Friday, January 30, 2015

McIntyre to testify next week before U.S. Senate committee about NCLB

Jim McIntyre
Federal leaders looking to revamp No Child Left Behind invited Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre to testify before them on Tuesday.

He is set to speak in front the U.S. Senate Committee on health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“I am truly honored to be asked to testify . . . and I am so proud that the Senators have asked to hear about the innovation and student success happening in our classrooms in the Knox County Schools,” McIntyre said. “I also appreciate the opportunity to represent our educators, our community, and our state in the critically important discussion on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – better known as No Child Left Behind.”

McIntyre will leave late Monday and return Tuesday afternoon. Knox County Schools will pay for the trip, which is expected to cost about $1,500.

When asked to provide insight into what the superintendent would talk about next week, KCS spokeswoman Amanda Johnson said at this point he is “soliciting input from a variety of sources including the Board of Education and looks forward to a robust discussion on innovation in education and reauthorization of ESEA.”

The trip will mark the second time in the past couple of years that McIntyre has testified in front of Congressional leaders.

He also appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in February 2013 to talk about teacher evaluations and the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, or TEAM.

That trip, which KCS also covered, cost just over $2,100 and included airfare and a one-night stay at the Hyatt Regency in Washington D.C.

For weeks now, a number of U.S. Senators, including Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander have said No Child Left Behind, a sweeping education law that expired more than seven years, will be at the forefront of discussions.

Officials have struggled to balance accountability with testing, and what role the federal government should play.

Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has said he expects several more weeks of hearings and meetings, but hopes to pass a bipartisan bill by the end of February.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

County receives $540K rebate check tied to P-card program purchases

A number of Knox County officials hung out today to get them one of those fancy check passing pics taken. Heh.

But seriously, Sun Trust Bank cut the county a rebate check for $538,329 under the county's P-card (I can't bring myself to calling them "E-cards") program.

Shiny happy people

There's some kind of formula that I won't bore you with, but essentially every time the county uses one of these charge cards, it gets money back (all paid at the end of the year).

The county last year got $447,000 check for 2103 spending.

In a released statement no doubt crafted by communications director (he got a promotion) Michael "Big Sexy" Grider, county Mayor Tim Burchett said:
“The E-commerce card rebate program continues to show that there is a real-dollar value to efficiency in government. I appreciate the Knox County Purchasing Department’s on-going efforts to identify tax-saving efficiencies through the E-commerce Card program. I’d like to specifically recognize Purchasing Program Manager Janice Orr and E-Card Coordinator Lori Holmann for their help in ensuring these substantial savings for Knox County’s taxpayers.” 
The release notes that during the past four year, the county has received more than $1.5 million in rebates and that "the Knox County Purchasing Department identifies opportunities to utilize the cards for various county transactions with third party vendors, and has saved Knox County millions through cost-avoidance by consolidating the E-commerce card program"

Funny, the school system is always crying about being in the poor house. Maybe if officials on that side of Main Street had used the P-card program sooner, they'd get a nice check, too. Instead of, you know, waiting until you discover that someone forgot to pay the credit card bills on time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Knox Commish to meet later in day

The Knox County Commission today voted to start its meetings later in the day.

Right now, the regular commission meeting is held on the fourth Monday of every month at 1:45 pm. On that same day, the beer board meets at 1 pm and zoning meetings are set for 5 pm.

Starting March 1, that schedule will change. The beer board will be meet at 4, followed by the commission meeting at 5, and the zoning sessions will move to 7 pm.

The group has talked about the possibility of moving the meetings for months.

Supporters wanted to make it easier for the public to attend the meeting be moving it later in the day.

Opponents worried that the later time would actually deter the public, especially in the winter months. In addition, they argued that it would cost the county more money by keeping county employees on the clock later in the day.

Rogero wants to look into E-911 vote; more thoughts about the process

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero wants her staff to look into the circumstances behind last week's effective decision by the Knox County E-911 board to scrap a multimillion-dollar proposal for an emergency radio communications system.

Rogero, a member of the board who had a proxy present Jan. 21, released a statement Monday.

"I understand the questions raised about the E-911 Board meeting last week," Rogero is quoted as saying. "This has been a long and complicated process, and we are gathering relevant information so that I can understand what happened and what the next steps are. I am committed to full transparency and ensuring that we have public confidence in the actions of the Board."

Monday's statement does not indicate how long the review might take or if there's a deadline.

You can read the full story RIGHT HERE.

Some thoughts about this. The mayor doesn't exactly have to look far. She can ask her proxy what happened. Or she could actually go to these meetings herself. They're obviously important. (That goes for county Mayor Tim Burchett, too.)

