday and concluded 85 to 90-mile-an-hour straight-line winds whipped through, not a tornado. “Based on some of the damage I’m seeing and the trees uprooted, and things like that, I can get a good estimate of how strong the winds were,” said Anthony Cavallucci, with NWS in Morristown. “I gather data points, plug them into a GPS, and then I can get a birds eye view of the width of this weather event.” NWS says the total length of damage was a little over a mile long and 700 yards wide in Philadelphia. There were also several pockets of damage in Sweetwater and Madisonville.

Cleanup underway after straight line winds hit Loudon County (WATE-TV Knoxville)
Crews and homeowners were out all day Thursday cleaning up the damage left behind by Wednesday’s storm. The National Weather Service went through assessing the damage. They have determined that it was straight line winds, not a tornado that caused all the damage. Loudon County Emergency Management officials say 105 structures were damaged, and nine suffered major damage or were destroyed. “It was so powerful that it took my flagpole down, a metal flagpole down. It had the trees literally just bent over,” said James Harold. People in Philadelphia say they were caught off guard by the force of Wednesday’s storm.

Cleanup following damaging storms in Philadelphia, Tennessee (WVLT-TV Knox)
The National Weather Service says straight-line winds from thunderstorms caused damage to about 80-100 homes in Philadelphia, Tennessee on Wednesday night. The winds blew trees over into homes and power lines. EMS crews say only about six people are still without power this afternoon in Philadelphia. The American Red Cross is feeding families, volunteers and crews Thursday. The Philadelphia Elementary School is closed Thursday but scheduled to reopen Friday. The National Weather Service says on surveying damage, they have determined this was not a tornado.

Roane officials celebrate road-widening project (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)
This roadwork has been a long time coming, said David Webb, owner of the iconic Rocky Top General Store. State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, agreed. “I’ve been working on it for seven years,” he said of the project to widen State Route 29 — also known as Ruritan Road and Pine Ridge Road — from its intersection with State Route 61 to near the Interstate 40 interchange. Local officials were “very persistent” in asking the state for the project, Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said. “I’m so glad it’s finally happening,” said Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, 32nd District state representative. Authorities this week celebrated the upcoming start of the $9.6 million project, which will go in front of Webb’s store and is one of two main roads into Harriman from Interstate 40.

Kentucky, Tennessee receive training funds (Associated Press)
Kentucky and Tennessee are receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration’s health and safety training grants. The agency announced Thursday it is allocating $8.3 million for 46 states and the Navajo Nation in fiscal year 2014. The grants cover training and retraining of miners working at surface and underground coal and metal and nonmetal mines. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet is to receive $627,659, the largest award in the program, while $139,864 will go to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. MSHA said in a news release that each recipient designs the plan to fit the needs of mines and miners within that location. (SUBSCRIPTION)

‘Books From Birth’ tour to visit Coffee Sept.23 (Tullahoma News)
The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) will launch its “Books from Birth 10th Anniversary Tour” on Aug. 26 in Johnson County and conclude at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville on Sept. 30, During its visits to 50 counties it will be at the Coffee County Courthouse at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23. The tour is housed in a 45-foot decorated coach. The tour is being made possible in part through the s support of the program’s bus tour partner, Delta Dental of Tennessee. The purpose of the tour is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee and the more than 20 million books mailed to children since the program began.

Court of Appeals judges honored for service (Jackson Sun)
Judges Alan Highers, David Farmer and Holly Kirby were honored Thursday for their years of service on the Western Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Highers and Farmer will retire at the end of August. Kirby was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and will also end her tenure on the Court of Appeals at the end of August. A reception was held at the Jackson Country Club and attended by members of the area legal community, including appellate judges, trial judges and attorneys. “Attorneys and the legal community just wanted to show their appreciation and congratulate them on retirement and congratulate Judge Kirby on her elevation to the Supreme Court,” said Kristi Rezabek, staff attorney on the Court of Appeals and co-chair of the event.

Deadline near on Tennessee grocery wine petitions (Associated Press/Johnson)
More than 60 communities have collected enough signatures to place a referendum for supermarket wine sales on the November ballot, according to a coalition that’s tracking the petitions. Currently, wine can only be sold in liquor stores. But a state law that passed this year will allow it to be sold by grocery and convenience stores starting in July 2016 if citizens vote to approve the change. Red White and Food, a coalition that lobbied for the change, said Thursday that so far 61 municipalities have submitted petitions to their election commissions, which verified them. The submission deadline is end of business Thursday.

