Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boyd to serve as state Economic and Community Development commissioner

Randy Boyd
Radio Systems Corporation Chairman Randy Boyd has joined Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet where he will serve as the state’s new commissioner of Economic and Community Development.

He replaces Bill Hagerty, who announced his departure to join the private sector last month.

“Randy understands the importance of making sure that the business community and educators are working hand in hand to meet our workforce needs,” Haslam said Thursday in a released statement. “More than ever, offering an educated and highly trained workforce is part of attracting new business to our state and encouraging existing businesses to expand here. Randy’s experience and success in the private sector as well as his engagement in the education community make him a perfect fit to continue our focus on being the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

On Wednesday, the governor announced that McQueen, a teacher and dean at Lipscomb University in Nashville, will join his cabinet as commissioner of the Department of Education. She replaces Kevin Huffman, who also stepped down last month to join the private sector.

Boyd, 55, founded Radio Systems Corporation, which produces pet products for a number of brand names like Invisible Fence and PetSafe, in 1991. He served in 2013 as the governor’s special advisor for public education, focusing on the “Drive to 55” initiative designed to raise the percentage of

Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Haslam has said that his work resulted in the Tennessee Promise program, which provides two free years of community college to the state’s graduating high school seniors.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to serve our state. While working with the Governor last year, we often talked about education being not K to 12 but K to J, with the ‘J’ being jobs. Now, I can work to ensure that those high quality jobs we are educating people for are there for them,” Boyd said in a released statement. “I’m first and foremost a salesman, and every salesman likes to have a great product to promote. I cannot imagine a better one than the state of Tennessee and can’t wait to promote it to other businesses around the world.”

The Knoxville resident has received several awards including Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast in 2008, Tennessee Business Magazine’s CEO of the Year in 2009, UT’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, and was inducted into Junior Achievement’s East Tennessee Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 2009, Boyd helped start tnAchieves, a non-profit organization that has sent over 10,526 high school graduates to community college free of charge with mentors and was the model for the Tennessee Promise program.

Boyd also currently serves on the board of a number of organizations including the University of Tennessee College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council and Knox County’s Great Schools Partnership. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in industrial management in 1979 and a master’s in liberal studies from Oklahoma University in 1988.

He and his wife, Jenny, have two sons, Thomas and Harrison.

Playground problems: Recalls issued, schools unaware, lawsuit possible

Photo by Jim Matheny
In February 2009, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of a popular Playland brand swing set, telling customers to "immediately stop" using it.

Knox County Schools never got the letter.

In late August – more than five years after the announcement – a recalled "arch" set at Lonsdale Elementary School snapped while fourth grader Ronnivea Wilson swung from it.

She crashed to the ground and suffered minor bruises to her left side, records show.

Her family hired a local attorney, Linda Betz, who told officials in October that "this matter could end up in litigation," according to a letter her office sent to Knox County's Risk Management Department.

Officials have since said little about the accident.

But, a WBIR 10News investigation shows that KCS doesn't have mechanisms in place to quickly identify problems on its playgrounds and quickly fix them.

KCS – unlike the county's Parks and Recreation Department and other school systems in the state – also doesn't have a central database that details what type of equipment and materials it has on each of its more than 50 playgrounds.

That means county and school inspectors don't have easy access to information. Instead, they have to go through the individual schools, which often don't have records. Or, they have to personally visit each playground to determine what is there.

Problems that affect multiple school playgrounds aren't discovered sometimes until weeks, months and years later, according to records. Fixing them, too, can take KCS time.

The full story is RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TN Education Commissioner appointed

McQueen
So much for that news conference Big Bill scheduled for next Tuesday. Word got out early.

From the Nashville mansion:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Dr. Candice McQueen, a teacher and dean at Lipscomb University in Nashville, will join his cabinet as commissioner of the Department of Education.

McQueen, 40, currently serves on Lipscomb University’s executive leadership team as senior vice president, and as dean she oversees the College of Education as well as the 1,300 pre-k through 12th grade students in three schools at Lipscomb Academy. She has led training, support and professional development efforts for thousands of current and future classroom teachers, instructional coaches and school leaders. Before joining Lipscomb in 2001, McQueen was a teacher in elementary and middle schools.

“Lipscomb’s College of Education produces some of our state’s best teachers, and Candice gets a lot of credit for that,” Haslam said. “She has taught in a classroom, so she brings both the experience of being a teacher and of preparing teachers to teach. I am grateful for her willingness to serve in this role, and I know she’ll do a great job as we continue our efforts to provide a quality education for all Tennessee students.”

