Monday, October 20, 2014

School IB forum set for tomorrow

Knox County Schools has scheduled a community forum to talk about the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) for tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Bearden Middle School auditorium.

The purpose, according to a release, is to provide info about the program and answer questions.

The program is already in place at West High School could expand into Bearden Middle School. The IB MYP is apparently a set of challenging program standards that teach and incorporate intercultural understanding, lifelong learning and rigorous assessment.

School board members talked briefly about it last month after Superintendent Jim McIntyre brought it to them, but later opted to table it for a month to do more research.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Commissioners to host public forum

Broyles, left, Ownby, right
Knox County commissioners Amy Broyles and Jeff Ownby will begin hosting regular community forums that give the public the opportunity to ask questions about local government, and let officials collect input on current issues.

The first one is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 23 at West High School’s small auditorium. The two said they expect state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, to attend. But, they said at this point they do not expect her Republican opponent in the Nov. 4 election – Eddie Smith – to be there.

Ownby said he reached out to his campaign and was told he had something else scheduled.
The plan, according to the commissioners, will be to host the meetings either monthly or bi-monthly in various districts across the county.

Broyles said the two got the idea during a National Association of Counties meeting they attended in Washington, D.C. this past spring. At the time, they were told by some Florida officials that the forums were a big draw when jointly hosted by Democrats and Republicans who sit on the same board.

Broyles is a Democrat, and Ownby is a Republican.

“It’s more like a town hall style where the public can come in and ask questions about county business and we can offer our perspectives,” said Broyles. “I think it’s a great thing to do.”
Ownby agreed.

“It will get some questioned answered,” he said. “A lot of people can’t make regular meetings, so this is a chance for them to be able to talk about concerns and issues that don’t always get airplay. It also gives them a chance to bring us issues and let us get out in front of them.”

Broyles said since the first meeting runs concurrently with early voting, they wanted to bring in a number of candidates in state races.

In addition to the 13th District race that features Johnson and Smith, they plan to ask 7th District state Senate candidates Cheri Siler, a Democrat, and Richard Briggs, a Republican, to come.

Broyles and Ownby said they will hammer out more details in the coming days.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Broyles said. “I enjoy working with Jeff even though, politically, we are often at the opposite spectrum on a number of political issues. But, I think this is a good thing for the commission and I think it’s providing a good public service.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

KCS wants nutrition dept. audit

You might recall back in mid-September when we broke the story that the state is investigating Knox County Schools Executive Director of School Nutrition Jon Dickl for allegations connected to the misuse of funds.

We were told at the time that the probe is tied to the use of two $500 gift cards that were given to food services and into ties that a school vendor has to a car dealership that possibly sold Dickl a deeply discount vehicle.

(Dude makes more than $100K annually by the way. He's currently on paid administrative leave.)

Anyhoo, the school system today issued a release, saying that it is requesting that the county's internal auditing department conduct an audit and an independent risk review of the KCS School Nutrition Department.

According to the release:
Internal Auditor Andrea Addis has been apprised of the school district’s request that her office conduct a financial audit of the school system’s nutrition department as well as providing an independent risk review of that department’s financial operations. Any work conducted by the Internal Auditor would need to be authorized by the Knox County Commission.

“This is a needed step to ensure that the school system’s food service department has a sound financial operation,” said Mike McMillan, Chair of the Knox County Board of Education. “While the department receives an annual financial audit, this review would examine the daily financial management of the department. Pending the Commission’s approval, I look forward to receiving the auditor’s report and to sharing it with the Board of Education.”

“I appreciate the Internal Auditor’s willingness to potentially work with us to take a hard look at the financial operation of our School Nutrition Department and identify any weaknesses in the department’s processes and internal controls,” said Superintendent Jim McIntyre. “I think this is a prudent and necessary action in light of the ongoing investigation into allegations that have been made about the KCS food service director. If the Commission agrees, we will work with Ms. Addis in the coming days to develop a complete project scope of services, and I look forward to initiating the work as soon as possible.”

The Knox County Schools School Nutrition Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 is $27.5 million. The department receives no local or state funding but operates on revenues received from the sale of meals as well as reimbursements from the federal government for meals provided to students of limited economic means. By statute, the food service budget and fiscal management are separate from the school system’s general operating budget that provides for the daily operation of the school system.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What the??? No more Metro Pulse? Layoffs lead to reorganization

So, apparently a bunch of boring newspaper peeps are now tasked with putting together the snarky alternative.

For the two of you in the Knoxville area who don't know, the Metro Pulse, the local alternative weekly, shut down today under some kind of reorganizational plan or other.

