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Business and Economy Education Health Care Liberty and Justice News Tax and Budget

Governor Set to Unveil State Budget Proposal

Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to pitch his roughly $30 billion spending plan to lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday evening. During the annual State of the State address before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the governor is expected to outline his fiscal priorities and policy vision for the coming year.

It’s unclear exactly what the governor’s budget for fiscal year 2013 will look like. But Haslam and his staff have consistently said it will include some cuts.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters Thursday he doesn’t expect many surprises in Haslam’s proposed budget, which lawmakers will spend the next weeks and months delving into and fine-tuning before they adjourn to hit the campaign trail.

Ramsey warned, though, that the various government program constituencies shouldn’t get too excited by the state’s growing tax revenue.

“I think there will still be cuts in this year’s budget, but compared to what we’ve been through the last two or three years, it’ll be easier,” said Ramsey.

The state anticipates collecting about $300 million more in tax revenues next fiscal year than this year as the economy continues to recover. However, rising costs mandated by state or federal law in education, TennCare and pensions will mean roughly $500 million in additional expenses this year, according to the administration.

“Our job (in state government) is to provide the very best service that we can at the lowest price,” Gov. Haslam told civic and business leaders in Cookeville Monday. “People every day depend on the State of Tennessee to go get a driver’s license and not have to wait in line forever, to make sure that I-40 out here is safe, to make sure TennCare is provided for our most needy families.”

Over the last six months, state agencies have handed several cost-cutting proposals to the governor’s office. One plan showed how Tennessee government departments and personnel would acclimate if the feds lopped off 30 percent of their Volunteer State spending. The resulting $4.5 billion budget contraction would require state government to lay off 5,100 of its roughly 40,000 employees. That plan acted mainly as a test exercise to prove to federal bond rating agencies the state is not overly dependent on federal dollars, according to the Haslam administration.

The other budget requests, presented during a series of budget hearings around the state in November, revealed how each department would cut 5 percent from yearly spending, with many departments writing off unfilled jobs.

With the state’s financial future looking rosier now than it did when the governor asked for those cuts, Haslam has signaled he’s willing to make some fiscal moves that previously he’d said weren’t in the cards for 2012. The administration is indicating tax cuts are now a possibility — like  trimming back the food tax, which would mean the government eating up $18 million less of Tennesseans’ aggregate food purchases. Another priority for the administration is raising the exemption on the estate tax — sometimes referred to as the “death tax” — which would mean a $14 million reduction in state revenue. The governor has also suggested allocating $6 million toward anti-crime measures annually.

“We’re all just kind of sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what the governor will recommend in the budget,” Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan told the Higher Education Commission Thursday. “We’re very hopeful that this is going to be a good year for our education budgets, which would be a very pleasant experience given the string of the last several years, which had not been so good.”

Haslam has hinted a willingness to put money in his budget to check the immigration status of people collecting government entitlements like food stamps, which would cost $5.8 million, according to a 2011 estimate.

The governor has asked each commissioner to conduct a “top to bottom” review to identify how each would rebuild their organization to find efficiencies and better determine what services state government should be providing. Whether or how the governor will build the results of those studies into state government in the next year is not known.

The governor will unveil his budget plan at 3 p.m. followed by his State of the State address at 6 p.m.

Here are stories we’ve written about state agencies’ budget proposals:

Board of Regents

Bureau of Investigation

Department of Correction

Department of Education

Department of Health

Department of Tourism

Department of Transportation

Departments of Economic and Community Development, Financial Institutions, Labor and Workforce Development, and Safety and Homeland Security

Departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Human Services, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Labor and Workforce Development

 

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Education

AT&T Funding State Community College Scholarships

AT&T put another exclamation point on the state’s overall education reform agenda Wednesday, plunging $130,000 into scholarships for Tennessee community colleges.

The company announced that $10,000 will go to each of the state’s 13 community colleges. AT&T’s Tennessee president said it’s all tied to the education reform agenda that, in turn, is tied to workforce development in the state.

AT&T and state officials held a press conference for the announcement at Nashville State Community College.

“We recognize the critical role community colleges play here with higher education in Tennessee,” Gregg Morton, president of AT&T Tennessee, said.

“Often the community colleges don’t get the credit they deserve. If you look at the track record in terms of degrees they’re already generating, it’s a very successful track record.”

Both Morton and John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, said the steps taken from the state’s Complete College Act, which will streamline taking credits from two-year schools onto four-year schools, is a significant development in education reform.