Now, on to what folks will find.

My guess? A big fat nada. There more than likely is no conspiracy. The cops and the sheriff's office flat out did not want to use the Harris communications system. That's it. They don't need a secret handshake, a sneaky wink or an under-the-table thumbs up/down.

I'm not saying it's right. Not saying it's wrong.

Just saying they don't want to go with Harris. And you're not going to find the smoking gun.

Granted, it's a little sketchy because it's public dollars and there's that whole bidding thing.

Does it look right? No. It doesn't. 

Now, there's a lot of talk about the process. The truth is no one wanted to verbally disparage any of the radio companies publicly. The old "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything" code.

It was easier for those on the board to walk away from the non-vote last Wednesday and not say anything. Again, not saying it's right.

Now, Motorola did file a protest letter. And a lot of what they said didn't hold water, and county purchasing director Hugh Holt made sure they knew it.

Shortly after, the company withdrew it's letter, but not without one final salvo.

Here's the protest letter RIGHT HERE. The county's response RIGHT HERE. And Motorola's withdrawal letter RIGHT HERE.

Now, from what I understand will happen next is that the board will move to issue and RFP (request for proposal) for the system again. However, the RFP will include a checklist and a price tag. Whichever group can check off EVERY requirement and comes in at the lowest will get the contract.

Also, it will probably move a lot quicker than 18 months if in fact they can issue something like this.

We'll see.

Voting begins for TDOT 'dynamic' overhead sign message contest

Voting begins today to choose the winners from TDOT’s first ever Dynamic Message Sign Contest. Over the past two weeks, TDOT has received more than 3,400 entries for possible safety messages for the overhead signs located across Tennessee.

The entries were narrowed down to 15 messages that cover safety issues such as distracted driving, seatbelt usage, impaired driving, speeding, and aggressive driving.

Vote RIGHT SMACK HERE until Feb. 6.

Full news release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Hopson seeking top KCEA seat

Just ran across this, but it's been out there for awhile.

Apparently today is the first day teachers who are members of the Knox County Education Association can vote for a new president.

Now, this probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but it actually is. You see Lauren Hopson, who hasn't taken any bull from any of the school administrators, is challenging incumbent Tanya Coats, who one time actually called some administrators and gave them a heads up on a story we were working on. (A few of us reporters were less than happy to find out about that.)

So, as some people have characterized it to me, it's probably another election that comes down to whether you'll be subservient or ask questions. 

I don't know. Just throwing it out there. I can't vote. From what I understand some 2,000 teachers belong to KCEA. And if this election is like any other in Knox County, it probably means that about 100 of them will vote.

Anyhoo,  the the elections last until Feb. 6.

Betty Bean over at the Shopper has more details about this. I don't want to steal her thunder. You can find her story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Did E-911 board legally select its chairperson or is do-over needed?

OK, so, um, I’m pretty sure the E-911 board didn’t properly pick it chairman – or this this case, chairwoman – correctly.

If I’m wrong – which is like super rare (or never – heh) – I’ll update here.

But, no one seems to know how Linda Murawski became the chair.

Now, is this important? Sort of.

You have a board that oversees the entire E-911 communications system in the county and dictates how the millions . . . and millions . . . and millions are spent.

So, if you can’t properly elect a chair, well . . . .

Here’s the deal:

Right before the beginning of last Wednesday’s meeting – you know, the infamous “non-vote” meeting in which no one seconded the radio systems contract – the interim chairman, Jason Lay, was told by an E-911 finance member that Linda was now the new chair.

Jason, who is actually a proxy for county Mayor Tim Burchett, said he’s attended all of the meetings (they have four a year), and they never voted on this. (Linda, by the way, attended all of one regular meeting in 2014.)

I confirmed that with a number of other board members, including county Commissioner Brad Anders, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (through her spokesman), and Bill Cole, who was the chair of the 911 board’s personnel committee.

There also is no mention of it in the meeting minutes.

Oddly enough, the board’s attorney Don Howell says he thinks the board voted on it in October and that he would get me those minutes. I already got them. They didn’t vote.

I also asked Linda about it.

She says that last year Bill Cole sent her an email asking if she would like to be chair. She said she would. A few months ago the board sent its members a director list and she was noted as the chair.

OK, this is NOT how you do things.

The state code says the BOARD “shall have complete and sole authority to appoint a chair.”

Heck, even the attorney said “absolutely” the board would have to publicly vote in a chair.

I’m not even going to get into the fact that if what Linda says is true then it appears that the members probably violated the state Sunshine Laws through the email communications.

