Categories
Education Featured NewsTracker

Quality of State’s Workforce Questioned

One of the messages that came out of Gov. Bill Haslam’s education summit last week was a complaint from employers that’s not entirely new: It’s hard to find good help these days.

Amid discussion about the state’s education system, a few attendees said issues preventing a labor-ready workforce ran a little deeper than what the reforms of the past few years have been getting at. In a nutshell, there’s a significant element of Volunteer State’s workforce, especially at the entry levels, that can’t do basic high school math, don’t communicate or take directions very well, have trouble passing drug tests and oftentimes exhibit a general aversion to hard work.

Greg Martz, a Tennessee Chamber of Commerce board member and plant manager at DuPont, said the problems facing employers are fairly straightforward. The younger generation, in particular, lacks “interpersonal skills,” which he in part blames on their overuse of texting and other modern phone technology. And they also tend to have trouble solving real-world problems, which he theorized might have something to do with an overemphasis in public-school classrooms on rote memorization rather than critical thinking.

Ken Gough of Accurate Machine Products in Johnson City agreed.

“Math skills are very weak, analytical skills are very weak, the ability to solve problems, very weak. Drug testing? It’s a real problem with the entire workforce,” said Gough, a voice for Tennessee’s small business community at the governor’s “Progress of the Past Present an Future” conference. “Just the understanding that they have to show up every day for work, on time and ready to go to work, those are things that quite literally have to be taught.”

He added that while some of these problems are “not primarily a school problem,” schools could help provide solutions.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, said he’s heard it all before. A year ago, Gardenhire told the crowd of conference attendees, he made inquiries among representatives of Japanese-owned companies doing business in the Southeast as to what could be done to encourage the hiring of more Tennesseans.

While he had expected to hear issues with infrastructure and taxes, Gardenhire said it came to a “unanimous three things” that weren’t those at all.

“Number 1 was your workforce can’t do ninth grade math. Second, your workforce can’t pass drug tests. And third, your workforce won’t work. They don’t have a work ethic,” Gardenhire said he was told.

Gardenhire said all those are components of what he’s telling kids around Chattanooga when he goes on local motivational-speaking tours. He said he informs students that what they need to do to achieve success in life is “learn math, stay off drugs and show up on time for work.”

The invitation-only education forum was called by Haslam and the Republican speakers of the General Assembly, and featured several presentations on the reforms enacted over the past several years and discussion of the state’s education system by all of the major stakeholders in education, including lawmakers, teachers, administrators, parents and business leaders.

Haslam said that the plan was not to come out with some statement from the group at the summit, but that this was just the “beginning of a discussion” about what issues face Tennessee, how we got to where we are and what some “potential paths” are for the future of the state’s education system.

During one of the summit’s discussion periods, Randy Boyd, chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, emphasized the need to focus on “talking about K to J, not K to 12,” in order to “be at the point where high school graduation equals college readiness.”

“Our alignment needs to be aligned with the workforce needs, not necessarily with anything else,” Boyd said.

Categories
Press Releases

Haslam Announces Higher Ed Board Appointments

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of eight new members and five re-appointments to Tennessee’s higher education boards as well as the selection of the chair of Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and vice chair of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).

Robert Fisher, Pam Koban and Keith Wilson will serve on THEC. Brad Lampley, Bonnie Lynch, Sharon Pryse and Thaddeus Wilson will serve as new members of the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees. Deanna Wallace will join TBR as a new member. Cato Johnson was elected chair of THEC, and Emily Reynolds was elected vice-chair of TBR.

“I want to thank the new and current members for serving and the important work they do,” Haslam said. “We’re focused on strengthening higher education in Tennessee, and I look forward to working with everyone involved in tackling the iron triangle of affordability, accessibility and quality.”

Fisher is a 2011 graduate of Rossview High School. He is a junior studying political science at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC), where he is a member of the Brock Scholars Program. He currently serves in the student government association as the student body president. Fisher, a Clarksville native, will serve as the student representative on THEC.

Koban has served in faculty and administrative roles in both the UT and TBR systems. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and her master’s degree from the Fogelman School of Business at the University of Memphis. She serves on the board of trustees for Montgomery Bell Academy and has served as chairman of the board of directors for the Martha O’Bryan Community Center. She will represent the fifth congressional district on THEC.