Morgan said the quality of the community colleges was good before such changes were made.

“But Tennessee, for whatever reason, tended to under-utilize our community colleges compared to most other states, particularly those states that are successful in providing high levels of education attainment,” he said.

“What this completion agenda does is it really erases, once and for all, that perception or that stigma that somehow community colleges ‘are not as good as,’ because credits earned at this school (Nashville State) will transfer to any other school in the state, and that’s a big deal.”

The scholarships will be designated for students in what are known as “accelerated pathways,” which are designed to move students through the higher education system without a lot of confusion.

Under the accelerated pathways program, instead of having multiple courses over several months, where a student might have one course on a Tuesday morning and another on a Wednesday afternoon and meander through the system, the student can now move along more expeditiously.

“What this accelerated pathway does is create a block schedule, so we’re telling students if you will come to us from 8:30 to 2 o’clock every day, over a period of time we will give you what you need to complete your degree,” Morgan said.

“You don’t have to go through the course-shopping, the course-selection process, you don’t have to worry about whether or not that section will be available when you need it We will structure that program for you.”

Morgan said the block schedule allows students to plan the rest of their lifestyles, like carrying jobs, around that class schedule.

The system also places students with cohorts, where they can move along together. The scholarships are designed to target non-traditional and under-served students.

Morton said the state currently has the proper focus on students.

“The initiatives underway here, I think, make Tennessee unique in many respects,” Morton said. “We’ve been able to get beyond a lot of the partisan bickering you see certainly in Washington and other states to focus on what’s important for our students here in Tennessee.

“It’s an exciting time, and it’s important for the business community to be involved in this initiative in partnership with both higher education and K-12 education because these students are looking for a job. It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. We’re all kind of inter-related here.”

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Business and Economy Education

SCORE Conference Accents Connection Between Education, Economic Growth

They held an education summit in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it turned into a jobs summit.

And that’s pretty much what organizers of the event had in mind all along.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the organization founded by former Sen. Bill Frist, hosted the Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit at Lipscomb University, pulling together various interests in education — from the classroom to the philanthropic realm. It was notable for its emphasis on rural areas, where issues ranging from education to unemployment can be difficult and complex

But it was clear the event was not simply about educating kids in rural communities. It was about preparing them for the workforce and, in turn, boosting the economy in those rural areas.

“It’s making real this close connection between education and jobs,” said Jamie Woodson, the former state senator and president of SCORE.

“They’re so interrelated. It’s not just something we talk about theoretically. It really is a matter of economic viability for these communities around our state and the families that support those communities.”

To drive home that point, the event had a high-powered panel discussion Tuesday morning that included Kevin Huffman, the state’s commissioner of education, and Bill Hagerty, the state’s commissioner of economic and community development, along with Frist and Woodson. Huffman said the jobs of the future will be different from jobs in the past. Hagerty said the connection between jobs and education is very tight.

But the same angle was evident in a morning panel discussion Wednesday. Joe Barker, executive director of the Southwest Tennessee Development District, drove home the point of workforce development and in the process referred to a megasite in West Tennessee aimed at economic development.

Barker also referred to the REDI College Access Program. REDI stands for Regional Economic Development Initiative.

“The key part of this is to recognize we’re an economic development organization. We’re not an educational entity,” Barker said.

“We got involved in the College Access Program purely from an economic development sense.”

He spelled out some details of the large tract of land set aside as the Haywood County Megasite.

“It is a large, potentially very attractive industrial site for heavy manufacturing. It is the only certified megasite left in the state of Tennessee,” Barker said.

“Leaders came together to talk about what we could do as a region to enhance attracting jobs to that megasite, and at the end of the day it all went back to the quality of our workforce and our educational attainment levels.”

John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the largest higher education organization in the state, zeroed in on the high number of students who require some type of remedial education when they enter the state’s colleges. He focused on the community colleges in the Board of Regents system since they will be the institutions dealing most with remedial education.

“Roughly four out of five freshmen who come to our community colleges require some kind of remedial or developmental education,” Morgan said. “Of those, about three out of four will have math deficiencies.

“That’s kind of the big problem. But even when you look at reading, about one-third end up in developmental or remedial reading courses, and about half end up in writing courses. That’s troubling.”

Morgan pointed to the state’s Complete College Act, which is geared toward moving students more seamlessly toward college degrees.

“In an environment where completion is now the agenda, where our schools are incented in a very strong way through our outcome-based formula to focus on completion, obviously that represents a substantial challenge,” Morgan said.

