House Speaker Beth Harwell has defended her push to let the state Board of Education – not the local school board – decide on authorizing a charter school in Davidson and Shelby counties. Jeff Woods lays out some of her comments in question and answer format.
An excerpt: Q: The Democrats had a media avail this morning. Mike Turner is upset about your bill. He says you’re trying to resegregate schools in Nashville. What do you say to that? Harwell: That is not my goal at all. If anything, the current charter schools that exist are located in our lower income areas. They are close to about 98 percent minority members. The ones that are doing well are doing exceptionally well. This would have actually made it possible for more diversity within our public charter school system, I believe. … Q: How would the schools be more diverse? You mean more white? Harwell: Yeah.
Q: Republicans say the best government is the one that’s closest to the people. This seems to fly in the face of that. Harwell: No, I don’t think it does. We have a responsibility in this state to allow the most local person to have an option here, and the local person here is the parent. You can’t get much more local than that. I have a lot of parents, not only in my district but others, who wanted this option in our public school system. I am all about promoting and having the best public school system this city can have and right now we’re just simply not there.
Rejecting appeals by state officials, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that three Memphis-area counties, as well as three others in East Tennessee, violate federal air-quality standards for ozone pollution, reports the Commercial Appeal. The decision, issued late Tuesday, means that Shelby, Crittenden (in Arkansas) and part of DeSoto county (in Mississipp) will remain classified as “non-attainment” for ozone standards – a designation that officials say makes it more difficult to attract industry. Anderson, Blount and Knox counties also retain the designation.
Tennessee and Mississippi had filed petitions appealing EPA’s initial decision earlier this year classifying the counties as non-attainment. The appeals cited data showing improvement in local air quality, particularly during a three-year period ending in 2011 during which all Shelby County air monitors met federal ozone standards.
State and local officials had sought to escape the non-attainment classification because of its potentially chilling effect on economic development. New or expanding industries generally are held to stricter pollution-control requirements in non-attainment areas.
And this from the AP:
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner Bob Martineau said Wednesday that the federal agency chose the “most burdensome of several options” in dealing with air pollution in the counties.
“It’s important to note that while EPA’s decision will have long-term negative economic impacts for Tennessee, this decision does nothing to improve air quality,” Martineau said.
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has completed its purchase of a large undeveloped tract of land in the Appalachians.
The tract, known as Rocky Fork, is nearly 10,000 acres and lies in Unicoi and Greene counties in East Tennessee. The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/WvsG15) reported $5 million in funding from the USDA helped it finalized the purchase of 1,200 acres — the last section that was privately owned.
Preserving as much of Rocky Fork as possible became a priority of the U.S. Forest Service when it acquired the first parcel of it in 2008 as the land went up for sale.
In all, the Forest Service has spent $40 million to keep 7,667 acres open for public use. The Conservation Fund owns about 2,000 acres of the tract.
“This final Forest Service acquisition is huge, not only in the number of acres, but in potential economic impacts,” District Ranger Terry Bowerman said in a statement about the purchase. “It will also help conserve and protect many outstanding natural and scenic resources. This is truly a dream come true for many people.”
State efforts to close down Taft Youth Development Center and transfer some of Tennessee’s toughest teen offenders to other state facilities are creating a flow of delinquents into some county lockups, reports Andy Sher.
“All I’m hearing is the detention centers are holding them until there’s an opening [at state facilities] and it’s piling up and bottlenecking,” said Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, who was among area lawmakers opposed to closing the 95-year-old center in Bledsoe County.
Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth denied in an email that there are problems related to shuttering Taft. It houses offenders ages 16 to 19 with at least three prior felony convictions, or those convicted of violent crimes or who have proven difficult to manage in other state facilities.
“We aim to place all Youth Development Center-eligible youth within 30 days of their commitment,” Sudderth said in the email. “On June 14, 2012, the average length of stay for a youth waiting in detention before being placed in a Youth Development Center was 14 days.”