So, what happens next?

Well, if Linda was illegally appointed to the chair position, then the board should properly vote her in during its next meeting.

But, in the grand scheme of things – other than making the board like sideshow act – it probably won’t mean a whole lot.

The board’s attorney told me that the action, or non-action, taken Wednesday is still good, even if Linda was not correctly appointed.

“It won’t make anything null and void,” Howell said. “Whatever the board did as a board would not be affected by that. There was a quorum of the board there. It wouldn’t change any of that. Whoever the chair is, basically they’re just presiding over the meeting. They don’t have any more than any other member.”

Well, actually that’s not exactly true.

The chair cannot second a vote.

That’s not in his or her power.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Official hints political motivation behind E-911 radio system vote

Knox County's top purchasing agent on Thursday suggested that the county's E-911 board declined to approve a contract to replace the area's outdated emergency broadcasting system because of political motivations.

His comments come a day after board members said they wanted a do-over after an evaluation team spent more than 18 months overseeing the bidding and negotiation process.

"I've been in this business for more than 25 years and the (Knox County Purchasing Department) director since 1998 and every once in a while there comes along an acquisition that lends itself to politics and political influence, and sometimes your natural inclination as a procurement (official) kicks in and you think: 'I don't think things are going to work out as they should,'" Hugh Holt told WBIR 10News on Thursday. "But, it's part of it and sometimes decisions aren't made about what's the best business decision."

Holt said "99 percent of the time, when you do everything right, you typically get the result you expect."

The purchasing director said he didn't take the board's decision personally, but that his department followed the county's procurement code, which the E-911 board adopted more than 20 years ago.

"There's 11 people on the board and there's 11 opinions, and the majority of them may not have seen what that (evaluation) committee saw and what I saw," he said. "The bid process was managed correctly and the proposals were fully vetted."

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

E-911 board declines to approve radio systems contract, requiring do-over

Knox County-Knoxville evaluation team spent more than 18 months overseeing a bidding and negotiation process to replace an outdated emergency radio broadcasting system that is used by thousands of local first responders.

But on Wednesday, the Knox County E-911 board of directors declined to approve the $9 million contract, opting instead to send it back and have officials start over.

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pension board election set for 2-12

The Knox County Retirement and Pension Board will hold an election for two of its employee representative seats.

These elections are confined only to county employees, so if you don’t work for the county, then you can’t vote.

Which really doesn’t matter, since most of you probably don’t vote anyway.


Anyhoo, the 9-member board is comprised of four county employees who represent different retirement plans (ie. school plan, sheriff's office plan); four county commissioners; and the county mayor, although the county’s finance director typically serves as his proxy.

Seat “A” currently held by Robin Moody, who serves as the board’s secretary and works in the school system’s benefits department, and Seat “B”, currently held by long-time member, Knox County Sheriff’s Office and current board chairman Rick Trott, are up.

According to a memo – click for it RIGHT SMACK HERE – potential candidates can obtain a qualifying petition from the retirement office.

The election is set for Feb. 12.

I’m not sure how much the election will cost, but probably not a whole lot. According to the election commission, the pension office folks will use their people to work Election Day, and they’ll use paper ballots to save costs.

(The election office will count ballots and provide locked ballot boxes.)

The last time the pension board held an election (It think it was a few years ago), a whopping 190 county employees voted in it.

Knox Co. vets respond to possible cuts to state tax relief program

Following our story yesterday, Rebecca Habegger talked to veterans about the tax relief program that is in possible danger. You can find her story RIGHT HERE.

Essentially, Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to cut funding for the program from $33 million to $29 million at a time when local officials say it actually needs another $5 million to maintain the status quo.

The plan – dubbed the "Property Tax Relief Program" – provides property tax rebates statewide for more than 150,000 disabled veterans and their surviving spouses, and senior citizens who earn $28,270 or less annually.

Under the plan, low-income seniors receive tax relief for the first $25,000 of their assessed property. Veterans who were disabled while serving get relief on the first $175,000 of their assessed property.

Here's our initial story RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tax relief plan that helps a number of seniors, veterans in jeopardy

A state property tax relief program that helps disabled veterans and low-income senior citizens in Knoxville and Knox County is in financial danger as Tennessee lawmakers face a tight budget and recovering economy.

Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to cut funding for the program from $33 million to $29 million at a time when local officials say it actually needs another $5 million to maintain the status quo.

The plan – dubbed the "Property Tax Relief Program" – provides property tax rebates statewide for more than 150,000 disabled veterans and their surviving spouses, and senior citizens who earn $28,270 or less annually.