Morgan said no matter how well Tennessee handles remedial education, real success will come only when students arrive at college prepared to learn.

“We can cry about that. We can whine about the lack of preparation if we choose to,” Morgan said. “But that’s not going to help us hit our numbers. It’s not going to help us achieve our outcomes.

“So what we have to do is figure out how we at our institutions can work with our high schools, with our middle schools, with our communities to lead to better success for students as they come to us.”

Morgan said there will always be a need for remedial and developmental courses for adult learners, pointing out that if he were to go back to college he would probably “test in” to needing some kind of help.

But the summit was still somewhat out of the ordinary for its focus on rural communities.

“There is a great deal of focus and data related to urban turnaround strategies,” Woodson said. “But we wanted to look at rural communities — and a third of Tennessee students are in schools in rural communities — which is particularly important. So we thought it would be smart and productive to focus on that.”

David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for SCORE, echoed that desire.

“A lot of the education reform going on nationally is focused on urban areas,” he said. “In talking to folks and learning from people across the state, there was a real need, not only convening about rural education but to talk about best practices, then bring folks together to replicate those practices.”

Woodson said the idea for the rural summit came from listening tours SCORE has conducted across the state, adding that those efforts will continue.

“This really resulted from those conversations,” she said.

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Education Featured News Transparency and Elections

TBR Hearings To Be Continued?

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham isn’t entirely pleased with the way this week’s public examination of the operations, make-up and public relations savvy of the Tennessee Board of Regents’ came off.

For one thing, Gresham, R-Somerville, told TNReport Thursday afternoon that she was “perhaps irritated” Regent Agenia Clark didn’t show up during the two days of education committee hearings into the TBR’s controversies of late.

Clark, who chaired the regents’ “search committee” that recommended Deputy Gov. John Morgan as the best candidate to serve as chancellor to the board, was said by TBR vice chairman Greg Duckett to have a scheduling conflict.

Gresham, however, said Clark communicated nothing in the way of an excuse or reason for her absence with the committee ahead of time.

“I was very disappointed that Regent Clark did not make herself available,” Gresham said. “She was, after all, the chair of the search committee, and in that position could give us insights that no one else could.”

Gresham said she’ll talk with committee members and the Senate leadership “to see what our options may be.”

The committee spent Tuesday and Wednesday investigating Morgan’s selection to head the state’s higher education system, after criticism that the process unfairly favored him. Morgan was the only candidate interviewed for the job, and previous educational requirements for the job – which Morgan would not have met – were lowered.

Inside Higher Ed, an online journal of news, opinion and job listings covering colleges and universities in America, published an article titled “The Politician as Chancellor” back in August that outlined “a remarkable set of coincidences resulted in the state’s deputy governor getting the job.”

The article also quoted Clark, who reportedly “challenged the notion that the regents kept the applicant pool small to favor Morgan.” Wrote Doug Lederman, editor of Inside Higher Ed and author of the article:

(Clark) said she spoke privately to several strong candidates (including some more traditional ones) who were discouraged from applying because Tennessee’s strong open records law would have revealed their identities early in the process, putting their current jobs at risk. The same thing happened during the 2008-9 search that the board scuttled, she said, well before Morgan appeared on the scene.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, made a formal request toward the end of the second day of hearings Wednesday to once again call Clark before the Senate Education Committee.

“She’s been the one that’s not here, and the one that carried out the most processes, if you will,” said Ketron, a vocal critic of the TBR’s activities of late. “The process is what we’re trying to get to: how we establish it and make it better from this point forward.”

But Duckett, the acting vice chairman for TBR, suggested that a committee interview of Clark — a no-show not just at the Senate hearings, but TBR functions in general “since the Morgan appointment backlash,” the Tennessean reported on Wednesday — would do little to reform the board’s practices and better its performance henceforth.

“If we are going to improve the system prospectively, then we need to look at procedures that will help us not be in this position in the future,” said Duckett.

Sens. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, sided with Duckett.

“It seems to me that why we are here is we have to figure out what we have to do going forward,” said Berke, who himself wasn’t in attendance during the committee’s Tuesday hearing. “And bringing in Ms. Clark, or having another day of hearings, or anything else, is not going to push us in that direction.”

“I do not see how trying to have more discussions and more days up here about the selection process that had a candidate that Lt. Gov. Ramsey called ‘highly qualified,’ that many of the people up here praise, is going to do us any good,” Berke said.

