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.
Eight Tennessee public school system superintendents have launched a new education advocacy group, reports the Kingsport Times-News, with a declaration of support for “Common Core” standards among its first actions. Founding members of the Leading Innovation for Tennessee Education (LIFT) group include Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie, Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie and Greene County Director of Schools Vicki Kirk.
The new group is similar to the national Chiefs for Change organization, except focused on the state level.
Today, the group plans to support State Board of Education approval of teacher licensure reforms recommended by Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and on Friday support state board passage, on second reading, of differential teacher pay reform. Both may draw Tennessee Education Association opposition.
One of the group’s first actions was to voice support for the continued implementation of the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts and accompanying assessments. The group wrote a letter of support to Gov. Bill Haslam, Huffman and the state BOE.
“Publicly supporting efforts like the Common Core State Standards, teacher licensure reform, and new teacher compensation systems will form the core of LIFT Education’s early work and are consistent with our mission,” said Neel Durbin, head of Dyersburg City Schools.
…”We recently convened a small, independent policy forum for superintendents committed to courageous student-centered leadership to ensure quality instruction and student success in Tennessee,” said Lyle Ailshie, Superintendent of Kingsport City School. “It’s homegrown and Tennessee specific. We’re just getting started, and I fully expect moving forward we will include more superintendents across the state who really subscribe to our core principles.”
…The eight members so far are Ailshie; Jerry Boyd, director of the Putnam County School System; Durbin; Shawn Kimble, superintendent of the Lauderdale County School System; Kirk; James McIntyre, superintendent of Knox County Schools; Clint Satterfield, director of Trousdale County Schools; and Yennie.
— Note: LIFT is also the acronym of a PAC operated by the state’s trial lawyers association, namely Lawyers Involved for Tennessee.
State Rep. Ryan Haynes told the Knox County Commission that the possibility of a bill imposing term limits on school board members getting through the Legislature are poor, reports the News Sentinel. Haynes, R-Knoxville, told the commission that a Tennessee law allowing term limits for school board members would be subject to general application across the state (not just limited to Knox County).
“And that, in my opinion, presents a challenge in getting a piece of legislation passed,” Haynes said during a commission work session. Commission uses work sessions to discuss future action items. The body’s next legislative meeting is June 24.
A 15-bill limit that caps what legislators can introduce is another block on term limits, he said.
“We want to use it on something that is productive,” he said.
Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith was not pleased to hear Haynes’ message.
“Personally, I think those are lame excuses,” he said. “I think it can be done.”
Haynes replied he wasn’t offering his own opinion.
“This is what my lawyers drew up,” he said.
Education officials from all over the state are saying they don’t anticipate using the new state law allowing teachers with police training to carry guns, the Tennessean reports, and many are adamant that the proposal won’t come up in their community. “We don’t want any guns in here,” said Michael Martin, director of the small Van Buren County school system. “I know most of the Upper Cumberland directors, and I don’t see us arming teachers.”
The Tennessee School Boards Association also knows of no school system planning to use the new School Security Act of 2013, but it believes conversations may heat up after July 1, when the law takes effect.
“I would anticipate more of those conversations just prior to school starting back,” said association spokesman Lee Harrell.
Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register “has made it pretty clear that is not going to happen here,” system spokesman Joe Bass said Thursday.
Register several times voiced firm opposition to the idea when it first surfaced shortly after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut killed 26 people — 20 of them children.
Tennessee legislators began discussing the idea of arming teachers or other school employees almost immediately after going into session in January. Filed as an alternative to letting any teachers with handgun carry permits bring their weapons onto campus, the measure passed in the state House 82-15 and was approved 27-6 in the Senate. Gov. Bill Haslam signed it into law in May.
Under the law, school systems may hire retired law enforcement officers who meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course. The description could apply to teachers in a school’s criminal justice program, a police officer turned teacher or a volunteer with police experience.
State Sen. Frank Niceley, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, was not concerned about the slow pace of adoption. He said the bill’s primary purpose was to give small districts a cheaper alternative to school resource officers, regular-duty police officers assigned to schools.
“I’m not convinced everybody knows about it yet,” said Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “It’ll sift down.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Board of Education brought by a charter school that was ordered to be closed because of poor student performance.
The Metro School Board voted in November to shut down Smithson Craighead Middle School because the charter school ranked among the worst academic performers in the state and was losing enrollment.