McQueen’s college and teacher preparation programs have been highlighted at the state and national levels for excellence in teacher preparation design and teacher candidate outcomes. In her six years as dean, Lipscomb’s College of Education has grown by 54 percent with 72 percent growth at the graduate level, has added 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and has created innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

In 2012, McQueen partnered with the Tennessee-based Ayers Foundation to initiate The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation, which focuses on supporting higher academic standards, embedded professional learning and new approaches to leadership training and support. Tennessee’s higher education institutions are using the resources to prepare new teachers and many Tennessee school districts and other states are using the resources for professional development.

Read the rest RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Cumberland Avenue project to be rebid - again; work delayed to mid-2015

I'm beginning to wonder if work will ever start on this thing.

From the city: Knoxville officials will be rebidding the contract for construction of the comprehensive Cumberland Avenue street redesign project, which will push the start of construction back from early 2015 to summer 2015.

Only one company had submitted a bid to perform the work, and that bid came in higher than budgeted. City consultants had estimated the construction work at about $11 million, and the sole bid was for more than $25 million. So the project will go out for rebid early next year after several elements of the bid package have been reworked.

City officials remain committed to doing the major traffic-flow redesign and utility upgrade along Cumberland Avenue, even though it appears that the project will wind up being costlier than first anticipated. Additional funding sources will be identified during the rebid process as well.

"The Cumberland Avenue Corridor project is a very complicated urban road project, and we knew it would present a number of challenges," said Bob Whetsel, the City's Director of Redevelopment.

"But we are 100 percent committed to this project, which has already helped spur more than $200 million in investment by private redevelopers. We've pledged to partner with residents and merchants in the Corridor by doing our part and modernizing the infrastructure, and we intend to follow through with what's really a once-in-a-century major overhaul."

The Cumberland Avenue project still will be done in two phases.

Phase I of the Cumberland Avenue project will ease traffic clogs on the western end of the corridor, the stretch of Cumberland Avenue between 22nd Street and Alcoa Highway.

Phase I improvements - especially the smoother-flowing intersections at Volunteer Boulevard and at Alcoa Highway - will give motorists more options for avoiding the Phase II construction work, said Project Manager Anne Wallace with the City's Office of Redevelopment.

Phase II calls for a redesign of Cumberland Avenue from 22nd Street to 16th Street. Both phases of work include new underground utilities, new signals, new sidewalks, the addition of turn lanes and new medians, plus landscaping, benches and pedestrian-scaled lighting.

Entire release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Playground problems: injuries,costs

Emergency crews and rescue personnel needed hours to free two of young Ashlyn's fingers when they got trapped in a piece of playground equipment last March at Mount Olive Elementary School in March.

The county's Risk Management Department then came up with a way to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

But Knox County Schools declined to act on the recommendation.
That's not the first time school officials have opted not to fix a potential problem on school playgrounds.

PREVIOUS STORY: Part 1 - School Playground Safety Inspection Inconsistencies

Parents said officials promised to address safety issues on some playgrounds, but have failed to deliver.

"It's one thing to fall and get hurt, but if you have something that poses a risk that could be fixed, then that's different," said Ashyln's mother Micki Morris. "Kids are going to fall – you can't change that. But if you have something that is a known hazard now, I think it's wrong not to fix it."
Barbara Kistler-Martin, whose son was injured in May when a piece of mulch pierced his shoe and foot, agreed.

"It is correctable," she said, noting that the mulch at Cedar Bluff Elementary where her son was injured this summer looks the same today. "This just bothers me."

The rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Five, not 6, to fire superintendent

I have said this for a long time: A Tennessee school board can fire a superintendent with a simple majority vote - not anything more - no matter what the contract says.

Heck, you don't need a law degree to figure that one out. Still, there's those that argue otherwise. Now, a recent state ruling should put an end to that.

Here's the deal:

The contract for the Knox County Schools superintendent says the 9-member board needs a super majority to fire the system's director (in this case, Jim McIntyre). That means six votes.

State law, however, calls for a simple majority.

Betty Bean at the Knoxville Shopper reports that state Attorney General Herb Slattery early this month said:
“A board of education may not, by contract, limit its statutory decision-making authority by requiring a supermajority vote to approve termination of a director of schools when the statute provides for termination by majority vote. The supermajority voting requirement is unenforceable.”
In addition, county Law Director Bud Armstrong reached a similar conclusion.