Ditto, said Woodson.

Gresham, growing perceptibly miffed as she spoke, responded that “criticism of these hearings as being a distraction from the real education issues” is wrongheaded.

Gresham expressed “grave concerns” about the judgment and transparency exhibited lately by the TBR — which she noted is responsible for “a $2 billion budget, $7.4 billion in capital assets and provides education opportunities for 200,000-plus students.”

“I kind of question the logic of saying we don’t need to go forward or have more hearings because nothing’s going to change,” said Gresham. “That is the same kind of logic that we heard: ‘Well there is no sense in having any other interviews because we know it is going to be this one guy.’ So, I don’t agree with that at all.”

Doug Lederman
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News

Regents Say Morgan Was Right Choice

The selection of a key Bredesen aide to head the state’s higher education system was a sound decision, even though the process to choose him has come under sharp criticism.

That was the message delivered by a handful of members of the Tennessee Board of Regents and Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, who were grilled by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday afternoon on how they picked Deputy Gov. John Morgan for the post.

Several members, such as TBR Acting Vice Chairman Gregory Duckett, admitted the process could have been done differently. However, he and other members said they were happy how the appointment turned out, despite negative publicity implying the fix was in.

The selection, which neglected to include interviews with other candidates, left some lawmakers believing Morgan’s appointment was a “sort of rigged process,” said Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.

But chairwoman Dolores Gresham says the controversy shows that better oversight is needed from her committee.

“The law already gives us oversight, and perhaps it’s our own oversight that we need to improve and be more alert to,” she said after the meeting.

TBR officials did not interview any candidates other than Morgan when deciding who would be the next chancellor for Tennessee’s university and college system. Officials also reduced the education requirements necessary for the position from a doctorate to an undergraduate degree, saying they changed it to open up the process.

“You don’t have to know how to fly a 747 to be a CEO of an airline company,” said John “Steve” Copeland, a member of the board.

Board members said their priority was hiring a chancellor who could run the $2 billion higher education system while working with state lawmakers and implementing the Complete College Act of 2010, a law aimed at boosting graduation rates that Morgan helped get passed.

The committee interviewed five of the 12 regents, all of which said they were happy with Morgan as the new chancellor. Four others will sit before the Senate committee on Wednesday, and another four are not attending.

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Featured News

GOP Leaders, Bredesen Strike Truce on Choice for Regents Chancellor

A handful of GOP lawmakers said they accept the appointment of a top aide to Gov. Phil Bredesen to lead the board that oversees the state’s higher education system, but they still plan to probe the selection process.

Three high-ranking Republican senators made the announcement after meeting with Bredesen Thursday about the makeup of the state Board of Regents, the body that chose Deputy Gov. John Morgan for the powerful position.

“It has to be so important that the chancellor does hit the ground running, and right now that’s going to be John Morgan,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Last month, the 18-member board voted to hire Morgan to manage the $2.2 billion higher education system, which includes six universities, 13 two-year colleges and 26 technology centers.

The appointment process triggered a political firestorm as the public realized that the requirements for the job had been altered, which gave Morgan an edge, and that he was the only applicant the regents interviewed for the position.

That raised Republican concerns that the job opening was meant specifically for him. Bredesen, a lame-duck Democrat, has denied that was the case.

The Board of Regents rewrote its application in a way that made some requirements, such as educational attainment, less stringent. Candidates for chancellor now only need an undergraduate degree in education, and Morgan’s highest degree is a bachelor’s in education.

The specifications also called for a candidate with intimate knowledge of how to implement the “Complete College Act of 2010,” a law Morgan played an instrumental role in passing which ties funding to factors like graduation rates. The job posting added that applicants should have a thorough understanding of the state political system and an ability to work with the legislature and governor’s office.

Senate Republicans announced earlier this week they’re planning to conduct confirmation hearings on 12 appointed regents, a rare process that could result in some regents being kicked out of office.

State Sens. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, requested the hearings, pointing out that the board was lacking GOP representation as required by state law. They located a state statute that says the board must include at least three Republicans and three Democrats.

Bredesen, who appoints members to the Board of Regents, admitted Thursday he didn’t know he was supposed to consider their political affiliation when selecting who should sit on that board but said he would fix the problem.

Ramsey told reporters in a press conference that the governor said he would remove some members of the board and appoint GOP replacements. Bredesen wouldn’t confirm those details, saying he was “not ready to talk about the mechanics of it, yet.”

