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Haslam Signs Measure to Lower Food Tax

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, June 4, 2012:

WHITWELL – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today traveled to Marion County to sign legislation to reduce the state portion of the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent.

Haslam held a ceremonial bill signing at the locally- and independently-owned Smith Bros. Grocery in Whitwell, Tenn.

“We’re focused on making state government more efficient and more effective while reducing the cost to taxpayers,” Haslam said. “The sales tax on food touches all Tennesseans, and this is an effort to lower the burden. I applaud the General Assembly for passing this important piece of legislation this year.”

The bill, SB 3763/HB 3761, was introduced by the governor and was one of three tax cuts passed by the legislature and signed by Haslam this year as the state continues its work toward providing the best customer service at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.

The governor was joined for the event by bill sponsor House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester) and Marion County Mayor John Graham. Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Haslam included $21.3 million in the FY 2012-2013 state budget to fund the legislation.

The reduced tax rate does not apply to prepared foods such as a meal at a restaurant, candy, alcoholic beverages or tobacco.

Haslam Signs Bills Changing Structure of TRA, Boards, Commissions

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 23, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has sign two bills from his 2012 legislative agenda that make structural changes to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) and 21 boards, commissions and licensing programs.

More than 200 of these organizations exist within state government, and many have independent hiring and spending authority with limited oversight. Haslam announced a review of state boards and commissions during his 2011 State of the State address, and after a comprehensive evaluation, he proposed reforms to improve performance, accountability and efficiency.

“It is our job to make state government as accountable and responsive as possible to Tennessee taxpayers,” Haslam said. “These changes are a first step toward increasing the performance, accountability and effectiveness of state government to Tennesseans.”

House Bill 2385/SB 2247 changes the membership of the TRA from four full-time members to five part-time members, allowing the authority to attract well-qualified directors with applicable experience who may not have been able to serve full time. Also, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House now jointly appoint a full-time executive director. The TRA bill was sponsored by state Reps. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) in the House and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Sen. Mike Faulk (R-Kingsport) in the Senate.

Among other changes, HB 2387/SB 2249:

  • Eliminates 138 board appointments by combining boards and reducing and reforming the membership of
    • the Duck River Development Agency,
    • the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission,
    • Community Services Agency board, and
    • the Commission on Aging and Disability;
  • Combines seven boards into three –
    • the Conservation Trust Fund Board absorbs the Conservation Commission,
    • the Oil and Gas Board and Water Quality Control Board are combined to form the Board of Water Quality, Oil and Gas, and
    • the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Board, Solid Waste Advisory Committee, and Solid Waste Board are combined to form the Underground Storage Tanks and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board;
  • Gives the governor hiring authority for the executive directors of the following five agencies
    • the Commission on Aging and Disability;
    • the Commission on Children and Youth;
    • the Tennessee Higher Education Commission;
    • the Tennessee Arts Commission; and
    • the Council on Career and Technical Education.

The boards and commission bill was sponsored by state Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) in the House and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) in the Senate.

On April 11, the governor signed HB 2386/SB 2248, which transfers oversight of parolees from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Department of Correction. That proposal was also part of the governor’s public safety action plan.

First Lady Completes Year of Reading-Improvement Efforts for Kids

Press release from the Office of Governor Bill Haslam; May 17, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam completed a two week-long statewide reading tour yesterday with final school year-end visits to two of her 10 partnership schools.

Haslam’s final year-end visits to schools during the last two weeks included meetings with school administrators, recapping what was learned during the partnership and emphasizing the importance of literacy and parental involvement.

Haslam announced in May 2011 that she would partner with 10 schools across the state to focus on improving literacy rates, and during the past year, Haslam met with school administrators and families regarding parent engagement and promoted her READ 20 message by reading with and delivering books to students.

“The Tennessee Department of Education has set a goal to have 60 percent of third graders reading on grade level by 2014, and currently less half of our third graders are reading proficiently,” Haslam said. “Early literacy is the foundation for academic success, and if children and families commit to reading twenty minutes every day, that’s a tremendous step towards brighter academic futures and greater opportunities in life.”