Under the plan, low-income seniors receive tax relief for the first $25,000 of their assessed property. Veterans who were disabled while serving get relief on the first $175,000 of their assessed property.

Residents apply at the local trustee's office and city tax collections department. If approved, the county and city then bill the state for the difference.

Last year, the program served 416 Knox County veterans and about 4,500 local seniors, providing for a combined $962,000 in relief.

Knox County's seniors got up to $145 in county taxes and $170 in city taxes docked from their tax bills.

Veterans got up to $1,015 in county relief and almost $1,200 in city relief.

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

State of School address on for 2-10

Jim McIntyre
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre will hold his annual "State of the Schools Address" at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 at Austin-East Magnet High School.

The event is open to the public.

No word on whether we're going to get another "I am a human speech" that will need a majority of the local PR folks to sign off on.

For those who forget, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Anyhoo, the address is designed to provide an overview of academic progress in the Knox County Schools, give an update on implementation of the five-year strategic plan, entitled Excellence for Every Child, and outline the educational goals and aspirations for the coming year, according to a school system news release.

The address will be broadcast live on KCS-TV on Comcast Cable Channel 10 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99. It will also be streamed live at

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Guy skips work for 24 years; fired

I like to keep the ol' blog local, but this one cracked me up. And, well, I could see it happening here. You all know what I mean.

From USA Today:
A man who ditched work for 24 years has finally lost his job—apparently a sign that India is cracking down on government bureaucrats who avoid office time, Reuters reports.

AK Verma, a senior engineer at the Central Public Works Department, last showed up for work in December 1990.

The Hindu describes him as being "on furlough," but an inquiry ruled against him in 1992, and delays and inaction ensued for 22 more years until Verma eventually got fired.
Does this sound familiar? Sort of? Heh.

Read the rest of it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Schoonmaker to serve on commission

John Schoonmaker
The Knox County Commission on Monday picked John Schoonmaker, a sales representative and former vice chair of the local board of zoning appeals, to serve as the board's 5th District representative.

Schoonmaker, 60, replaces Richard Briggs, who stepped down last fall after winning the 7th District state Senate seat. He will hold the commission seat until the term expires at the end of August 2016.

The 5th District consists of the southwest corner of Knox County and includes Farragut and Concord.

The commission unanimously picked Schoonmaker from a pool of seven candidates who interviewed during a specially called public meeting Monday at the City County Building.

For the rest of the story, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Annual audit gives Knox County high marks, despite 2014 school problems

Auditor Larry Elmore
Knox County's external auditor dinged the county on a number of financial matters – almost all of them tied to well-publicized school problems that officials say they are in the process of fixing.

Overall, however, the county financial statements taken as an entire organization, which includes its general government, the school system, and the fee offices, have once again received a clean bill of health.

Auditors with Knoxville-based Pugh & Company on Monday presented a preliminary copy of the county's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, to the county's Audit Committee.

The report covered fiscal year 2014, which ended last June 30, when the overall county budget stood at $734.5 million.

"They have a great accounting and finance staff at the county and they do a great job," said Larry Elmore, vice president of Pugh & Co.

He added: "We have never once gotten the feeling that people didn't want to cooperate or answer questions. We've always gotten the impression that everyone in the county wants to improve what they're doing. That's what we found up and down countywide government."

During Monday's meeting, officials said they discovered three significant deficiencies and one material weaknesses in the county's financial statements.

Auditors said they found problems with the school system's use of credit cards; how the school system accounts for some facility upgrades; and a lease agreement the school system entered into to get computers.

In addition, auditors took issue with a bank account set up by the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office.

Significant deficiencies typically keep management or employees from preventing, detecting or correcting misstatements in a timely manner. They are less severe than a material weakness, but important enough to merit the attention of those in charge, according to auditors.

A material weakness is often a combination of deficiencies such that there is a reasonable possibility that a misstatement won't be prevented.

For the rest of the story and a snapshot of the findings, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Court Clerk looking to give county $1.3 million from 'unknown' account

Mike Hammond
Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond is looking into a plan to transfer some $1.3 million from one of his rarely used office accounts into the county’s general coffers.

Hammond said that upon taking office in early September last year, he discovered what he called an “unknown account” that auditors rarely if ever checked because of its infrequent activity.

He said the account, located at First Tennessee Bank, has roughly $2.6 million in it but there’s no documentation itemizing specifically where the money came from.

He said it was set up at least 50 years ago.

Here’s how it worked:

When someone pays a fine to the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office, officials are supposed to divvy up the money between a number of entities, like the state or the sheriff’s office.