“I told them that I would take care of the issue,” Bredesen said Friday after a press conference at the Capitol. “As has happened in various times during the time I’ve been governor, something comes up, and we didn’t get it done quite right. And I think I’ve pretty reliably gone back and said, ‘OK, I’m going to fix that.’ I’m willing to do that in this case.”

Attorney General Bob Cooper is reviewing whether decisions made by the board without the required Republican representation — such as Morgan’s appointment — are not valid.

Cooper’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending legal opinion, but Ketron said the findings could result in an undoing of actions the board has taken over several years.

Ketron said the attorney general’s office has assured him that it will release a legal opinion before the Sept. 28 hearing.

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Education News Transparency and Elections

Board of Regents Under Scrutiny

Some Senate Republican lawmakers say the Tennessee Board of Regents, which controls a $2.2 billion budget and has oversight of the state’s higher education institutions, has lacked GOP membership as required by state law for the last six years.

That could raise the possibility that any of the regents’ formal decisions since then may be subject to legal challenge — including the controversial appointment of Deputy Gov. John Morgan as chancellor.

Sen. Bill Ketron said Tuesday that Gov. Phil Bredesen may not have appointed the required number of Republicans to the board, and that none were ever confirmed by the Senate.

Both could be violations of state statute, suggested the Murfreesboro Republican — meaning the 18-member board has been operating “out of compliance” with the law since Bredesen, a Democrat, last appointed members in 2004, Ketron said.

The senator said he discovered a statute shortly after Morgan’s appointment last month that indicates the board is required to consist of a bipartisan makeup.

“Each of the two (2) leading political parties shall be represented by at least three (3) appointive members” on the board, according to Title 49, Chapter 8 of the Tennessee Code.

Robert Thomas, the board’s current vice-chairman, told a Nashville television station last month that he believes all the Board of Regents’ members are Democrats. However, the board does not keep track of each member’s party affiliation, said David Gregory, TBR’s vice chancellor for administration.

Ketron said he has communicated the issue in writing to Attorney General Robert Cooper and has asked him whether decisions made by the board are binding if the body failed to follow state law. Ketron said he has yet to receive a response from Cooper, who served as Bredesen’s legal counsel from 2003 to 2006, according to his online bio.

State Sen. Dolores Gresham, who chairs the education committee, has agreed to conduct two hearings later this month to review the makeup of the Board of Regents and suggest any changes it hopes lawmakers will take up once they are sworn in next January.

Gresham, R-Somerville, said her committee will discuss whether the board is in compliance with state law.

Morgan was the only candidate interviewed for the chancellor’s position, raising concerns among some as to why more people weren’t considered for such an important post.

The board had also changed its selection criteria in a way that carved out a position only Morgan could be qualified to fill, Gresham said. One change reduced the necessary education level from a doctorate to an undergraduate degree, matching Morgan’s bachelor’s in education.

Gresham said she asked the Board of Regents to interview more candidates, but the members refused and stuck with Morgan.

The Senate Education Committee, which will meet Sept. 28 and 29, will also conduct confirmation hearings on all the TBR members, Gresham said. The Senate was supposed to OK all the board’s appointees, according to state code, but the body never reviewed the members.

When asked about the makeup of the board during a press availability Wednesday, Bredesen said he has specifically tried in the past to ignore party affiliation as much as possible when considering nominees. The governor added that he’s  “got someone looking at…what went wrong, if anything went wrong” with the TBR selection process.

Bredesen indicated he’s frustrated the discussion over the board “has gotten so political.”

“No one had any concern about any of these things for the past seven and three-quarters years,” Bredesen told reporters outside a Tennessee Valley Authority conference in downtown Nashville. “Suddenly now there are a couple of Republican state senators who are pushing the issue.”

Bredesen said whatever happens, he hopes the probing of TBR personnel selections and decision-making processes doesn’t undermine the boards top priority at this point, which he says is implementing a higher education overhaul package — called the “Complete College Act of 2010” — designed to increase university graduation rates.

“It bothers me when people inject politics into it at quite this level,” Bredesen continued. “If someone has a problem with either the confirmation process or the makeup of the board, I don’t know why they couldn’t sit down and talk with me. I would be happy to address the issues without having to have some hearings, but I guess there probably wouldn’t be any reporters or TV cameras probably in that meeting, which I think probably is what it is all about.”