Keith Wilson is the publisher of the Kingsport Times-News and president of the Northeast Tennessee Media Group, which includes the Kingsport Times-News, the Johnson City Press, the Herald and Tribune in Jonesborough, the Erwin Record and The Tomahawk in Mountain City. He serves as a member of the Kingsport Higher Education Advisory Board. In 2012, he was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. He will represent the first congressional district on THEC.

Lampley serves as partner in charge of the Nashville office of Adams and Reese. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and earned his juris doctorate from the University of Tennessee College of Law. He played offensive line at UT and was named to the Southeastern Conference’s All-Academic Team three times. He recently completed a term as chair of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. He will represent the seventh congressional district on the UT board.

Lynch is a 2016 M.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. She represents the College of Medicine Class of 2016 as secretary. Lynch will represent students on the UT board.

Pryse is president and CEO of The Trust Company. She earned her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. She currently serves on the board of directors of Leadership Knoxville and the YMCA of East Tennessee. She is a past chair of United Way of Greater Knoxville. She will represent the second congressional district on the UT board.

Thaddeus Wilson is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center where he joined the faculty in 2000. He is an associate professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering and Imaging and recently served as faculty senate president. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Christian Brothers University and earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He will serve as a faculty trustee on the UT board.

Wallace is a business systems technology instructor at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Nashville and serves as an online instructor and course developer for the Regents Online Degree Program. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Education from Austin Peay State University. She will serve as a faculty representative on TBR.

Johnson is the senior vice president of corporate affairs at Methodist Healthcare. He has served on THEC since 2008. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis and is past president of the University of Memphis Alumni Association. In January, the University of Memphis awarded him the Arthur S. Holmon Lifetime Achievement Award.

Reynolds is the senior vice president of government relations for the Tennessee Valley Authority. She was originally appointed to TBR in 2010 and was re-appointed by Haslam in 2012 to serve a six year term. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Stephens College. She served as state director and chief of staff for U.S. Senator Bill Frist, and from 2003-2007 she served as the 31st secretary of the U.S. Senate.

Haslam also reappointed Danni Varlan and Ashley Humphrey to TBR, and Raja Jubran, Charles Anderson Jr. and George Cates to the UT board.

Categories
Education Featured NewsTracker

Haslam, Dean Tout Free Community College for Nashville Grads

Both Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean were on hand Monday morning at Nashville State’s southeast campus for the announcement of a new program offering free community college and technical school tuition to all Metro public school graduates.

The initiative, called “nashvilleAchieves,” makes Davidson County the twenty-sixth in the state to offer high school seniors such a deal under a larger umbrella organization called tnAchieves. That organization was started five years ago by Randy Boyd, a Knoxville pet supply mogul and higher-ed adviser to Gov. Haslam.

Boyd spoke at Monday’s event, urging Metro businesses and community members to donate time and money to the program.

The tuition subsidies, which will be especially geared toward low-income and first-generation college goers but open to all graduates, will be paid for with a mixture of public funding and private donations.

According to a press release from Mayor Dean’s office, nashvilleAchieves has already tallied up $1 million in donations from corporate and nonprofit sources while the city plans to commit $750,000 over the next two years.

Speaking to reporters following the announcement, Dean described the programs as “especially meaningful” because it allows the county to “make it possible for every graduating high school senior to go to community college.”

“The city’s future is dependent upon us being a city that produces and attracts college graduates,” he added.

Increasing access to higher education statewide has been a top priority for Gov. Haslam’s administration. During his remarks Monday, Haslam said that only about a third of Tennesseans currently hold an advanced degree and he hailed tnAchieves as a valuable way to raise that number.

“tnAchieves has a proven record of providing the support that ultimately leads to increased post-secondary access, retention and completion,” Haslam said in prepared remarks, adding during a post-event press conference, “The better graduates we produce, then the more businesses are going to want to say ‘we want to be here.’”

Haslam has announced a goal, the so-called “Drive to 55,” to raise the number of state residents with an advanced to degree to 55 percent by 2025. Right the number number is around 32 percent, the governor has said.

Categories
Press Releases

Summerville to File Bill to Freeze College Tuition at Current Rates

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 22, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), July 22, 2013 — State Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) has announced plans to file legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to freeze tuition at the current rates at state colleges and universities. The announcement comes after the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University of Tennessee (UT) system recently adopted hikes in tuition ranging between 3 to 6 percent.

“The current increases are an outrage, especially in light of this year’s increase in appropriations to these higher education systems,” said Senator Summerville. “No other governmental department consistently raises their costs to the taxpayers at such a high rate on an annual basis.”

