Friday, October 31, 2014

Rodgers, Lyons to talk amendments

Inside Tennessee this Sunday (9:30 a.m.) on WBIR 10News will feature Knox County Elections Administrator Cliff Rodgers and Bill Lyons, chief of staff/deputy mayor/second- or third-in-command/whatever he's got a million titles to Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Photo by Jon Gustin

As always, John Becker will moderate and (Democrat) and local attorney Don Bosch and (Republican) PR gal Susan Richardson Williams will serve on the panel. (I was out this week, busting into the scoop machine.)

Heh. Get all that?

Good, Cliff and Bill will be talking about the proposed amendment changes to the state Constitution and the proposed changes to the city's pension plan. And nope, I'm not going to explain 'em today.

Check out the show on Sunday.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Board of Ed vice chair Harris says he's turned over school records to mayor; provides them to the Porch

Doug Harris
The other day Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett filed an open records request, seeking information from the school system that he says wasn’t provided. We did a story, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Keep in mind, school officials did send over some stuff. before the request was submitted. Actually, it was the Board of Education’s vice chairman, Doug Harris, who turn over the information because the mayor and Superintendent Jim McIntyre don’t get along.

So, credit to Doug for stepping in.

Anyhoo, I talked to Doug the other day and he said school officials will give the mayor whatever information he wants. He said he was surprised that Burchett had to file a request, and he was under the impression that he had honored the county’s request.(As of today, I believe he has, but more on that - read on!)

As I recall, Burchett asked for information connected to a K-3 reading program that he’s funded to the tune of about $8.4 million during the past three years. He wanted to look at scores (were there improvements or not?), what schools participated in the program (it was supposed to be a pilot program), and details that show exactly where the money was spent (did it all go to the reading program?).

Doug said Dean “The Emperor” Rice, also known as the mayor’s chief of staff, called him about three weeks ago and asked for some of the information.

“I said ‘I’ll do everything you need,’” Doug told me. “(The superintendent) is open to giving him what he needs, but the mayor won’t talk to him. It took about 10 days to get the spread sheets
together. It’s a lot of data."

Doug said he provided all SAT-10 scores, TCAP scores, etc. He also gave them breakdowns for every grade and some budgetary numbers.

“I sent them the information in PDF form. They said they wanted it in Excel. I said that’s fine,” he told me. “They’ve never given us a detailed explanation of exactly what they’ve wanted.”

Until the open records request. Heh.

(Find it, RIGHT SMACK HERE.)

So, Doug sent me a bunch of emails that detail his correspondence with the county administration and the files he provided.

Here’s kind of the breakdown:

OCTOBER 14

Emperor Dean sends Doug an email:
Doug – Thank you for the additional information. I will review with the Mayor.

I also look forward to getting the past two years of K-3 reading scores for ALL Knox
County elementary schools.

Can you please get me a listing of the 20 schools that received the additional Voyager small group funding of $440,000, as well as, which were the five additional schools that received the 1st grade intervention. ($390,000)
Doug tells him that he’s “on it.”

Dean Rice
Doug then sends a letter to Kelly, who works in the mayor’s office and whom I’ve since renamed “Boots.”

It reads:
I just returned to my office and received your text and wanted to double check the information that Dean is requesting. Here is what I am going to ask from KCS:
  1.  Referring to the literacy budget attachment, it looks like we budgeted hiring 25 additional instructional coaches for the literacy program. Confirm the schools that we actually employed coaches.
  2.  Additionally, I will ask that for each of these 25 schools we will provide corresponding scores and data on 3 year grant impact.
  3. Can you confirm that this will be the information that we are looking for?

OCTOBER 16

This is sent out:
School Board Members,

We have had a number of questions about the Early Literacy initiative, and I thought it would be helpful to share the responses with everyone. You may remember that his initiative, which supports literacy K-5 with a particular emphasis on developing reading skills in K-2, is funded largely through a $3 million annual commitment of Knox County funds that was recommended by Mayor Burchett.