The Tennessee Board of Regents oversees the sixth-largest public higher education system in the country, including six state universities, 13 community colleges and 26 technology centers. Its duties include reviewing and approving budgets, establishing graduation requirements along with setting campus policies and regulations.

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Featured News

Bredesen Denies Pulling Strings on Morgan Appointment

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he was offended that anyone could think that he had anything to do with Deputy Governor John Morgan’s recent appointment to a top job overseeing Tennessee colleges and universities.

The Democratic governor, serving out the last of his eight years in office, told reporters during a Wednesday morning press availability he hasn’t used his influence in to ensure someone was hired for a job.

“I think if you look back over my time that I’ve got a really good record of not messing around behind the scenes to make political things happen for friends or something like that,” Bredesen said.

“Frankly, I mean, to suggest that now, I don’t like it. I don’t think that’s appropriate. That’s not a fair assessment of what was going on here,” he told reporters.

Morgan was appointed to head up the Tennessee Department of Regents, managing six universities,13 two-year colleges and 26 technology centers across the state.

But the decision has been loaded with controversy.

Prior to the search, the board changed its job requirements in a way that some critics say stacked the odds in Morgan’s favor.

The board rewrote requirements so that applicants no longer must have a doctorate degree, but merely a bachelor’s or associate’s degree instead. Morgan holds a bachelor’s degree in education.

The job posting also stipulates that qualified applicants must be politically connected — in particular, that they have “experience working in complex political environments, including the legislative and executive branches of government, community and/or business constituencies.”

According to his resume, Morgan began working for the state in 1974 as a legislative research assistant. After years of working in government, he became Comptroller of the Treasury in 1999, where he worked for a decade. He then took a job as Bredesen’s deputy governor in 2009.

Regents board members also indicated they were looking for candidates prepared to embrace the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, a law (pdf) Morgan played an instrumental role in passing through the Legislature.

The board interviewed only Morgan before selecting him for the position a week later.

At the press conference, a reporter asked whether it was “far fetched” that the best candidate for the position “just happened” to be the deputy governor.

“No, it isn’t. That’s kind of offensive,” Bredesen said. “There’s no place where I’ve slid somebody in.”

Categories
Press Releases

Ketron, Tracy Want Review of TBR Members

Press Release from Senate Republican Caucus; Aug. 12, 2010:


NASHVILLE, TN), August 12, 2010 — State Senators Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said today they have asked Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) to schedule a meeting of the Senate Education Committee “as soon as practicable” to hear testimony regarding the appointments of the members of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).

The call comes one week after the Board appointed John Morgan, Chancellor, despite a request from the Senate Education Chairman to broaden the search to consider applicants with advanced doctorate degrees and managerial experience in a higher education setting.

Ketron said Tennessee law requires appointed members “shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate.” The Senate has not acted on the appointments in recent years. The law states appointments “shall be effective until adversely acted upon by the Senate.”

“We have a duty under Tennessee law to look at members appointed to the Board of Regents which was obviously put into place to explore their qualifications, education ideas and other relevant matters to that position,” said Senator Ketron, who is a member of the Education Committee. “Therefore, this is something that we have a statutory duty to examine. We have been far too lenient in this regard and need to take a look at these board members who are serving approximately 200,000 students across this state in a position of high authority.”

“I am very concerned about the Board’s action to drastically increase the new chancellor’s salary from $305,000 to $385,000 at a time when our state employees did not receive a raise and when we are looking at increased tuition rates for our students,” added Ketron, who is also Chairman of the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee. The Fiscal Review Committee serves as the General Assembly’s watchdog on the state’s finances and contracts. “The legislature made many difficult cuts to state government programs this year. The public, rightfully, has a good reason to complain when such action is taken by a state government board or agency, especially when the education requirements for the position were lowered by the Board.”

The Tennessee Board of Regents supervises all public institutions of higher education in Tennessee not governed by the University of Tennessee system, including the state’s four-year institutions, community colleges, and the Tennessee Technology Centers. Unlike most states, the Board of Regent’s component institutions do not have their own board of directors or trustees at the campus level, leaving the TBR with the ability to hire or promote various positions in the state’s colleges and universities. There have been several attempts to combine the TBR with the University system, or replace it with a system under which each component school, or at least each of the universities, would have its own independent board.

“The Tennessee Board of Regents has a huge impact on our higher education system,” added Senator Tracy, who is also a member of the Education Committee. “Although the Senate cannot act as a body until next year on this matter, we are asking the Chairman to begin the process of looking at the members appointed as we are statutorily required.”