Collierville, Millington to hold wine referendums (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)
Collierville and Millington have joined the list of Shelby County jurisdictions that will hold a Nov. 4 referendum on whether to allow wine sales in food stores. Whether Memphis voters will be able to make that decision remains to be seen, according to a Thursday afternoon update of petition numbers from the Shelby County Election Commission. Thursday was the final day for petitions to be filed with the Election Commission to get wine sales in food stores on the November ballot, alongside races such as U.S. Senate, governor and four state constitutional amendments. Once petitions are filed, Election Commission workers must verify that the signatures match registered voters in that jurisdiction.

Wine In Groceries Clears Another Hurdle: Getting On The Ballot (WPLN-Radio)
Nashvillians will decide in November whether to let grocery stores sell wine, the Davidson County Election Commission announced on Thursday. Nashville joins more than 60 cities that will be voting on the issue. Mom-and-pop liquor stores have long fought the change, fearing it would put them out of business. Other critics have argued it could increase drunken driving. Kroger spokeswoman Melissa Eads dismisses these allegations. From the customer standpoint, it’s about convenience, she says, adding that the 40,000 signatures they collected at stores across Metro is a testament to that support.

Supermarket wine petitions at 60 near deadline (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
About 60 communities have collected enough signatures to place a referendum for supermarket wine sales on the November ballot. Currently, wine can only be sold in liquor stores. But a state law that passed this year will allow it to be sold by grocery and convenience stores starting in July 2016 if citizens vote to approve the change. Red White and Food, a coalition that lobbied for the change, has been keeping track of the collected signatures and said Thursday that so far 60 municipalities have submitted petitions to their election commissions, which verified them. The submission deadline is by the end of business day on Thursday.

Nearly 60 Tenn. communities to have supermarket wine on November ballot (WATE)
Fifty-nine communities, many in East Tennessee have collected enough signatures to allow a referendum on whether wine can be sold in grocery stores on the November ballot. Red White and Food, a coalition that lobbied for the change, has been keeping track of the collected signatures. The following communities have submitted petitions to their local election commissions which were then verified: Newport Church Hill Morristown Clinton Loudon Rogersville Gatlinburg Oak Ridge Kingsport Sevierville Maryville.

No wine verdict for Chattanooga: Signatures still being tallied (TFP/Brogdon)
Voters in four local municipalities will get to decide in November whether they want wine and cheese to be a one-stop shopping experience. But the verdict is still out for Chattanooga and the unincorporated county — the two largest voting blocs — and four other small cities because officials are still counting. People who wanted to get a referendum to allow wine sales in grocery stores on local ballots in November had until 4 p.m. Thursday to turn in signatures to county election officials. Each municipality needs enough signatures to equal at least 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

TN doesn’t track racial profiling, police diversity (Tennessean/Haas)
Tennessee doesn’t track the races of people stopped by police officers or the racial makeup of its nearly 600 law enforcement agencies. As a result, state and local officials don’t have answers for some of the tough questions being asked across the country after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.: whether their police departments unfairly target blacks, Hispanics or other minority groups; whether their police departments reflect the racial makeup of their communities. But statistics that could shed light on those questions have been recorded only intermittently in Tennessee. When they were, in state studies in 2002 and 2007, they showed racial disparities in how some minority groups were treated by police.

County outlines 2013-14 surplus spending (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)
Knox County employees can expect a $700 bonus this fall, the result of a budget surplus of roughly $2.8 million to $3 million from the 2013-14 fiscal year. That will use about $1.75 million from the surplus, according to Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell. “Our health insurance costs were lower than expected,” Caldwell said. Other projects for the use of that surplus have already been outlined, with about $500,000 of that money going to the county’s Rainy Day Fund, its unassigned fund balance. “Unassigned fund balance is used for unexpected, one-time expenses,” Caldwell told the News Sentinel Thursday.

Corker “on the bubble” on Ex-Im Bank (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday that he’s “kind of on the bubble” when it comes to reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The Chattanooga Republican visited the Knoxville Chamber on Thursday as part of an event aimed at recognizing local companies that have benefited from export assistance from the Commerce Department. Corker said he doesn’t want to harm domestic companies that ship goods overseas and cited a recent conversation with General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who told him that in places like Africa, assistance from the Ex-Im Bank helps companies seal deals because of the implied support of the U.S. government.

Sen. Corker voices D.C. disdain during Kingsport visit (Bristol Herald-Courier)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker voiced his disdain Thursday for a lack of courage and leadership by government officials in Washington, D.C. The Republican lawmaker visited Kingsport to update business and community leaders — including the Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City chambers of commerce — on current issues in the nation’s capital. “It’s a disgrace the way we put off tough decisions for future generations,” he said. “It is, to me, the greatest threat to America. It’s the greatest threat to our prosperity; it’s the greatest threat to our future.” He said the nation lacks vision and he hopes that the 2016 election will include a national debate with the outcome of a “bold, clearly defined” vision.