However, if someone made a partial payment, the money would get deposited, and remain there until the fine was completely paid. Only then would it get distributed.

“They had money going in, but very little going out,” Hammond said.

The office doesn’t have the records detailing how the account got every dollar. Hammond, however, said he believes he could turn half the money in the account over to the county and still have enough to pay off the various entities as people settle their fines.

Hammond said he will hammer out the details in the coming weeks, and would move forward only if the county’s law department and the County Technical Assistance Service sign off on it.

Officials will talk more about the matter during Monday’s audit committee meeting.

In the meantime, Hammond said from now on, his office will forward any partial payments over to the various entities, rather than let the money build up.

The Criminal Court Clerk’s Office is self-sustaining fee office, meaning it collects fines and fees, and keeps enough to pay the office employees and build a small reserve. The remaining funds are supposed to be turned over to the county.

That didn’t always happen under Hammond’s predecessors.

City employee sues over remarks, firing; Asks for up to $750K

A Knoxville employee has sued the city, alleging a top administrator often made "vulgar, homosexuality-laced comments" about him and another worker, according to the discrimination lawsuit filed in Knox County Circuit Court.

In addition, Rick Evans alleges Greg Mackay, director of the city's Public Assembly Facilities Department, also terminated his job as the Chilhowee Park general manager after he raised concerns about possible financial misuse at the East Knoxville venue.

In the lawsuit, filed Dec. 12, Evans said he told Mackay and other administrators that the city used "property, money, equipment, and personnel" to benefit the Tennessee Valley Fair, which operates out of the park in September each year.

He said the fair's governing board "is largely comprised of wealthy, politically connected members of the county," so officials sought to silence him by cutting his position as the park's general manager, according to the lawsuit.

Evans is asking for up to $750,000 in combined lost wages and benefits as well as punitive damages.
Evans' attorney, Knoxville-based Jesse Nelson, declined to comment to WBIR 10News.

The city also declined to comment, as did Mackay, who previously served as the county's election administrator from 2002 to 2011.

However, an independent investigation conducted on behalf of the city suggests that Mackay "made no such explicit comments."

The investigator, Knoxville-based attorney Thomas Hale, interviewed seven employees whom Evans said either heard the comments or were told of the remarks. But none of them backed his story, according to a report Hale submitted to city officials.

In addition, he met with Mackay, who also denied the allegations.

Complete story RIGHT HERE.

President Obama unveils 'America's College Promise' college proposal

Obama in Knoxville today
Unless you've been under a rock, you should know by now President Barack Obama is in town to announce his new education plan that's based at least in part on the Tennessee Promise.

The White House earlier today issued a release about the proposal. Here ya go:

Nearly a century ago, a movement that made high school widely available helped lead to rapid growth in the education and skills training of Americans, driving decades of economic growth and prosperity.

America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we had the most educated workforce in the world. But other nations have matched or exceeded the secret to our success. Today, more than ever, Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without having to take on decades of debt before they even embark on their career.

Today the President is unveiling the America’s College Promise proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost.

This proposal will require everyone to do their part: community colleges must strengthen their programs and increase the number of students who graduate, states must invest more in higher education and training, and students must take responsibility for their education, earn good grades, and stay on track to graduate.

The program would be undertaken in partnership with states and is inspired by new programs in Tennessee and Chicago. If all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.

In addition, today the President will propose a new American Technical Training Fund to expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs similar to Tennessee Tech Centers that meet employer needs and help prepare more Americans for better paying jobs.

These proposals build on a number of historic investments the President has made in college affordability and quality since taking office, including a $1,000 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award to help working and middle class families, the creation of the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, reforming student loans to eliminate subsidies to banks to invest in making college more affordable and keeping student debt manageable, and making available over $2 billion in grants to connect community colleges with employers to develop programs that are designed to get hard-working students good jobs.

Make Two Years of College as Free and Universal as High School

By 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. Forty percent of college students are enrolled at one of America’s more than 1,100 community colleges, which offer students affordable tuition, open admission policies, and convenient locations.

They are particularly important for students who are older, working, need remedial classes, or can only take classes part-time. For many students, they offer academic programs and an affordable route to a four-year college degree.

They are also uniquely positioned to partner with employers to create tailored training programs to meet economic needs within their communities such as nursing, health information technology, and advanced manufacturing.

The America’s College Promise proposal would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college.