The Tennessee Department of Education selected the 10 partnership schools based on their third grade TCAP reading scores, which were below the state average, but showed promise for great improvement. On this final round of visits, Haslam discussed their progress and encouraged them to continue to increase in reading proficiency.

“I have truly enjoyed working with our partnership schools,” Haslam said. “I have learned a lot by visiting with their teachers and administrators, parents and students. I hope that they have been encouraged by our work together and that their students continue to make improvements in literacy.”

The First Lady’s Partnership schools are: Coles Ferry Elementary in Lebanon; Dyersburg Intermediate School; Etowah Elementary; Gateway Elementary in Nashville; Hamilton Elementary in Memphis; Happy Valley Elementary in Johnson City; Northwest Elementary in Mason; Red Bank Elementary in Chattanooga; Union City Elementary; and Unicoi Elementary.

State Revamps Website

Press release from the Office of Gov. Bill Haslam; May 17, 2012:

NASHVILLE – The State of Tennessee has rolled out a dramatically redesigned and improved website, an important step in a broader overhaul of state web services.

TN.gov receives millions of unique visits annually, and the redesign represents a substantial effort to make the state’s official web portal more usable, accessible and innovative.

A key component of this effort is the extensive use of responsive design to transform and adapt TN.gov for a wide variety of mobile devices. Years of usage data indicated that mobile users were almost always in search of the same content as desktop users. With TN.gov’s responsive design, mobile users are finally presented the same desktop content, but perfectly adapted for smaller screens such as iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

“For many Tennesseans, TN.gov is the primary way they interact with and experience state government,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “The goal of this new design is to enhance this experience by presenting users with a path to the content and services they need in the most efficient and effective way possible.”

Several key enhancements to the web portal are:

  • The complete revamping of the visual design and information architecture, including “inline content viewing,” or the ability to view new content without leaving the current page, and innovative main page panels;
  • Enhanced viewing options, including variable text-sizing and a high-contrast display to accommodate a variety of needs, such as those with poor vision, and device displays;
  • An expanded “Happening Now” feed that aggregates relevant real-time content;
  • A redesigned agency template for an improved look and a more consistent experience;
  • And the addition of “Livewire” for an up-to-date view of online transaction statistics, top searches, public meetings, press releases and more.

“The new TN.gov is full of enhancements that make the site more customer-focused than ever before,” Tennessee Director of Digital Strategy John Chobanian said. “In fact, since the redesign’s soft launch in early May, user feedback has led to several enhancements. With the new site continuing to evolve, we welcome any and all input from our users.”

TN.gov and its related services are designed, developed and hosted in Tennessee. To share feedback on the redesign, please visit www.tn.gov.

Haslam Offers $15K Reward for Kidnapping Info

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 9, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a reward for information in the Bain Family kidnapping case out of Hardeman County, Tenn.

Haslam is offering $15,000 for information leading to the apprehension, arrest and conviction or the person or persons who have committed, attempted to commit or conspired to commit the kidnapping of JoAnn Bain and her three children Kyliyah, Alexandria and Adrienne Bain.

In addition, should another party issue a reward for information leading to a conviction; the state will match the reward up to $5,000. Twenty-Fifth Judicial District Attorney General Mike Dunavant made the reward request.

“It is my sincerest hope that this reward will lead to new information that brings those responsible for this crime to justice,” Haslam said.

JoAnn, 31, and her daughters were reported missing from their Whiteville, Tenn. home on April 27, 2012. The central suspect is Adam Mayes, who was considered a friend of the family, and he was with them in their home early that morning. He is considered armed and dangerous.

Mayes was last seen in Guntown, Miss. on May 1, 2012. On May 5, 2012 the bodies of JoAnn and Adrienne, 14, were discovered buried in a shallow grave behind the house of Mayes’ mother Mary in Guntown. Alexandria, 12 and Kyliyah, 8, are still missing and are believed to be with Mayes. Investigators have information that Mayes may have changed his appearance as well as that of the missing victims.