This initiative is examined thoroughly in the annual Return on Investment (ROI) Report that we published during the FY15 Budget planning process. Information is found specifically on pages 21 and 40-49. (You can access the full ROI report on our website at (RIGHT SMACK HERE) click on “April 2014 – Return on Investment Report”)

McIntyre, Burchett
All elementary schools in the district were impacted in some way by the early literacy initiative. The resources were allocated primarily for personnel (25 literacy coaches, 5 early literacy coaches and 20 instructional assistants), with some funds for materials and professional development. (Pages 45-46 of the 2014 Return on Investment Report delineate the schools for the early literacy coaches and instructional assistants.) A specific reading intervention program, Voyager, was purchased for district-wide use from these funds. The decision to purchase Voyager was made by the elementary school and elementary reading departments with input from principals and coaches. Voyager was one of several intervention programs considered, and it was already being used in many of our schools.

Attached, please find two other relevant documents:
  1. A spreadsheet that details the FY14 expenditures with regard to the County’s $3 million commitment to early literacy.
  2.  An analysis of performance by school and grade level. It is notable that in all three early grades (Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2) in 2013-14 Knox County Schools students overall made gains in the percentile rank against the national norms on the Stanford-10.
Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Thanks,

(Slim) Jim
 OCTOBER 21

Dean asks Doug: "Do you have the list of the 20 schools primarily targeted by the grant funds?

Doug sends him an email with two reports

1. According to the full-time literacy report there were 15 schools.  RIGHT SMACK HERE.

2. The second report details the entire literacy initiative. RIGHT SMACK HERE.

I should also note (This is the Porch talking) that Doug at some point also gave the administration a report about "early learning expenditures." I can't remember when, but here is that report, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

OCTOBER 27

The mayor files and open records request. In addition, Communications Manager Michael "Big Sexy" Grider sends Doug the following:
Hope all is well.  I understand that you recently sent some district-level reading scores to Dean Rice. Is there any chance that you have the actual spreadsheed/Excel file from which those pages were generated? If not, might you be able to see if you can get it? 

As you know, the ability to sort data is helpful.

Thank you,

Michael Grider
Doug responds that he will get it, and today he sent it over.

You can find that request RIGHT SMACK HERE (It's actually the same as the PDF but in Excel form.)

By the way, here's a few more records that Doug Turned over:

FY 2013 Investment proposal: RIGHT SMACK HERE

2010-2014 Elementary School Reading Trends: RIGHT SMACK HERE  (Now that I've reviewed this post, I noticed that this is the PDF of the Excel file.)
In the meantime, there's a chance that none of this would have happened if the superintendent knew how to speak in sentences, rather than paragraphs. Heh. 

Or if the mayor would pick up the phone.

Either way, this was a looooong post. Hope you enjoyed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Superintendent kills SAT-10 testing for kindergarten students; BOE still plans to vote on its overall future

So, some members of the school board moved to have a special called meeting this week to vote on the future of the SAT-10 tests, which assesses kindergarten through second grade students.

Then some members decide they can't make it. That meant the board wouldn't have a quorum. (You need six apparently).

In response, BOE Chairman Mike McMillan announced today that he's going to call a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3. (The plan is to take a recess from the work shop and go into the special meeting, and then go back into the work shop.)

You with me so far? Good.

Soooo, today - after McMillan has the BOE secretary send out the email - Superintendent Jim McIntyre, in a memo, says he's canning SAT-10 testing for kindergarteners. You can read the memo, RIGHT SMACK HERE. The move does not apply to first and second grade students.

I suspect this will still got to a vote on Nov. 3, and that there's enough board members who will want to do away entirely with the SAT-10.

From what I understand, the school system needs to order the testing materials  by Nov. 7.

Mayor files records request with schools, seeks reading, funding data

Some time back we had Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on Inside Tennessee. At the time, he said that he wanted information connected to a school system reading program he helped established several years ago, and that school leaders were resisting his request.

Since then, some other media outlets have picked up the story.

Well, yesterday, Burchett - saying he was frustrated that officials hadn't given him the data he wanted - filed an official open records request for it.

That's messed up. No, seriously. Public officials shouldn't have to do this.

Anyhoo, you can read the entire story, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Knoxville Police Department to host 3-day law enforcement conference

I thought this was interesting. The Knoxville Police Department beginning tomorrow will host the first annual conference of the Tennessee Association of Law Enforcement Analysts (TALEA), according to a release the department sent my way.