Restructuring the community college experience, coupled with free tuition, can lead to gains in student enrollment, persistence, and completion transfer, and employment. Specifically, here is what the initiative will mean:

  • Enhancing Student Responsibility and Cutting the Cost of College for All Americans: Students who attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college, and make steady progress toward completing their program will have their tuition eliminated. These students will be able to earn half of the academic credit they need for a four-year degree or earn a certificate or two-year degree to prepare them for a good job.
  • Building High-Quality Community Colleges: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that either (1) are academic programs that fully transfer to local public four-year colleges and universities, giving students a chance to earn half of the credit they need for a four-year degree, or (2) are occupational training programs with high graduation rates and that lead to degrees and certificates that are in demand among employers. Other types of programs will not be eligible for free tuition. Colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes, such as the effective Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) programs at the City University of New York which waive tuition, help students pay for books and transit costs, and provide academic advising and supportive scheduling programs to better meet the needs of participating students, resulting in greater gains in college persistence and degree completion. 
  •  Ensuring Shared Responsibility with States: Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. States that choose to participate will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate community college tuition for eligible students. States that already invest more and charge students less can make smaller contributions, though all participating states will be required to put up some matching funds. States must also commit to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone. States will have flexibility to use some resources to expand quality community college offerings, improve affordability at four-year public universities, and improve college readiness, through outreach and early intervention.
Expanding Technical Training for Middle Class Jobs

Additionally, in order to spread the availability of high-quality and innovative programs like those in Tennessee and Texas, which achieve better than average completion and employment outcomes, the President is also proposing the American Technical Training Fund.

This fund will award programs that have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training, and are scheduled to accommodate part-time work. Programs could be created within current community colleges or other training institutions. The focus of the discretionary budget proposal would be to help high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills to work into growing fields with significant numbers of middle-class jobs that local employers are trying to fill such as energy, IT, and advanced manufacturing.

This program will fund the start-up of 100 centers and scale those efforts in succeeding years. Smaller grants would help to bring together partners and start a pilot program. Larger grants would be used for expanding programs based on evidence of effectiveness, which could include past performance on graduation rates, job placement rates and placement wages. Building on the President’s community college initiative, known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants and for which 2014 was the final year of funding, these funds will help community colleges become more job-driven.

Building on State and Local Programs

In the past year, Tennessee and the City of Chicago initiated free community college programs. In the first year of the Tennessee program, 57,000 students representing almost 90 percent of the state’s high school graduating class applied for the program.

The scholarship is coupled with college counseling, mentorship, and community service that early evidence suggests supports greater enrollment, persistence and college completion. This is coupled with efforts to spur innovation and improvement by funding colleges using performance outcomes based on student success and an innovative approach to career and technical education through the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. These Tennessee Tech Centers have a graduation rate of 80 percent and a job placement rate of 85 percent.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Haslam: Special session to consider 'Insure Tennessee' set for Feb. 2

Gov. Big Bill today officially called for a special session to begin at 4 p.m. (slow time) on Feb. 2 for the General Assembly to consider Haslam-O-Care.

Here's the release below:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today issued a proclamation convening an “extraordinary session” of the 109th General Assembly to consider “Insure Tennessee,” a two year pilot program to provide health care coverage to Tennesseans who do not currently have access to health insurance or have limited options. The program is designed to reward healthy behaviors, promote personal responsibility and incentivize preventative care and healthy choices.

The proclamation calls for the special session to begin Monday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. CST for the legislature to consider a joint resolution authorizing the governor to implement Insure Tennessee. The governor is scheduled to address the General Assembly at 6 p.m. CST that evening.

“There are few challenges facing us today as great as those presented by our broken health care system,” Haslam said. “The Insure Tennessee plan is a conservative approach that introduces market principles to Medicaid, provides health care coverage to more Tennesseans at no additional cost to taxpayers, and leverages a payment reform initiative that is working to control health care costs and improve the quality of care. I believe this plan is a critical first step to fundamentally changing health care in Tennessee.”



In December the governor was joined by representatives from a coalition of business, health care and civic organizations when he announced his Insure Tennessee plan.

The plan does not create any new taxes nor adds any state cost to the budget. The hospital industry has committed that it will cover any additional cost to the state, and the program will automatically terminate in the event that either federal funding or support from the hospitals is modified in any way.

The plan would provide coverage to more than 200,000 uninsured Tennesseans earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, valued at slightly over $16,000 a year for an individual and $27,000 for a family of three.

Five key areas of the governor’s plan include: a fiscally sound and sustainable program; providing two new private market choices for Tennesseans; shifting the delivery model and payment of health care in Tennessee from fee-for-service to outcomes based; incentivizing Tennesseans to be more engaged and to take more personal responsibility in their health; and preparing participants for eventual transition to commercial health coverage.