Mary Mayes, 65, and Mayes’ ex-wife, 31-year-old Guntown resident Teresa Ann Mayes, were charged Tuesday for their roles in the kidnapping.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is requesting that anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Mayes, Alexandria and Kyliyah call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND. The TBI has added Mayes to the state’s Top Ten Most Wanted list and a $6,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his whereabouts and arrest. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the location of the missing victims and the arrest of Mayes.

Obama Thanks Haslam; President Also Congratulates TN Governor on Daughter’s Wedding

President Barack Obama on No Child Left Behind Flexibility; Remarks Distributed by the White House Press Office, Sept. 23, 2011:

East Room, 10:24 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House, everybody. I see a whole bunch of people who are interested in education, and we are grateful for all the work that you do each and every day.

I want to recognize the person to my right, somebody who I think will end up being considered one of the finest Secretaries of Education we’ve ever had — Arne Duncan. (Applause.) In addition to his passion, probably the finest basketball player ever in the Cabinet. (Laughter.)

I also want to thank Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee for taking the time to be here today, and the great work that he’s doing in Tennessee. I’m especially appreciative because I found that his daughter is getting married, and he is doing the ceremony tomorrow, so we’ve got to get him back on time. (Laughter and applause.) But we really appreciate his presence. Thank you.

And a good friend, somebody who I had the pleasure of serving with during the time that I was in the United States Senate, he is now the Governor of Rhode Island — Lincoln Chafee. It’s wonderful to see Lincoln. (Applause.)

Thank you all for coming. And I do want to acknowledge two guys who’ve just worked tirelessly on behalf of education issues who happen to be in the front row here — from the House, outstanding Congressman, George Miller. (Applause.) And from the Senate, the pride of Iowa, Tom Harkin. (Applause.)

Now, it is an undeniable fact that countries who out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow. But today, our students are sliding against their peers around the globe. Today, our kids trail too many other countries in math, in science, in reading. And that’s true, by the way, not just in inner-city schools, not just among poor kids; even among what are considered our better-off suburban schools we’re lagging behind where we need to be. Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t finishing high school. We have fallen to 16th in the proportion of young people with a college degree, even though we know that 60 percent of new jobs in the coming decade will require more than a high school diploma.

And what this means is if we’re serious about building an economy that lasts –- an economy in which hard work pays off with the opportunity for solid middle-class jobs -– we’ve got to get serious about education. We are going to have to pick up our games and raise our standards.

We’re in the midst of an ongoing enormous economic challenge. And I spend a lot of my time thinking immediately about how we can put folks back to work and how we can stabilize the world financial markets. And those things are all important. But the economic challenges we face now are economic challenges that have been building for decades now, and the most important thing we can do is to make sure that our kids are prepared for this new economy. That’s the single-most important thing we can do. (Applause.) So even as we focus on the near term and what we’ve got to do to put folks back to work, we’ve got to be thinking a little bit ahead and start making the tough decisions now to make sure that our schools are working the way they need to work.

Now, we all now that schools can’t do it alone. As parents, the task begins at home. It begins by turning off the TV and helping with homework, and encouraging a love of learning from the very start of our children’s lives. And I’m speaking from experience now. (Laughter.) Malia and Sasha would often rather be watching American Idol or Sponge Bob, but Michelle and I know that our first job, our first responsibility, is instilling a sense of learning, a sense of a love of learning in our kids. And so there are no shortcuts there; we have to do that job. And we can’t just blame teachers and schools if we’re not instilling that commitment, that dedication to learning, in our kids.

But as a nation, we also have an obligation to make sure that all of our children have the resources they need to learn, because they’re spending a lot of time outside of the household. They’re spending the bulk of their waking hours in school. And that means that we’ve got to make sure we’ve got quality schools, good teachers, the latest textbooks, the right technology. And that, by the way, is something we can do something about right away. That’s why I sent the jobs bill to Congress that would put thousands of teachers back to work all across the country and modernize at least 35,000 schools. (Applause.)

Congress should pass that bill right now. We’ve got too many schools that are under-resourced, too many teachers who want to be in the classroom who aren’t because of budget constraints, not because they can’t do the job.