You can read her story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Keep in mind - and this is directed to the anti-McIntyre crowd - just because it takes five to get rid of him, he's probably not going anywhere for now.

Nine apply for open commish seat

Nine applicants submitted resumes to fill former Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs’ remaining two years on the board.

They include an attorney, a realtor, a U.S. Air Force brigadier general, a certified financial planner, sales representatives, and a pastor, among others.

The deadline was noon Monday.

Briggs, a Republican who defeated Cheri Siler in the general election for the 7th District state Senate seat, officially stepped down from the Knox County Board of Commissioners last month.

The interim 5th District commissioner will hold the seat until its term expires at the end of August 2016. The district represents the southwest corner of Knox County and includes Farragut and Concord. 


The commission will publicly interview the candidates at 4 p.m. on Jan. 12 in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building, and then vote during a special called meeting set for 4:30 p.m. that day.

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates:

Tamara Boyer: An attorney, she is vice president of The Private Client Group, which serves as a relationship manager for baking, trust, investment and insurance services. Much of her careers focused on business and financial transaction; commercial and consumer real estate; and civil litigation management. She earned her law degree from Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, and also attended laws school in England and Germany.

J. Kelly Clancy: A realtor, who served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, he earned a degree in history from the University of Tennessee. He also served on the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors Governmental Affairs Committee, Grievance Committee, and Ethics Committee.

David Freeman: Since 1999, served as director of Capital Resources Partners, which helps oversee mergers and acquisitions in the transportation and logistics industry. Earned degree in economics from the University of Kansas.

Ken Gross: Spent much of his career working in the areas of environmental, Occupational Safety & Health Engineering, regulatory compliance and construction safety. Served a three-year term as the East Tennessee commissioner on the State of Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission in Nashville; served a term on the county’s ethics committee; and also serves as the state’s executive committeeman for the 7th Senate District.

John H Grueser: Enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965 and served until 1980 when he began serving in the Air Force Reserve until retiring from the military in 2006. Also worked as a pilot for United Airlines and as an air carrier inspector for the FAA. Currently an airline consultant. Earned engineering degree from the United States Air Force Academy, and a master’s degree in education from Texas Tech University and a master’s in business administration and management from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

Mike Manning: Financial advisor who has worked in the private sector as a comptroller, chief financial officer and auditor for a number of companies, including Rush Fitness Corporation, Santek Environmental, Radio Systems Corporation and PricewaterCoopers. He earned a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee.

Ronnie Rochelle: Owned Parkway Galleries Furniture in Knoxville and Bristol from 1977 to 1992. A certified financial planner since 1996, he also is the comptroller for Designsensory, an interactive marketing firm. Also served volunteer stints with the Farragut MPC, the Knox County Chamber of Commerce and the CAC Office on Aging.

John Schoonmaker: Former chair and vice chair and current member of the Knox County Board of Zoning and Appeals; and owner of Schoonmaker Sales. Attended Florida State University.

Grant Standefer: Long-time pastor for churches in New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee, and currently serves with the Compassion Coalition. Served stints with the Rotary Club of Knoxville, Introduction Knoxville, Leadership Knoxville and the community advisory board for the Department of Children’s Services.

School playground safety standards

Photo by Jim Mathey
Jim Matheny and I worked on a four-month investigation into playground safety standards at dozens of school districts in East Tennessee that revealed a variety of problems and inconsistencies.

From a shortage of inspections to failures to receive notice of safety recalls, the issues have resulted in children being sent to the hospital and taxpayer dollars spent to cover medical bills.

In this first of three stories, we examine how frequently schools are conducting safety inspections, certification requirements for inspectors, and a failure to repair problems that are identified.

A WBIR 10News investigation found many of these problems at Knox County Schools, the area's largest school district:
  • KCS does not inspect its playgrounds according to industry standards
  • KCS sometimes takes months to correct a problem – if it even does fix it
  • KCS still hasn't inspected all of its playgrounds for the current school year
  • KCS does not have a certified playground inspector
These issues are not entirely unique to Knox County Schools. Our investigation over the next few days reveals how school systems across the area stack up on safety compared to industry standards.

The full story is RIGHT HERE.

Monday, December 15, 2014

School playground safety problems

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night of this week at 11 p.m., WBIR 10News examines school playground safety standards. These stories are the result of a four-month investigation of 29 school systems in East Tennessee.