The amendment to the state’s existing waiver is being made available today for a 30-day public comment period.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Russ Oaks to serve as schools' CAO

I'm pretty busy this afternoon, so just going to paste the Knox County school system's release. (Sorry, no time for entertainment at the expense of others. Heh.)

To sum it up, Superintendent Jim McIntyre appointed Russ Oaks to serve as KCS chief operating officer. Oaks has been Slim Jim's chief of staff for awhile now.

In addition, Jim appointed Daphne Odom to serve as executive director of innovation and school improvement.

I've submitted a request for the salaries, because I know that's all most people care about anyway.

KCS also is seeking applications for the "vacant budgeted positions of Chief Accountability Officer and Director of Community Relations."

Here's the letter from Jim to the board of education:

Russ Oaks is appointed Chief Operating Officer

I have appointed Russ Oaks as Chief Operating Officer. This is a new position, but has been budgeted and unfilled for the past two fiscal years. This position will bring some much needed additional expertise and oversight to the operational areas of our school district, as this position will take over supervision of Enrollment, Transportation, Security, Nutrition Services, Information Technology, Maintenance, and Facilities. Mr. Oaks will report directly to the Superintendent, and will continue with his duties as Chief of Staff until a successor is appointed.

Mr. Oaks joined the Knox County Schools in 2001 as the communications supervisor. Prior to joining the Knox County Schools, he served for 20 years as an Armor Officer and Public Affairs Officer in the United States Army where he held many and varied leadership positions gaining broad experience in organizational leadership, operations, and management. Since 2009, he has served as the Chief of Staff for the Knox County Schools, where he has worked closely with all departments and all aspects of the school system.

Mr. Oaks hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Tennessee and is a graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

Bob Thomas will remain in his role as Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services, and will continue to oversee Finance, Payroll, and Human Resources. I have directed Mr. Thomas to concentrate his efforts on significantly improving systems and structures in the finance area, and to implement the comprehensive plan for fiscal process enhancement that he developed last month.

Daphne Odom is appointed Executive Director of ISI

I have appointed Dr. Daphne Odom as Director of Innovation and School Improvement. In this role, Dr. Odom will manage and support the district’s portfolio of innovative efforts, such as facilitating
magnet school programs, specialized career and STEM programming, supporting improvement in our Priority Schools, as well as coordinating our Charter School relationships. Dr. Odom is currently
serving as the co-principal of Beaumont Magnet School, and will transition to this existing, budgeted position in the coming months.

Dr. Odom holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education, a Master of Science degree in Elementary Education, an Education Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctor of Philosophy in Education Leadership and Policy all conferred by the University of Tennessee.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Health Dept to offer free flu shots

The Knox County Health Department will begin offering free flue vaccinations to residents beginning Tuesday, Jan. 6, according to a release.

“If you haven’t had a flu vaccine, please get one now,” KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said in a written statement. “Even though one strain in the vaccine is slightly different from what’s currently circulating, we still recommend vaccination. It will provide protection from the other strains in the vaccine and can reduce the severity and duration of illness if you get sick, even preventing some flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.”

Starting tomorrow, those interested can receive free flu vaccinations at KCHD’s main location, 140 Dameron Ave.; the West Clinic, 1028 Old Cedar Bluff Rd.; and the Teague Clinic, 405 Dante Rd. Offices are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Free vaccinations, including FluMist and the injectable version, are available while supplies last.

“In addition to vaccination, simple infection control measures can help keep our community, and especially the medically fragile, healthy,” said Buchanan.

KCSO task force holiday busts up

Looks like the KCSO task force had a busy Christmas season. According to the Knox County Sheriff's Office, the force made 372 arrests and recovered $65,614 in stolen merchandise.

Officers also found two reported stolen cars and served 130 outstanding warrants.

The department, in a release, noted:

The majority of the arrests were for shoplifting, 35 were felony theft charges, but officers also made 12 arrests for DUI and nabbed two fugitives from justice. The task force started on November 24 and wrapped up December 29.

Last year during the same time period, officers made 342 arrests and recovered around $50,000 in stolen merchandise.

The task force was formed four years ago to provide a safe shopping experience. It’s a joint effort between KCSO, prosecutors, and loss prevention professionals to combat purse snatchings, retail thefts, car burglaries, car thefts, forgery, fraud, and other criminal activities that happen during the holiday season. Officers from patrol and, detectives, and schools make up the special unit.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Something clever to say about highway safety? TDOT to hold sign contest

From the state Department of Transportation:

“Eyes on the Road & Head out of Your Apps”, “Buckle Up Y’all, It’s the Law”, and “Ho Ho Hold Your Calls”.

