Tag Archives: districts

Shelby’s Suburban Voters Approve Special School Districts (again)

Among celebration parties in Bartlett, Germantown and elsewhere, suburban school supporters sipped soft drinks and toasted their success Tuesday night after voters again approved the formation of municipal school districts, reports The Commercial Appeal.
Back at the polls because a federal judge threw out last year’s vote approving the districts, voters turned out in smaller numbers in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington but approved the districts by an overwhelming margin.
Approval numbers ranged from a high of 94 percent in Collierville to a low of almost 74 percent in Millington. About 20 percent of the 143,000 registered voters cast ballots with about half voting early.
“It’s higher than a typical special election,” said election administrator Richard Holden.
If the districts ultimately pass legal muster, Bartlett would be the largest suburban school district with 9,000-plus students in a dozen schools. Lakeland would be the smallest with roughly 2,500-plus students in one elementary school.
At Garibaldi’s Pizza in Germantown, supporters in YES shirts supporters smiled as they took pictures, cheered and applauded as precinct totals came in.

Shelby Suburban School Bills Filed

Shelby County’s suburban Republican state legislators filed new bills Thursday that they hope will remove court barriers to the creation of new municipal school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington, reports Richard Locker.
The main bill would repeal the 1998 statewide ban on new municipal school districts. The suburban lawmakers said they believe that and three other bills will win legislative approval, including in the House of Representatives where reluctance to allow new school districts outside of Shelby County last year led to passage of a Shelby-only law that was later struck down as unconstitutional.
A federal court ruling last November halted the movement toward the creation of six new municipal districts in the suburbs, even after they were approved by voters in local referendums in August. Suburban voters also elected their first school board members in November, before the court ruling, and the boards would have worked to open the new municipal schools late this summer when the merger of the old Memphis City and Shelby County school systems will be complete.
“I expect the House to pass it,” said Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who is sponsoring the main bill with Senate Majority Leader Mark Morris, R-Collierville. All five suburban Republican House members from Shelby are co-sponsoring all four bills.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, said that from his conversations with lawmakers from elsewhere, “the rest of the state would really like for Shelby County to get its school situation settled.” White chairs the House Education Subcommittee, the bill’s first stop in the House.

Ramsey: Judicial Redistricting ‘Makes Sense’ and He’ll ‘Probably’ Push It

While the Legislature rigorously adheres to the “one person, one vote” rule in drawing new district lines for itself and Congressional seats within the state every 10 years, the principle has been ignored when it comes to electing judges.
The legislative rigor, of course, is based on mandates issued by judges at both the state and federal level — starting with the landmark 1962 U.S. Supreme Court case of Baker vs. Carr, inspired by the Tennessee Legislature’s failure to go through redistricting for a half-century or so.
Federal judges are not elected, but Tennessee’s trial court judges are. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says it’s ironic that judges have mandated redistricting for congressional and legislative elections, but not for judicial elections. Ramsey says he’s “probably” going to push a bill for redistricting this year.
Not since 1984 has the Legislature reapportioned Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts, which draw the borders for jurisdiction of judges, district attorneys general and public defenders. Legislative and congressional districts have been overhauled three times since then.

News Notes on TN Legislative Ideas as the 2013 Session Gets Underway

Local Option Gas Tax?
Tri-Cities officials are asking area state legislators to authorize a local option gas tax of up to five cents per gallon as a means to improve roads, reports the Bristol Herald Courier.
Friday’s annual wish list presentation from Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City leaders to representatives and senators headed to Nashville… includes a variety of policy objectives, but the gas tax was an eye-opener to one Bristol lawmaker.
“I just can’t see that working in today’s current economic environment,” said State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, one of the lawmakers at the meeting at the Millennium Centre.
“We are a pay as you go state when it comes to roads and bridges and so far, that has worked, so I can’t see a tax increase going anywhere fast.”
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips handled the transportation segment of the presentations given to legislators and said the consensus of the three-city committee was to have a gas tax option ready to use for an ever-growing list of road construction needs.
“If we are not going to raise taxes or sell bonds somewhere down the road (to improve roads), we are going to have a big problem,” Phillips said. “I think this is really the year to look seriously at that local option so that we can get some help. I personally feel that if there was (no press coverage) and you raised taxes five cents on gasoline no one would know it. Three weeks ago, gas went up 13 cents in one day. The way prices are fluctuating, I think we are missing a prime opportunity not to address that option.”

Insurance Coverage for Oral Chemotherapy?
Tennessee’s cancer-fighting advocates want to hang onto funding for screening and smoking cessation, do a better job educating residents and – after a crushing defeat on this last year – force insurers to cover oral chemotherapy at the same rate as intravenous treatments, reports The Tennessean.
What’s not on their list is raising the cigarette tax, the nation’s sixth-lowest, an effort shown to discourage smoking, raise revenue and, ultimately, save on healthcare costs. That effort failed last year too, said Nancy Hauskins DuBois, an advocacy specialist for the American Cancer Society, so her group is putting it on snooze and waiting for a better time.
…Tennessee is making slight gains against the nation in its cancer fight, moving from fifth in the nation for deaths three years ago to sixth today, U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention statistics show.
At the same time, it moved from 22nd to 16th for diagnosed incidents of cancer, but that’s not a bad thing, said Dr. Ingrid M. Meszoely, a Vanderbilt University surgeon and co-chair of the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.