And, parent company E.W. Scripps, which also owns the Knoxville News Sentinel, laid off the entire staff. (In addition, KNS laid off a number of its own employees.)

You can follow the Metro Pulse mess on Twitter, RIGHT SMACK HERE. Also, folks are commenting OVER HERE and wishing the former staffers well.

In the meantime, the new plan is have the KNS newsroom produce the Pulse and distribute it inside the Sentinel and in free-distribution racks.

Here's the rest, according to an email, by head KNS editor Jack McElroy:
"A bit more information to go with the note (Publisher) Patrick (Birmingham) distributed and the story on Knoxnews:

Effective immediately, Amy Vellucci will be directing our local news operations as city editor. She will be looking to promote someone within the local staff to assistant city editor to support her.

Amy Nolan will become News Sentinel business editor as well as editor and publisher of the Knoxville Business Journal. Josh Flory will report to her as assistant business editor and will continue as News Sentinel data editor.

Vivian Vega will move into the newsroom and continue to direct special publications. The newsroom will provide production support, but newsroom writers will not be producing any advertorial content.

Chuck Campbell, Susan Alexander and Lori Wilson will be working with the combined features and entertainment staff on a merger of and Metro Pulse, which will be produced by the newsroom and distributed in-paper and in free-distribution racks. Jennifer Dedman will be assisting in this project.

Department meetings will be scheduled in the next few days to discuss plans further."

City to light Henley Bridge red

Tonight (Oct. 15), the city will light the Henley Street Bridge in red in support of the Redeeming Red Project and Dyslexia Awareness, according to a county news release.

Apparently, today is World Dyslexia Day and local officials are "Redeeming Red" in support of the roughly 20 percent of the population that is affected by the learning disability.

Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby has been instrumental in the effort here in the area.

For more info, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

City study shows below average pay for Knoxville police and fire

Knoxville city leaders plan to meet in December to discuss government employees' wages.

This comes after a study (2014 General Employee & Public Safety Total Compensation Studies) revealed pay for firefighters and police officers in Knoxville is below the market average.

The city of Knoxville paid Segal Waters Consulting $215,000 to complete the study. It broke city pay into three categories: general employees, police and fire.

PRESENTATION: Power Point report of study

The study showed Knoxville's police and fire wages are about 12 percent to 13 percent below market average.

Segal Waters Consulting looked at both base pay and total compensation costs which includes health and retirement benefits.

With base pay and benefits, a Knoxville Police Department (KPD) recruit makes about $45,392 compared to the market average minimum of $46,363. The gap is much larger higher up the ladder; a KPD Police Captain makes about $86,570 compared to the market average of $99,399.

Rest of the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gov Big Bill releases first TV ad

Republican Governor Bill Haslam released his first television ad for the general election today. Check it out below:

His campaign peeps noted that this is a full-on broadcast and cable statewide ad, so I figure it wasn't cheap.

The election is Nov. 4. He's taking on a Democrat named Charlie Brown.

I'm not kidding.

As always, send me your election stuff for publication consideration.

Emails: Safety concerns led to Knox Co. school secretary's paid leave

The latest in the Tina Needham saga. If you've been under a rock, she's the Knox County School secretary who has been on paid administrative leave for more than two years. The same person who has filed an EEOC complaint and thus will probably remain on paid administrative leave for another year.

Anyhoo, story, which details what actually led to her going on paid leave, is RIGHT SMACK HERE.

We asked the school system why she was placed on administrative leave and not on medical leave (as they've suggested that's the real reason she's not working).

In a statement from Jim McIntyre, the superintendent said administrative leave was the only option available to the system and that any other type of action must be initiated by the employee.

That is not the case. I'll leave it at that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Law Dept. looking into whether West High PTSO email broke election law

Well, this is interesting . . .

Sooooooo, you might recall that back in January Sandra Rowcliffe, then-president of the Knox County Council PTA, sent an email to members, warning about the use of tax-exempt non-profit organizations for political purposes.

She noted:
“PTA is a non-commercial, non-sectarian and non-partisan organization. Because PTAs are 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, the IRS rules regulating some types of legislative activities of non-profit organizations must be followed.”

She also advised principals that “if your parent group is a PTO as opposed to a PTA that you inform them as well if they are, in fact, a 501(c)3.” 
“Certain political activities are absolutely prohibited: supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for federal, state, or local public office…”
Well, on Saturday an email started making the rounds, and it was forwarded to a number of reporters. It was initially sent Oct. 10 by West High School PTSO co-secretary Carolyn Rezler.