Those are just a few of the overhead sign messages that have caught the attention of Tennessee motorists recently. Think you can come up with one better? For the first time, TDOT will offer drivers the chance to craft their own highway safety messages.

Beginning Monday Jan. 5, TDOT will begin taking entries for the Dynamic Message Sign Contest. Entries will be considered for five highway safety categories: seatbelt usage, impaired driving, distracted driving, speeding, and aggressive driving.

“Love them or hate them, the messages we’ve been running have helped us accomplish our goal – to get the attention of drivers,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “We don’t want these important safety reminders to be so mundane that people stop noticing. This contest can start important conversations about driving behaviors, and maybe make people think about some of their own driving habits.”

Entering the contest is easy! Just go to TDOT’s website and click on “TDOT Safety Message Contest”. The contest web page will list the categories, and will allow you to type your message and submit your entry. The contest will run from Jan. 5-16.

TDOT will then give the public the opportunity to vote on the best messages, also via the TDOT website. The winning messages will then be placed in rotation to run on the overhead Dynamic Message Signs statewide throughout the year.

Keep it clean! Any message containing profanity or lewd comments will be disqualified.

A total of 163 Dynamic Message Signs are located in the state’s four urban areas (Chattanooga, Knoxville Memphis, Nashville), and in some rural areas across the state. The main purpose of the signs is to alert motorists of incidents, lane blockages, hazardous road conditions, or Amber Alerts.

In 2012, TDOT became the first DOT in the nation to display roadway fatality numbers on the overhead signs. In addition to the fatality statistics, safety messages are displayed during off-peak travel times.

New parking options in Ft Sanders

The 80-spot parking lot owned by Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center will be open to the public for free after 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays - except for special events, like home UT football games (of course), according to an arrangement the operation worked out with the city.

The lot is located at the corner of 19th Street and White Avenue. The hospital agreed to make it available for public parking to aid Knoxville's ongoing redesign and redevelopment of the Cumberland Avenue Corridor, according to a release. City Council approved the agreement last month, at no cost to the City.

"We know that public parking is a chronic need in Fort Sanders, for visitors and merchants alike," said Bob Whetsel, the City's Director of Redevelopment. "Thanks to this agreement with Covenant Health, it will be easier at least in the evenings and on weekends."

WBIR to expand weekend programming

Looks like East Tennessee's best news outlet will bring you even more news.

According to the release:

WBIR-TV, Knoxville’s ‘Straight from the Heart’ station, will expand its 10 News Weekend programming by two hours, beginning Jan. 3, 2015. (That's tomorrow.) With the announcement, weekend local news content will start at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Jeff Lee, WBIR-TV General Manager, says the change was made with viewers in mind.

“The decision to expand our weekend coverage is a reflection of our commitment to viewers and their evolving needs. We try to be mindful of changing viewing habits, and continually strive to deliver the most local content, whenever and wherever most convenient for our viewers.”

“The expansion is a reflection of our continued efforts to best serve our collective audience, on-air and online.” says WBIR News Director, Christy Moreno. “The additional two hours of programming will expand our local coverage opportunities. The change allows us to better prepare our viewers with the most current weather and traffic conditions, as well as share more of the viewer stories that inspire us and our community every day.”

Moreno says the existing weekend news team will continue to serve viewers when the extended content format takes effect.

Up-to-date WBIR-TV programming can be found at With the expansion announcement, current programming times for Allen Smith and House Smarts will move from Saturday at 6:00am and 6:30am respectively, to 5:00am and 5:30am. Power of the Word scheduled programming will move from Sunday at 6:30am to 5:30am.

Online tutor service offered to students with Knox Co. library cards

Miss me? Heh. Been on vacation. Watched a lot of TV. Anyhoo, going through emails, so I'll just start posting what pops up.

The Knox County Library System is offering online tutors for local students who have library cards.

According to a release, the program provides "high quality, real-time, online tutoring and homework help" daily from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

You can find it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

According to the release: was made available to Knox County students in the 2013-14 academic year through a pilot program sponsored by the Tennessee State Library with Knox County Schools and Knox County Public Library. By all accounts, the program was a great success with more than 4,100 total sessions and 3,069 individual tutoring sessions. Although the state library was not able to continue to support, Knox County Public Library has continued to offer the service since the end of the pilot program.

“We are pleased to be able to continue this service for students of Knox County. With a library card, individualized help is available to Knox County students whether they are home schooled, in public schools or enrolled in a private or parochial school,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.