Elect Utility District Boards?
Most utility district boards in Tennessee are appointed by county mayors or other local officials, but a dispute over the DeKalb Utility District’s expansion plans has triggered a call for having the boards elected by ratepayers, reports The Tennessean.
But efforts allowing ratepayers to elect utility board members elsewhere in Tennessee have failed in the General Assembly, in part because of opposition from a powerful association representing rural utilities, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD).
Some lawmakers hope to try again this year.
“The customers of the utility districts have no say in who is on their board,” said state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald. “The board controls the rates, controls a lot of issues.”
As a House member for the past decade, Hensley has sponsored legislation allowing direct elections of utility commissioners in Lawrence County. Those efforts have failed. But Hensley, elected to the Senate in November, said he’ll try again this year.
The issue of direct elections for Tennessee’s 180 utility districts, many in rural areas, would add accountability to the boards and better protect ratepayers, say advocates for the change.

Bill Limits Spur Knox Discussion
The Knox County legislative delegation is weighing the impact of state Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, with one new House member reporting he’s already being contacted by lobbyists on the matter, reports Georgiana Vines.
Roger Kane, the Republican elected in November to the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, said four lobbyists have contacted him about sponsoring legislation and one wants him to sponsor two bills.
If Harwell’s 10-bill limit proposal were to be adopted, “that would be half my slots,” he said. “In principle, it sounds good,” he said. “It has caused some things to change. Typically, freshmen were given some ramp-up time. (Now) the freshmen have become of a little more value.”
However, he said he doesn’t want constituencies to be without an opportunity to have bills introduced late in the session, so he hasn’t yet “developed an opinion” on Harwell’s proposal.
Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican who represents the 16th District, said he has favored limiting bills for several years. He said he has discussed with Harwell having a limit of seven “active” bills at any one time, and if one passes or fails, then another could be introduced.
“What the speaker is doing is a step in the right direction,” he said.
State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Republican representing the 19th District, and Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Democrat representing the 15th District, said some legislators may already have commitments that end up surpassing 10 bills.
“Put the rule in, but make it effective for a second session and here on out,” Armstrong said.

Utility Districts Paying Too Much in Bond Fees?

The Tennessean reports that some Tennessee utility districts representing thousands of water and gas ratepayers, mostly in rural parts of the state, may be paying more than necessary because of the way their bond deals are being structured.
The landscape of Tennessee’s lucrative utility district bond market was significantly altered in 2009 when a nonprofit organization created to educate and advocate for rural utility districts began offering them financial advice with the bulk of the multimillion-dollar business going to a single underwriting firm.
The politically powerful and influential Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, which has 180 member utility districts, has earned $519,323 in fees through its affiliates since it began selling financial advice on bond issues, though neither of its employees has a background in investment banking.
With a TAUD affiliate as the adviser, almost all of the underwriting work has gone to Nashville-based Wiley Brothers, who quickly elbowed past larger competitors to dominate bond deals for rural utilities in Tennessee.
Regulators and municipal finance experts say the types of noncompetitive deals being done tend to come with higher interest rates and fees. And each of the 33 deals involving the TAUD did not follow normal industry practices in disclosures to investors.
…The Tennessean reviewed all 33 bond issuances in which the TAUD subsidiary or an earlier affiliate acted as financial adviser over the last three years and found that in each case, the utility districts sold their bonds at negotiated sales, instead of competitive sales. Competitive sales involve getting bids from multiple underwriting firms and awarding the work to the firm that offers the lowest interest rate. The SEC says competitive sales bring lower interest rates, which means the utility district needs to raise less revenue from ratepayers’ water bills to pay back the bonds.
Additionally, the newspaper reviewed official statements filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and found that the legally required documents meant to provide investors with details of the bond issue did not disclose that a TAUD organization was paid out of bond proceeds.