Sen. Corker criticizes ‘generational theft’ during Kingsport visit (Times-News)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker continued Thursday to be critical of what he called “generational theft” by Congress on federal spending issues. The Tennessee Republican, in a breakfast talk to about 150 business leaders and elected officials at the MeadowView Marriott, insisted Congress is still “shying away” from the nation’s fiscal challenges. “I call July ‘Generational Theft Month’ because people are up for re-election, and they want to make sure people are happy with them,” Corker told the group. “They pander. So we steal money from future generations in the general fund.”

Vote certification over, DesJarlais holds onto lead (Tennessean/Cass)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais maintained his 38-vote lead over state Sen. Jim Tracy in a closely watched Republican congressional primary after the last county certified its results Thursday night, increasing pressure on Tracy to concede the race. Marion County, where DesJarlais lives and which he won by a large margin, certified its vote count at a 5 p.m. meeting, joining the other 15 counties in the 4th Congressional District. DesJarlais, the two-term incumbent, said it was time for Tracy to give up his dream of winning the GOP nomination. “I want to thank the people of Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District for once again putting their faith in my ability to serve them; I promise I will never take that trust for granted,” DesJarlais said in a written statement.

States Given a Reprieve on Ratings of Teachers (New York Times)
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced on Thursday that states could delay the use of test results in teacher-performance ratings by another year, an acknowledgment, in effect, of the enormous pressures mounting on the nation’s teachers because of new academic standards and more rigorous standardized testing. Using language that evoked some of his fiercest critics, Mr. Duncan wrote in a blog post, “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools,” and he added that teachers needed time to adapt to new standards and tests that emphasize more than simply filling in bubbled answers to multiple-choice questions.

TVA cuts staff, spending but boost rates 1.5 percent (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
For the second consecutive year, the Tennessee Valley Authority is raising electric rates less than inflation. Most consumers may not even notice the higher base rate charge since next month’s drop in fuel costs will be even bigger than the planned October price increase. TVA directors Thursday approved a $10.7 billion budget for fiscal 2015 that will raise wholesale electric rates by nearly 2 percent, effective Oct. 1. For most consumers, the end use price of electricity, when combined with what local power distributors charge, will go up by only 1.5 percent, or about $1.70 per month. “This is a relatively modest increase, below the rate of inflation,” TVA President Bill Johnson said, noting that the consumer price index has grown by nearly 2 percent in the past year.

TVA approves $10.7 budget, 1.5% rate hike (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)
The TVA board on Thursday approved a $10.7 billion 2015 fiscal year budget that includes a 1.5 percent rate increase. The budget includes $500 million savings in operations spending and a record $3.5 billion in capital spending on generating plants and system improvements. The rate increase will mean about $1.70 more a month for the typical residential customer in the seven-state region served by the Tennessee Valley Authority, TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas told the board. TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson termed it a modest increase — below the rate of inflation. It is needed in the effort to balance costs with capital spending, he said.

TVA Raises Rates And Cuts Efficiency Programs To Fund Capital Projects (WPLN)
Power bills will go up by 1.5 percent starting in October as part of a TVA rate hike approved by the utility’s board Thursday. Before raising electricity prices, Tennessee Valley Authority executives say they made $500 million in cuts. That includes a 25 percent reduction in energy efficiency programs, against the wishes of TVA board member Marilyn Brown. “I’m hoping though that it is simply part of a bridge move to a future with an expanded commitment to energy efficiency versus the whip saw approach that the program has had over the years.” For a residential customer using 1,000 kwh a month, the rate increase will cost roughly $1.70. A 1.5 percent increase equates to nearly $200 million in revenue for TVA. The underlying electric rate (without the fluctuating fuel cost adjustment) was also raised by 1.5 percent in October 2013.

 
OPINION

Editorial: Cooperation aids workforce preparation (Daily News Journal)
Rutherford County has received recognition for its job-creation efforts, and we congratulate the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce and public-private partnerships for their initiatives to provide adequate training for the county’s workforce. Chamber officials have identified four-areas on which to focus workforce training: • advanced manufacturing/mechatronics • health care • information technology • logistics and distribution These focus areas represent current and future workforce needs, and they are not mutually exclusive. Enovate Medical, for example, that is moving its corporate headquarters to Murfreesboro will need workers with health care and information technology expertise since it produces mobile and wall-mounted clinical workstations for health-care organizations.

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