The General Assembly approved a budget providing a $108.6 million increase for higher education, including $65.7 million in additional funds for the Tennessee Board of Regents, $37.6 million for the University of Tennessee system and $5.2 million for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. A 2010-2011 study by the Bloomberg News College Board found that 56 percent of public four-year college students average $23,800 in student loans upon graduation.

“Over the past decade, tuition at public colleges and universities has increased by an astounding 62 percent,” added Summerville. “These ever-increasing costs lead students to take out more loans, thus saddling themselves with debt that can take almost a lifetime to pay back.”

Summerville said his legislation, the “Tennessee College Students’ Tuition Relief Act,” is currently in the drafting stage but will freeze tuition for several years. He said bill will include cost reduction recommendations to help the state’s higher education system realize efficiencies. This could include top-heavy administrative office expenses and excessive salary packages for college coaches.

“Non-instructional cost is a good place to start in looking for savings,” added Summerville. “If we are going to meet our goals of raising our college graduation rates, we must get a handle on the rising costs. This legislation is a big step in the right direction to accomplish this.”

Categories
Business and Economy Education News Tax and Budget

Haslam Takes Up Task of Trimming Down Spending

Gov. Bill Haslam kicked off a four-day stretch of departmental hearings Monday as a warm-up to drafting his first state budget.

The new governor digested spending-plan projections from some heavy fiscal hitters right off the bat, including the Departments of Health, Education and Higher Education, which all had to present budget scenarios with reductions of 1 percent and 2 percent.

“We have 23 departments, if you add up all the requests, it will be a number obviously that we can’t fund,” Haslam said during a short break between hearings. “It’s their job to request that and to prioritize that … and then we have to wade through that at the end of the day.”

Haslam said he’s confident there’ll be fewer employees on the state payroll under his budget plan. But he said reductions need to be made “surgically” instead of by slashing staff with massive layoffs.

Haslam also heard from the Departments of Tourist Development and Financial Institutions Monday. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to hear from the Education Lottery Corporation and the Departments of Environment and Conservation, Transportation, Labor and Workforce Development, Corrections, Veterans Affairs, General Services, Commerce and Insurance, and Economic and Community Development. Hearings are expected to continue through Thursday morning.

Here are some highlights from Monday’s hearings:

Education

Education officials proposed an increase of $423 million in the state-funded portion of its budget, bringing the overall budget to $5.1 billion. Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith said the increase includes pay rasies and increased state funding to schools mandated by inflation and the state’s school funding formula.

Haslam told reporters that he’s committed to fully funding schools as called for under the formula, known as the Basic Education Program.

“If you look at new dollars that are available in the state, at the end of the day, about half of them will be end up taken up in (Basic Education Program) formula and TennCare increases, just by formula, not by doing anything different,” he said.

Smith outlined about $3.5 million in possible cuts, which would eliminate positions and supply costs. The proposal would also reduce operating costs for the state’s schools for the blind and deaf, cut grants that support public television stations operated by schools and reduce other programs. Without additional funds, about $70 million in other programs and grants paid for with one-time money will be cut.

The total education budget is estimated to decrease this year by about $510 million because of a $1 billion reduction in federal funds.

Tourist Development

State tourism officials say they want to build two new “Welcome Centers,” even though all departments have been asked to propose reductions to their annual budget as one-time federal stimulus dollars run out this year. According to the department, the state currently operates 14 Welcome Centers across the state.

They described plans to build a center as part of a solar farm in Haywood County, and another visitor center along I-26 in Sullivan County.

Haslam questioned the expansion plans: “I’m just wondering why, in tight times, we’re adding them.”

The centers had “been on the books for 10 years,” and the planning and funding had been approved for several years as well, Department Commissioner Susan Whitaker said.

Health

Haslam opened his first budget hearing with Commissioner of Health Susan Cooper, who emphasized the department’s role in instilling good health into all environments and not specifically focused on individual clinical care. She addressed disease prevention and outbreak investigations, immunizations, licensing facilities and emergency preparedness.

The department employs roughly 3,000 people.

She noted that in 2005 the state ranked 48th in the nation in health status but is now 42nd, crediting decreased use of tobacco and returns on investment in community efforts to fight diabetes.

Haslam set the tone early that he would ask many questions along the way, frequently interjecting and asking if stimulus funds had been involved in expenditures.

Cooper noted that good health factors can be attractive to new businesses. She outlined a base budget of $539 million.