On Budget-busting fire hydrants and utility districts’ power

The town of Elkton, population about 600, has 42 fire hydrants and pays the local utility district $24.50 per month per hydrant to have them connected to the water system. The Tennessean cites the situation as an example of problems with Tennessee’s utility districts.
Mayor Carolyn Thompson doesn’t think the amount … is fair and is fighting back. She refused to pay the full amount for three months, and the South Giles Utility District threatened to turn off the city’s water.
The dispute highlights an ongoing issue with the more than 180 utility districts across Tennessee. There is often little transparency and accountability for how the districts operate. Water rates and activation fees vary widely from district to district.
The same goes for the fees utilities charge municipalities and others for the use of fire hydrants. Some utilities don’t charge anything. Others pay just a few dollars a month. For some cities, the bill can add up to a huge chunk of the budget.
“I feel that I have a fiscal responsibility to this city to manage the financial situation here to the very best of my ability,” the mayor said.
“We really have cut our budget to the absolute core, and we are still struggling. It is hard on us.”
South Giles Utility District officials say they are simply running a business and need the fee to help offset the cost of the very improvements — such as larger diameter pipes — that make using fire hydrants viable.
…Elkton pays $12,348 a year for its 42 fire hydrants, regardless of how often or how much water is used. That’s nearly as much as the entire yearly $12,650 budget for the volunteer fire department, records show.
By contrast, Pulaski in Giles County pays a flat $1,033 a year for nearly 500 hydrants. The city of Tullahoma in Franklin and Coffee counties pays about $11.20 a month for each of its 1,024 fire hydrants. And Columbia in Maury County is not charged anything for its hydrants. These cities are all are served by separate utility districts.

‘Obsessed’ Huffman Travels, Reorganizes

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has visited all 136 Tennessee school districts and now has a goal of visiting 10,000 teachers in settings where they can ask questions, reports The Tennessean. And he has reorganized the education department’s regional offices into a school district support network instead of eight offices that tell districts whether they’re complying with state policy.
“I’ve become obsessed with how do you spread the best practices on the ground?” Huffman said.
…He constantly sees districts of the same size with the same issues and same amount of money, but one will have a better academic record than the other.
“People are reinventing the wheel; the connection (communication between the districts) has to be made,” he said.
About three months ago, Huffman reorganized the eight regional offices and hired new leaders who meet once a week to help districts meet their goals.
Their evaluations will be based on whether the districts in their region have met academic goals, so they have a vested interest in helping as much as possible, Huffman said.
“Historically, they focused on compliance and would go and make sure the rules were followed and the paperwork was done,” Huffman added. “People often incentivize the wrong actions. We’re trying to get into the support business.”
He thinks districts will react favorably to the plan because of the gratitude they showed during his visits.
In some districts, Huffman would be surprised when he walked through a door to find 100 or more community members ready to ask questions. In other districts, it was top central office administrators and principals.
“Tennessee is still one of those places where shaking a hand and looking people in the eyes is important,” he said

Blogger’s Records Check Finds 1,000 Voting in Wrong Districts

A Memphis blogger who has closely followed redistricting and voting issues says nearly 1,000 voters have so far cast ballots in the wrong races for either state Senate, state House, U.S. House of Representatives or some combination of those three contests, reports the Commercial Appeal.
Steve Ross, the Democratic nominee for a Shelby County Commission seat on the Aug. 2 ballot, said concerns about the Shelby County Election Commission rushing to update its voting database following redistricting of state and federal districts led him to run an analysis narrowly looking at voters who live close to voting boundaries.
He said he spent more than seven hours typing addresses of some voters who have already participated in early voting into a database, and compared which races they voted in to those races they should be voting in, based on information Ross said is provided by the state.
…Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers said Monday that he became aware of the issue over the weekend and that the county’s administrator of elections, Richard Holden, has his staff checking into the claims.
Meyers said, “I have a pretty high confidence” that the election commission databases have been properly updated. But he added: “There were so many changes that had to be made, I’m not going to fool myself that somebody might be pointing out a mistake, and it’s our job to figure it out.”

State Intervenes in Operating Six Memphis Schools

The state of Tennessee will run three Memphis City Schools in Frayser next fall, reports the Commercial Appeal. Three more, mostly in North Memphis, will convert to or co-exist with charter schools as part of a strategic effort to concentrate on pockets of town where schools chronically under-perform.
Corning Elementary, Frayser Elementary and Westside Middle will open in the state Achievement School District, according to a late-afternoon announcement Monday at Ed Rice Community Center in the heart of Frayser.
At the same time, the charter KIPP Memphis will open a middle and high school inside Cypress School. Privately run Cornerstone will convert Lester School in Binghamton to a charter school and Gestalt Community Schools will open a middle school inside Gordon Elementary in North Memphis.
“I see what we are doing as community transformation work, making sure that Frayser continues along the lines many of you in this room are working on,” Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent told a roomful of parents, school leaders and community activists in the event attended by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.
“We see this as a collaboration, not a takeover. It’s an opportunity to create a brand-new education system focused on the students in the bottom five percent,” Barbic said.

Collected Links to New GOP House, Senate District Maps

House of Representatives
Statewide House district map is HERE.
Davidson County House district map is HERE.
Hamilton County House district map, HERE.
Knox County House district map, HERE.
Shelby County House district map, HERE.
Statewide Senate map is HERE.
West Tennessee Senate map, HERE.
Middle Tennessee Senate map, HERE.
East Tennessee Senate map HERE.
Davidson County Senate map, HERE.
Hamilton County Senate map, HERE.
Knox County Senate map, HERE.
Shelby County Senate map, HERE.