So parents have a role and schools need more resources. But money alone won’t solve our education problems. I’ve said this before, I will repeat it: Money alone is not enough. We also need reform. We’ve got to make sure that every classroom is a place of high expectations and high performance. And that’s been our vision since taking office. That’s why instead of just pouring money into the system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. And to all 50 states — to governors, to schools districts — we said, show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement; we’ll show you the money. We want to provide you more resources, but there’s also got to be a commitment on your part to make the changes that are necessary so that we can see actual results.

And for less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, Race to the Top, under Arne’s leadership, has led states across the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And, by the way, these standards that we’re talking about — these high standards that we’re talking about were not developed here in Washington. They were developed by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country — essentially as a peer group, a peer review system where everybody traded best practices and said, here’s what seems to work, and let’s hold all of our schools to these high standards. And since that Race to the Top has been launched, we’ve seen what’s possible when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate but the work of local teachers and principals and school boards and communities working together to develop better standards.

This is why, in my State of the Union address this year, I said that Congress should reform the No Child Left Behind law based on the principles that have guided Race to the Top.

And I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that. Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But experience has taught us that, in it’s implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them. Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test. Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out. And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a Race to the Top. They don’t want to get penalized? Let’s make sure that the standards are so low that we’re not going to be seen failing to meet them. That makes no sense.

And these problems have been obvious to parents and educators all over the country for years now. Despite the good intentions of some — two of them are sitting right here, Tom and George — Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far. I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this. Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will. Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting. (Applause.)

So starting today, we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards. Keep in mind, the change we’re making is not lowering standards; we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards. We’re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee -– but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in.

Let me repeat: This does not mean that states will be able to lower their standards or escape accountability. In fact, the way we’ve structured this, if states want more flexibility, they’re going to have to set higher standards, more honest standards, that prove they’re serious about meeting them.

And already, 44 states –- led by some of the people on this stage –- have set higher standards and proposed new ways to get there — because that’s what’s critical. They know what’s at stake here.

Ricky Hall is the principal of a charter school in Worcester, Massachusetts. Where’s Ricky? Oh, Ricky’s not here. (Laughter.) He was — there he is. Ricky — I wasn’t sure if he was behind me. Good. Thank you. (Applause.) Every single student who graduated from Ricky’s school in the last three years went on to college. Every single one. (Applause.) His school ranks in the top quarter of all schools in Massachusetts — and as you know, Massachusetts’ schools rank very high among the 50 states. But because Ricky’s school did not meet all the technical standards of No Child Left Behind, his school was labeled a failure last year. That’s not right. That needs to change. What we’re doing today will encourage the progress at schools like Ricky’s.

Is John Becker here? He is? All right, here’s John. (Laughter.) I didn’t think you were John. (Laughter.) John teaches at one of the highest-performing middle schools in D.C., and now with these changes we’re making he’s going to be able to focus on teaching his 4th-graders math in a way that improves their performance instead of just teaching to a test. (Applause.)

We have superintendents like David Estrop from Springfield, Ohio — right here. (Applause.) Dave will be able to focus on improving teaching and learning in his district instead of spending all his time on bureaucratic mandates from Washington that don’t actually produce results.

So this isn’t just the right thing to do for our kids -– it’s the right thing to do for our country. We can’t afford to wait for an education system that is not doing everything it needs to do for our kids. We can’t let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn’t have the courage to recognize what doesn’t work, admit it, and replace it with something that does. We’ve got to act now. (Applause.) We’ve got to act now and harness all the good ideas coming out of our states, out of our schools. We can’t be tied up with ideology. We can’t be worrying about partisanship. We just have to make sure that we figure out what works, and we hold ourselves to those high standards. Because now is the time to give our children the skills that they need to compete in this global economy.

We’ve got a couple of students up on stage who are doing outstanding work because somebody in their schools is dedicated and committed every single day to making sure that they’ve got a chance to succeed. But I don’t want them to be the exception. I want them to be the rule. Now is the time to make our education system the best in the world, the envy of the world. (Applause.) It used to be. It is going to be again, thanks to the people in this room.