The department offered several potential budget reduction areas such as travel, cutting communications costs, abolishing a few positions and eliminating a hemophilia program, which she quickly added would require a change in statute.

Higher Education

Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee, and John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents made their first budget appearances since taking their new positions. The message they gave Haslam was that while there are great financial challenges facing the system, the state has high value in its higher education institutions.

Richard G. Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission led off the presentation and underscored the financial crunch by telling Haslam that in the last 10 years enrollment at the state’s four-year schools has gone up 22 percent but that they have seen appropriations fall 33 percent. At the same time, tuition and fees have risen 74 percent.

Meanwhile, Rhoda said, enrollment at two-year schools is up 38 percent during that period while appropriations are down 26 percent. But in that time, tuition and fees for those schools have risen 126 percent.

Morgan said space constraints are a serious problem at many of the state’s technology centers. DiPietro said one issue facing UT is that some buildings are over 40 years old and in need of repairs. When Haslam asked the higher ed panel if they had any creative ideas to address the financial stress on the system, one possibility Morgan raised was to apply means-testing to the HOPE scholarships derived from the state’s lottery. Haslam said after the hearing he is not ready to take such a step.

Reid Akins and Mike Morrow contributed to this report.

Categories
Education NewsTracker

Financial Disclosure Info Lacking on State Board of Education Members

Two state Board of Education members never filled out conflict-of-interest forms during their tenure, a review by the state comptroller’s office found, despite a board policy that requires disclosure to help guard against ethics lapses and ensure transparency.

In a review of disclosures submitted from 2006 through August 2009, auditors found that two members had not completed forms at all. One served for nine years without ever filling out a disclosure form.

The ethics forms are aimed at revealing whether board members or their families have financial stakes in companies licensed by the board or department.

The findings were detailed in a wide-ranging state audit of the state Board and Department of Education by the comptroller’s office. The audit criticized inspections of pre-K and other child care providers, poor handling of students’ identifying information that allowed some of it to be made public, and the process for verifying information submitted by local school districts.

In reviewing the board’s ethics forms, auditors found one form that was rendered useless because the signature was illegible, and there was no line on the form to print the filer’s name.

Auditors recommended the board require members and staff to complete the ethics forms on an annual basis and keep the forms on file for at least three years. In its response, the board agreed.

Other highlights:

  • In late 2008, a state contractor, Public Consulting Group, posted student data including dates of birth and Social Security numbers to a website that could be accessed via a Google search; in some cases, parents’ information was also made public. The data was removed about three months later, after a Metro Nashville Public Schools employee stumbled on the information. The audit says Public Consulting Group provided identity theft and credit monitoring services to the students and their parents, communicated the issue to the national credit bureaus, and implemented new policies to keep the problem from recurring. When news of the security breach broke in April 2009, a principal for the company expressed regret, telling WSMV Channel 4, “We take full responsibility for this incident, and we formally express our sincere apology to the students and parents of Metro Nashville Public Schools.”
  • Department staff were also faulted for poor control of personal information. Student names and Social Security numbers were included in two PowerPoint presentations available on the department website for about two years. Though one was removed immediately after auditors raised the issue, the second presentation was still available six months later. According to the audit, the department paid for credit monitoring services for the affected students and their families.
  • The department’s process for inspecting child care programs was weak, and recordkeeping was inconsistent, the audit found. Auditors became concerned after spot-checking files for three facilities kept at the central office in Nashville and finding that some inspection reports were missing in all three. They moved on to district offices, where they reviewed files for 110 programs and found inconsistencies in the forms and in the way they were filled out. Also puzzling were 10 annual inspection forms that were dated as completed on a weekend. According to the audit:

“The auditors questioned whether the inspections were as thorough as intended by the legislature. We also questioned certain activities in one field office. We referred our concerns to the appropriate staff at the Department of Education and submitted our work to the State Attorney General’s Office for further review.”

In its response, the department said it had developed new training and switched to an electronic system of inspections.

  • Auditors said the department should create a centralized system for verifying compliance information submitted by local school districts.
  • The board did not submit notices of vacancies to the Secretary of State for any of the seven board vacancies that occurred from 2006 to 2009, hindering the state from announcing open appointments, auditors found.
  • Auditors said the department should develop a formal plan to address teacher shortages. Even though the department responded to the criticism by producing a plan, staff later said that little had been done with it because of lack of funding. The plan apparently became obsolete before it could be used or implemented.