We know there is always an inherent risk of injury when groups of children run, jump, and climb at any playground. Kids are kids. They take risks and get injured. That is not what this investigation is about.

We're examining safety issues, problems with playground equipment, and scheduled inspections that can be reasonably changed to reduce the unnecessary risk of additional injuries.

Why are we doing these stories? Here are a few reasons:
  • Children were injured on school playgrounds due to equipment problems that can be prevented and/or corrected.
  • Many known problems with equipment have been identified, but have not been repaired. Children continue to play on these items several months after hazards were identified.
  • School unawareness of manufacturer recalls for dangerous playground equipment has led to injury and potential litigation.
  • Taxpayer money has been spent to pay for medical bills caused by problems with playground equipment.
Our examination of school systems' safety protocols shows a wide variation in how each district ensures its equipment is safe. There is not a consistent standard from one school system to another. In several cases, school districts do far less than the industry standards applied at many public park playgrounds. We'll show you how your local school system stacks up on safety.

There will be some overlap in the web stories and the TV stories, but each will also be fairly unique.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Two alt papers coming to K-ville

The journalists and staff behind a new independent newspaper in Knoxville unveiled their publication Thursday.

It's called the Knoxville Mercury and it is hoping to fill the void left after the Metro Pulse staff was fired. Some of the editorial staff and the free lance writers from the Metro Pulse will work at the publication.

You can find more on our site RIGHT SMACK HERE. Or over on the hippie's site RIGHT HERE and HERE.

Columbia Journalism Review also wrote extensively about the Mercury over HERE.

Although the ol' Porch wishes both publications well, I suspect neither will be around in two years.

There's a reason newspapers are dying. And I seriously doubt these new start-ups have found the magic bullet. But whatever.

Good luck regardless. I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three applied for Commission seat

Despite all the rumors, only three people so far have officially applied for the open Knox County Commission seat.

The deadline is Dec. 15, a week away.

As it stands, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, a certified financial planner, and the executive director of Compassion Coalition, a non-profit that touts itself as a bridge between the local churches and the community, have submitted resumes.

The commission will publicly interview the candidates at 4 p.m. on Jan. 12 and then vote during a special called meeting set for 4:30 p.m. that day.

The person selected will represent the 5th District, which encompasses a large chunk of southwest Knox County.

The person will serve the remainder of the term, which runs out in 2016.

Here’s a look at the folks who applied so far. (And you can find their resumes, RIGHT SMACK HERE.)

  • John H Grueser: Enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965 and served until 1980 when he began serving in the Air Force Reserve until retiring from the military in 2006. Also worked as a pilot for United Airlines and as an air carrier inspector for the FAA. Currently an airline consultant. Earned engineering degree from the United States Air Force Academy, and a master’s degree in education from Texas Tech University and a master’s in business administration and management from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.
  • Ronnie Rochelle: Owned Parkway Galleries Furniture in Knoxville and Bristol from 1977 to 1992. A certified financial planner since 1996, he also is the comptroller for Designsensory, an interactive marketing firm. Also served volunteer stints with the Farragut MPC, the Knox County Chamber of Commerce and the CAC Office on Aging.
  • Grant Standefer: Long-time pastor for churches in New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee, and currently serves with the Compassion Coalition. Served stints with the Rotary Club of Knoxville, Introduction Knoxville, Leadership Knoxville and the community advisory board for the Department of Children’s Services.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Knox superintendent directs secretary on paid leave to return to work

UPDATE: Looks like she returns on Friday. RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Knox County Schools has told 52-year-old secretary Tina Needham she can now return to work. Needham has been on paid administrative leave from her job as a central office secretary for almost two and a half years and recently filed a federal discrimination complaint against the school system.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre sent an email to the school board on Friday stating he "assigned Ms. Needham to a vacant, budgeted clerical position in our Special Education Department here in the Andrew Johnson building. Ms. Needham has been directed to report back to work starting Tuesday."

You can read the entire story, which be broke Saturday, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Whether she actually returns remains to be seen. Also, for all the folks out there complaining about supposedly dragging this lady's name through the mud, that's complete BS. She's being paid - with taxpayer money - to do absolutely nothing.

She's also been given ample opportunity to comment. TWO AND A HALF YEARS!

No one - no one - gets that kind of leave. 

The school administration dropped the ball with her right at the beginning when officials placed her on paid leave, they dropped the ball during settlement negotiations, and I suspect they'll drop it again. This isn't my opinion, either. This comes from both pro and con McIntyre supporters on the board of ed.