God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MTSU Poll: Tennesseans Don’t Like Teacher Tenure; Split on Eliminating Collective Bargaining; Favor Wine in Grocery Stores

Press Release from the Middle Tennessee State University Survey Group, March 2, 2011:

Obama would lose to a Republican opponent, but his low approval rating has stabilized

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans take a dim view of teacher tenure but show no consensus on whether to do away with collective bargaining power for teacher unions, the latest MTSU Poll finds.

Fifty-four percent of state residents choose the statement, “Tenure makes it hard to get rid of bad teachers” as most representative of their viewpoint, while 29 percent choose the alternative statement, “Tenure protects good teachers from being fired without just cause” as most indicative of what they think. Sixteen percent say they don’t know, and the rest decline to answer.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of Tennesseans favor “eliminating the ability of teacher unions in Tennessee to negotiate with local boards of education about teacher salaries, benefits and other employment issues.” But a statistically equivalent 41 percent oppose such a move, and a substantial 22 percent are undecided.

“Compared to public opinion about teacher tenure, public opinion about collective bargaining for teacher unions seem to be still taking shape in Tennessee,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll. “The people most likely to have any opinion at all on the collective bargaining issue are also, based on other measures in the poll, the ones most likely to be politically active and politically knowledgeable. They probably are creating a framework for the debate and soon will start contending with each other for the support of those who are undecided.”

Conducted Feb. 14 – 26, 2011 by Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication, the telephone poll of 589 Tennessee adults chosen at random from across the state has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. Full results are available on the poll’s website, www.mtsusurveygroup.org.

The poll also finds President Obama currently trailing whoever the Republican 2012 presidential nominee might be. Thirty-one percent of Tennesseans say they would vote for Obama if the election were held today, but a 48 percent plurality say they would vote instead for “his Republican opponent.” 14 percent say that they don’t know who they would vote for at this time, and 6 percent volunteer that they would vote for neither candidate.

The downward slide in Obama’s approval rating among Tennesseans seems to have leveled off, though, according to Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll.

“The president’s approval rating stands at 39 percent in Tennessee, a possible uptick from his 35 percent approval rating in our Fall 2010 poll,” Reineke said. “But, of course, he’s still down quite a bit compared to his 53 percent approval rating in the Spring 2009 MTSU Poll.”

In other findings, three in four Tennesseans considers illegal immigration a “somewhat” or “very” serious problem, and a 42 percent plurality describe as “about right” the new Arizona immigration law’s requirement that police making a stop, detention, or arrest must attempt to determine the person’s immigration status if police suspect the person is not lawfully present in the country. Another 25 percent say such a law “doesn’t go far enough,” and 28 percent say it “goes too far.”

Additionally, 55 percent characterize as “about right” the Arizona law’s requirement that people produce documents proving their immigration status if asked by police. Twenty-three percent say that aspect of the law doesn’t go far enough, and 17 percent say it goes too far.

Meanwhile, closing the Tennessee’s projected budget gap could prove politically difficult for state lawmakers.

A 52-percent majority of state residents think dealing with the budget gap will require either cutting important services (16 percent), raising state taxes (6 percent) or both (30 percent). Despite these attitudes, though, Tennesseans show little support for cuts to any of five of the state’s largest general fund budget categories. Only 25 percent of state residents favor cuts to TennCare, 14 percent favor cuts to K-12 education, 24 percent favor cuts to higher education, and 17 percent favor cuts to children’s services. Cuts to a fifth major budget category, prisons and correctional facilities, drew the most support (44 percent), but the figure is still well below a majority.

Asked about gun regulation, Tennesseans divide essentially evenly on whether laws governing the sale of guns should be kept at their current levels (43 percent) or made more strict (41 percent). Similarly, 45 percent of Tennesseans say they would support a nationwide law banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, defined in the poll question as those that hold more than 10 bullets. But a statistically equivalent 42 percent say they would oppose such a law.