You can read it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Anyhoo, as I noted, a number of us received this Saturday evening. Looks like Betty Bean over at the Knoxville Shopper beat everyone to the punch. Find her story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Essentially, the email - written by a member of non-profit PTSO - is asking members to support a certain opponent in the 2nd District BOE race.

Um, folks, I'm not sure if you should be doing this. It appears to be a political email (soliciting political support) and these are the types of things that jeopardize non-profit status.

As Betty noted, the county law office is now looking into it.

By the way, here's another note that made the rounds. It's a document that talks about what PTAs (and by extension, PTSOs) may and may not do.

Find that one RIGHT SMACK HERE.

It may provide a glimpse into what the law department will say.

In the meantime, the three 2nd District candidates - Charlotte Dorsey, Jamie Rowe and Tracey Sanger - will participate in a forum beginning at 6 tonight at the Christenberry Community Center on Oglewood Avenue.

Go out, show your support, vote for whoever you want to. Try not to violate election laws.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pilot Flying J dividend payment could mean another surplus for Knoxville

Last month, Standard & Poor released a report, noting that Pilot Flying J was buying back a bunch of its share. It got a little coverage, but the media that did mention it missed the big picture.

The truth is . . .  few care about a bunch of rich people buying back a company they already own more than 50 percent of. It's not like they're really buying back the company.

No, the real news is that the company will pay out $750 million in dividends to shareholders. So, what's the big deal? Well, it means the City of Knoxville can more than likely expect a whopping surplus from the Hall income tax at the end of next July.

DOCUMENT: S&P Report on Pilot

If you do the math (here, I'll do it for you) and you don't take any exemptions into account - and pretend all the shareholders live in Knoxville - then you're talking about a $16.8 million bonus check.

Now, it's not going to be that much, but if it's $15 million, don't be surprised. 

Here's a story we did about it last night. RIGHT SMACK HERE.

By the way, a similar dividend windfall happened back in 2012 when the Haslam family bought the Cleveland Browns. Joe Sullivan over the the Metro Pulse wrote briefly about it awhile back. Read that one RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Endorsements in for Siler, Briggs

Couple of endorsements here. Note that I typically don't run these things, but since I've been getting a number of them ...

First, the Cheri Siler for (7th District) State Senate campaign is pleased to announce the endorsement of the Knoxville Fraternal Order of Police,  Volunteer Lodge No. 2.  "It is a great honor to have the support of Knoxville’s police who are responsible for our everyday protection.  We pledge our campaign’s support for Knoxville’s police and will work to advance their interests when we are elected to the legislature."  

Second, the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee's leading small business association, has endorsed Dr. Richard Briggs, Republican candidate for State Senate, District 7. "Creating Good jobs is my number one priority. I know the impact government red tape can have on small businesses and I will use my experience (to) ensure that businesses in Tennessee thrive."

As always, send in your election/campaign stuff for publication consideration.

The election is Nov. 4

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Knox County HD prepping for Ebola

With news that the Ebola patient in the Dallas hospital has died, it's probably worth noting what the Knox County Heath Department is doing regarding preparation (which - knock on wood - we hopefully won't have to worry about).

Here's is the office's response, regarding input its received from state and federal officials:

The Knox County Health Department (KCHD) has received a great deal of guidance via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Alert Network advisories and CDC conference calls. Our hospitals and public health systems are able to manage such patients with the infectious disease resources, plans and protocols that were in place prior to the Ebola outbreak.  Since the Anthrax attacks in 2001, there have been crucial federal grant funds available in the form of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Hospital Preparedness Programs to help local communities prepare for disease outbreaks and other medical emergency situations. KCHD has federal and local funding as well as dedicated staff to ensure our ability to respond to any public health threat.

At the state level, there have been numerous Tennessee Health Alert Network advisories sent to public health and hospital partners with information and guidance, including everything from triage guidance to personal protective equipment and infection control protocols for health care and EMS personnel. The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) has created a tabletop exercise for hospitals to utilize to work through the process of triaging, identifying and isolating a potential Ebola patient while assuring the personal safety of staff and others in the hospital. Hospitals throughout the state are having the tabletop exercises this week and next. TDH is gathering data from those exercises to determine where best to direct further education and guidance. 

On the local level, we are taking it a step further and hosting a combined tabletop exercise at the end of this month with our partners in the East Tennessee Regional Office of TDH - inviting public health, hospitals, EMS and other stakeholders to work through an Ebola scenario. We also conducted a training and orientation today for the Knox County Health Department’s Public Health Investigation Team.