A year ago, it was 22 days, she said. Area lawmakers also pointed out that the final closure has been delayed from July 1, the start of the new budget year, to July 13. But Sudderth said, “We would argue that there is no delay.”
…Richard Bean, superintendent of Knox County’s Richard L. Bean Juvenile Detention Center, said the state has been sending more teens there since Taft’s closure began. The state contracts with Knox County to hold delinquent juveniles.
“We had very few state kids, three or four [before]; you stay a few days,” Bean said Friday. “We’ve been running 30 a day … but we’re down now to 22 state kids. They don’t have anywhere to put the kids.”
He noted that many counties, including Hamilton, don’t contract with the state. In his immediate area, he said, “we’re the only guy in town.”
“They call and say, ‘Can you hold this kid until we find him a bed” either in a detention center or a foster home or group home. “As soon as they have an opening, they come get them.”
Bean said the state pays $132.88 per day per teen, but he doesn’t want to take in more than 25 at a time.
“They’re sending the good ones to someone else and the mean ones to me,” he said.
Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green said Saturday that it’s taking longer for state officials to pick up some of the teens she sentences.
“They’re staying a long time,” said Green, who was commissioner of the Department of Youth Development, DCS’ predecessor, back in the 1990s.
Green said two teens she knows of are “well beyond 30 days.” She didn’t know if they are headed for a youth center or other care, but said if the state is prioritizing those destined for the centers, “what about the ones who aren’t getting out because the others are getting preference?”
Republican Rep. Glen Casada of College Grove has told a GOP gathering that his home county, Williamson, will be intact after redistricting with three state House districts – even though that will mean the district population is under the ideal population number. The report comes from Drucilla Smith Fuller.
The Tennessee constitution has a provision against splitting counties in drawing district lines, but courts have ruled that is secondary to population balance. When the current House districts were drawn, they had a population variance of 10 percent between the highest population district and the lowest population district.
A couple of excerpts from Dru’s report: “When we go before a judge, and we will, I guarantee you, the Redistricting Committee wants to be ready to defend their plan,” according to Rep. Glen Casada (R-63).
…Eight counties will remain whole after House district lines are redrawn to reflect growth: Blount, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Robertson, Shelby, Tipton and Williamson. Davidson County will retain its current 10 seats.
Hat tip: Trace Sharp
A handful of Tennessee counties are fed up with the state’s scrap tire disposal program and have opted not to take state reimbursements for collecting tires to be hauled off and recycled, reports The Tennessean.
The problems seems to be that the state’s present tire disposal tax of $1.35 per tire provides enough money to cover costs – and even provide a profit – for regular car tires. But when a county takes in a bunch of bigger tires from trucks, tractors and heavy equipment, it loses money.
A task force that studied the issue decided there should be bigger fees for bigger tires, but backed off of pushing the idea because of fears the Legislature wouldn’t go along, the story indicates. (It could be considered a t ax increase, of course.)
There are moves to get out of the state program in Cheatham, Fayette and Gibson counties. Officials in an additional 44 counties, including Davidson, Robertson, Williamson and Wilson, are trying to gauge whether their expenses will be covered under a new reimbursement rate. Also uncertain, officials said, is whether the changes will spur more illegal tire dumping.
….The government got involved in tire recycling with passage of the Solid Waste Management Act of 1991, which banned whole tires from landfills and required counties to create tire collection sites.
For counties still working with the state, the waste tire program works like this: Consumers pay a tire disposal fee of $1.35 on each newly purchased tire. Tire dealers keep 10 cents for processing and send $1.25 to the state. They also take the consumer’s old tires to a collection site. The county then weighs and counts the tires, reports that number to the state and pays a recycling company, by the ton, to haul the tires away for recycling. Later, the state sends a $1 reimbursement to the county for each recycled tire.
For 44 counties that recently renewed their state reimbursement contracts, the $1 payback is new since July 1. Before then, the state reimbursed counties at $70 per ton.