In still other poll findings:

  • Sixty-nine percent of Tennesseans favor letting food stores sell wine.
  • A 50 percent plurality think Congress should repeal the health care law.
  • Support remains high for the religious rights of Muslims.
  • Tennesseans think neither President Obama nor Congressional Republicans are doing enough to cooperate with each other.
  • More Tennesseans approve than disapprove of new governor, legislature, but many are undecided.

For over a decade, the Survey Group at MTSU has been providing independent, non-partisan and unbiased public opinion data regarding major social, political, and ethical issues affecting Tennessee. The poll began in 1998 as a measure of public opinion in the 39 counties comprising Middle Tennessee and began measuring public opinion statewide in 2001. Learn more and view the full report at www.mtsusurveygroup.org.

TEA Mulling Haslam’s Tenure Reform Proposal

Tennessee’s largest teachers union is ready to do its homework on Gov. Bill Haslam’s education reform plan.

But regardless of the details of the governor’s legislation, union leadership sees a lot in other bills that it says have nothing to do with teaching children.

Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, said Thursday his organization wants to give Haslam’s education proposals a good, close look, then stands ready to talk.

“I think his proposal is going to be complex enough that we’re going to need to get it and analyze it to see exactly what he’s proposing, and then we’d like to talk to them before we take an official organization position on it,” Mance said. “That is particularly true with anything having to do with tenure.”

Haslam delivered his anticipated tenure-adjusting proposal to the legislature Thursday as the highlight of a package that includes lifting current limits on charter schools in the state. Haslam wants to change the probationary time for teacher tenure from three years to five years.

Mance said the TEA will probably have a detailed response by early next week.

Haslam’s tinkering with the tenure system followed the first real shot in Republican lawmakers’ battle with teachers’ union supporters a day earlier, with a Senate committee voting Wednesday to advance a bill wiping away collective bargaining for teachers. The week was a potent one-two punch to the union. The union bargaining issue has stirred the most passion thus far.

“We’ve got 52,000 members across the state who aren’t happy,” Mance said. “This is devastating for some of them. Keep in mind almost 90 percent of all teachers are covered by negotiated contracts. A lot of teachers have lived during the period when we didn’t have them.

“What negotiation does is provide an orderly and structured way for you to sit down with the school system and talk about those problems and issues that may get in the way of actually improving schools.”

Mance has heard some of the information going around that says non-bargaining local educators make an average $130 a year more than teachers who work under collectively bargained contracts. But, he said, that is taking into account only salary, not both salary and benefits.

He said bargaining groups of teachers almost always exceed what nonbargaining local organizations receive in health insurance.

“If they repeal the bargaining law, they have no opportunity to sit down in an orderly way and have input into the education and school system,” Mance said. “They will be back to a time when teachers were expected to be seen and not heard, and I don’t think that’s something teachers are going to be able to tolerate ever again.

“I don’t think most school boards want that.”

The Tennessee School Boards Association says indeed it does not. But that organization rejects the notion that such an outcome is likely or would, for that matter, be tolerated by the voters who elect local citizens to the boards.

“It serves the best interest of everyone in the system, especially the school board and the teachers, to have a collaborative relationship,” said Lee Harrell, a lobbyist for the TSBA, which is pushing the anti-collective bargaining bill. “School board members are elected, and they have to meet certain standards, and they have to have highly qualified teachers — and they have to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. It serves them absolutely no good and no interest to shut the teachers out.”

Harrell, who made his remarks before the Senate Education Committee this week, said the 45 school districts in Tennessee that aren’t mandated to collectively bargain with unions — 91 districts are — have an “open relationship” that results in constructive discussions with teachers on the full range of education-related issues.

“They want to hear directly from teachers in the classrooms,” Harrell said of school board members.

Mance said the existence of mandatory collective bargaining in one system can have an effect on a neighboring system, like the Memphis city schools compared to Shelby County schools.

“Some of the benefits in Shelby County are what they are because Memphis is right next door, and Memphis negotiates,” Mance said. “In order to establish and maintain some kind of parity it means that Shelby County has to improve its benefits but also improve teacher involvement in decision-making.

“That is as important to most teachers as the salaries and benefits.”