The three-day conference will be held at the Crowne Plaza on Summit Hill Drive.  The goal of TALEA is to build a stronger community of law enforcement analysts throughout the state of Tennessee.  The conference will provide training on tools, tips, and techniques for crime analysts.

Crime analysts provide valuable crime fighting tools that help reduce crime within our communities.  Topics will include training on predictive policing, techniques for gathering intelligence on gangs, crime mapping, and building a repeat offender database. 

The opening ceremonies begin at 8:30 a.m.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Knox County to again host local 'Wreaths Across America' program

The county Mayor's Office is again spearheading the local Wreaths Across America initiative, according to a release and conference from earlier today. The effort raises funds to place wreaths on the graves of veterans buried at three veterans cemetery locations in Knox County.

According to the release:
A $15 sponsorship will pay for a wreath made of live greenery to be placed on a veteran’s grave at either the Old East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Lyons View Pike, the New East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Governor John Sevier Highway or the Knoxville National Cemetery on Tyson Street near Old Gray Cemetery.

“If you simply sponsor one wreath or choose to sponsor 100, you are honoring veterans and families who have honored our community with their service,” said Mayor Burchett. “Whether the men and women buried in our veteran cemeteries were lost during combat or after living a long life, we do this for the family members who are still living.”
There are more than 15,000 veterans buried at the three veteran cemetery locations in Knox County.

To sponsor a wreath click RIGHT SMACK HERE and then clock on the "Wreaths Across America" banner. The organization is also offering a “three-for-two” sponsorship special, which means they will donate a wreath for every two that are sponsored.

The wreath sponsorship cutoff deadline is Dec. 1, and the wreaths will be placed on the graves on Dec. 13.
During a news conference this afternoon, Burchett talked about the program. Also in attendance was Kim Harrison, who lost her son, Army Pfc. Daniel Harrison, when his Humvee was attaced on Dec. 2, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq.

To find out more about Daniel, CLICK RIGHT HERE

Student K-2 test headed to a vote

Well, it looks like a number of the new Knox County Board of Education members are following through on some campaign promises to look into student testing and teacher evaluations.

The BOE could quite likely hold a special called meeting next week to determine the fate of the K-2 assessment, formerly called the SAT-10.

You can read the entire story, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

The timing of the vote is interesting, and there's a number of ways to look at it.

Some officials say they want to put it to vote now rather than in early November, since that meeting already has a packed agenda (particularly with the IB program discussion) and they probably don't want to hang out in the A.J. Building together for another six hours. Heh.

Another thought is that it's good to go ahead and vote now before the tests are ordered. Keep in mind, however, that the tests haven't been ordered yet and that they can be returned. The Knox County school district doesn't pay for the tests, but the state does. And don't forget: The state is always complaining that it doesn't have money.

Third thought is that the current board - which includes interim member John Fugate - would more than likely kill the test than a board that included Tracey Sanger, who is running for Fugate's seat. I don't buy this one.

Even if Sanger won, she's not taking over the seat until the election gets certified, so that means her first meeting wouldn't be until December. The board could still put the measure to vote during the early November meeting without her. The election isn't an issue this time around.

That won't stop folks from turning it into one, though.

In the meantime, here's a survey regarding the SAT-10, RIGHT SMACK HERE. It's kind of like voting, folks. Don't complain if you don't participate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early voting up compared to August

We're now at the halfway mark for early voting, and more than 220,000 folks across the state have cast votes in the Nov. 4 election.

Of those, almost 19,000 are from Knox County. And that's up slightly from the almost 16,000 who voted early by the halfway mark in the August election.

Still, it lags the November 2010 election (20,000 at the halfway point) and the November 2006 election (23,700), which also featured a gubernatorial contest.

Early voting wraps up Oct. 30.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Burchett to host 10 constituent meetings during October, November

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will host 10 constituent meetings during October and November to give citizens the opportunity to meet one-on-one and speak individually with him about issues that are important to them, according to the office's latest release. These meetings are open to the public.

This series of constituent meetings will be held throughout Knox County.

The next two are set for Oct. 27 from 11 a.m. to noon at the Burlington Library on Asheville Highway; and Oct. 30 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Bearden Library on Golf Club Road.

You can find the complete list, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

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.