Mance expressed concern about a flurry of bills in the Legislature he says don’t directly affect education. They include the mandatory collectively bargaining issue, a bill doing away with TEA’s members selecting people for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System board of trustees and a bill to remove a payroll dues deduction for any employee organization that participates in politics.

“There are a number of bills around, and none of them have anything to do with support of teaching in the classroom or support for education reform that have any possibility of improving the education of Tennessee boys and girls,” he said.

Governor’s Remarks on Legislative Package

Statement from Governor Bill Haslam, Feb. 17, 2011:

“Today I am submitting our first legislative package that focuses on two core messages: educating a highly trained workforce that will attract high quality jobs and identifying the best teachers and creating an environment that keeps them in the classrooms across the state.

“Tennessee is poised to lead the way in educational reforms that will bring 21st century approaches into our classrooms. The Race to the Top initiative is the blueprint for us to improve student achievement, to instill strong, innovative leadership skills in our principals and to encourage high performing teachers to share their knowledge with our children.

“Our education approach recognizes the contributions made by teachers and emphasizes our commitment to have the best and brightest teachers available in the classroom.

“To meet the challenges and the opportunities of a quality education for every child requires a focused set of initiatives.

“We have been partnering with educators to craft tools that will assist teachers and principals that will assist in achieving academic success. These tools also will assist school districts in assessing and rewarding teachers that are excelling in the classroom as well as those that fall below expectations.

“An effective teacher should lead every classroom, and we should recognize them. At the same time we should take steps to address those teachers who consistently fail to measure up to the standards we all want for every child. That should be the measure for tenure.

“Reform in education encompasses multiple approaches that embrace new, innovative concepts.

“Charter schools represent one way to improve the learning experience. We are asking for the cap on the number of charter schools to be removed and to allow open enrollment. The bar is high for charter school performance as it should be.

“In our Achievement School District that is part of First-to-the-Top, we support extending to the ASD the ability to authorize charter schools.

“But the learning experience is not complete after a high school education. We need to encourage people to attain an advanced degree from a community college or one of our four-year institutions.

“Our lottery scholarships have retained the best and brightest students in our state.

“With the Complete College Act that recognizes retention and graduation, we are requesting an extension of the lottery scholarship to summer courses and capping the total number of hours based on required degree completion.

“Another step toward making Tennessee competitive within the Southeast, we are requesting revisions to the state’s civil justice system.

“The legislation will provide certainty and predictability for businesses and insure that we are competitive with our neighboring states. The revisions will establish limits on non-economic damages for both health care liability actions and other personal injury actions. Limits will also be placed on punitive damages, and standards will be clarified for assessing such damages. Also the venues in which a legal action can be filed will be clarified.

“Our agenda that is being filed with the Tennessee General Assembly is tightly focused on opportunities to enhance job creation. At the same time we will be using the tools already at our disposal to provide good customer service to our citizens. For example, the Department of Economic and Community Development is focused on a top-to-bottom approach that lays out the return on the financial investment that is made.

“We will aggressively examine rules and regulations to assure this three-part test is met – will they make a difference, are they performance based and what are the expected outcomes.

“These initial steps in transforming state government will lead to more efficiency and effectiveness and deliver excellent customer service.”

Haslam Asks Obama to Expedite Health Care Appeals

Press Release from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Feb. 3, 2011:

Haslam: We Can’t Afford to Wait

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today joined other governors in sending a letter to President Barack Obama that asks him to expedite the legal process for the cases regarding the federal healthcare bill.

In the letter, Haslam asked the President to direct those in his Cabinet who are defendants in the suits file appeals quickly and appeal straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Beyond the merits of this issue, the people of our great nation deserve an answer. Our people deserve to know the future of how their state governments will be structured, how their wallets will be affected, and how their choices in health care will be determined,” Haslam wrote.

“While we wait, we lose. We lose time. We lose resources. We lose options,” he added.

“Our people deserve more than uncertainty. They deserve an answer. And, very simply put, Mr. President: our people cannot afford to wait,” Haslam wrote in the letter.