Afterward, the school and parents filed a class action lawsuit against the board of education arguing that the board violated their due process and equal protection rights.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting the parents’ claim that they would be forced to send their children to inferior schools and denying that the charter’s rights were violated.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed two tax cuts into law this week, including a reduction in the state sales tax on groceries from 5.25 percent to 5 percent as well as a cut to the state’s Hall Income Tax for seniors ages 65 and older.
The bills are among more than 50 measures the governor signed as he continues to plow through measures passed by state lawmakers that ended April 19.
Full story, HERE. School Security
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill that allows school districts to let people with police training be armed in schools.
The measure passed the House 82-15 and was approved 27-6 in the Senate.
It allows schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course.
The measure makes information about which teachers are armed or which schools allow the guns confidential to anyone but law enforcement.
Haslam included $34 million in his budget for local government officials to use on their priorities, which could include security measures. Ignition Interlock
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s ignition interlock law will apply to more drunken drivers under legislation signed by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Currently, ignition-locking devices, which force drivers to pass breath tests to start vehicles and keep them running, are required for DUI offenders whose blood alcohol level topped 0.15 percent.
This bill drops the level to the intoxication threshold of 0.08 percent and would require first-time offenders to get the devices. In turn, those convicted of DUI won’t get a restricted driver’s license and will be allowed to drive anywhere.
The measure was unanimously approved 95-0 in the House and 31-0 in the Senate.
It was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet and Republican Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport.
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Republicans showed an inclination to “put petty politics above the safety of our students” during the legislative session by killing one of his bills.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada says that’s not so and Fitzhugh is “seeing a ghost behind every tree.”
The bill in issue (HB494) passed the Senate unanimously and cleared House committees system until it reached the Calendar Committee at the end of the session, where Casada declared it unneeded and “duplicative” of present law. He made a motion that, in effect, killed it for the year. The panel’s Republican majority backed him, scuttling the bill.
As amended, the bill declares that the Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission and the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, upon request of any school system, will provide advice on school security systems.
Fitzhugh said the move was retaliation for his vote against the state budget bill.
“This was a good bill that had bipartisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget,” Fitzhugh said in a news release distributed by the House Democratic Caucus.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” he said.
Casada said, when asked last week, that was “absolutely not” the case. Current law already allows the POST Commission to give advice to schools and the bill was “just playing politics” by Democrats seeking to claim credit for enhancing school security.
Current law apparently contains nothing that would prohibit the POST Commission from offering security advice to school systems, but nothing that explicitly authorizes it either.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In an unusual and highly political move, House Republicans led by Chairman Glen Casada (R-Franklin) voted last Thursday to kill HB494 by Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley); this despite the bill having already passed the State Government, Education, and Finance Ways & Means Committees with a majority of support. The legislation would have helped local law enforcement increase security around school by working with the Tennessee peace officer standards and training commission.
“Republican leadership has put petty politics above the safety of our students,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This was a good bill that had bi-partisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget.”
Under the proposed legislation by Leader Fitzhugh, local schools could have requested that the POST commission initiate a security assessment of each school. Once completed, local governments and LEAs would have had the option to adopt security recommendations. This legislation was introduced in light of Governor Haslam’s declaration that Tennessee couldn’t afford to put a safety resource officer in every school. This bill was a common sense way to increase school safety, without dramatically increasing state or local expenditures.
The House Republicans voted to send this bill back to the Civil Justice Committee, which effectively killed the bill this year, after Leader Fitzhugh and 13 other Democrats voted against the budget. The intent of Republicans to kill the bill became even more clear when three House committees opened up Friday morning to hear bills, but Civil Justice was not one of them. The Senate version passed 32-0 on April 11.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” said Leader Fitzhugh.
Video of the Calendar & Rules Committee hearing on HB494 can be found here: : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKySr0HBDUA
Representatives voting to kill the bill: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer), Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova), Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Legislation that would clear the way for cities to begin forming municipal school systems is needed to continue education reform in Tennessee, proponents of the measure said Monday.
The proposal was overwhelmingly approved 70-24 in the House before passing the Senate 24-5. The measure is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The legislation would lift a 1998 ban that forbids municipalities from starting their own school systems.
The measure would benefit six Memphis suburbs seeking to bypass a merger of the Shelby County and Memphis school districts and run their own schools.
The suburbs voted in August to create their own districts after the Legislature passed a narrowly crafted bill that allowed it.
A raft of legislation on school security filed after the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy was whittled down to one “consensus bill” last week after negotiations between Gov. Bill Haslam and several key legislators, but a conflict quickly developed between the House and Senate.
Under the proposal, school districts would be authorized to hire retired law enforcement officers who could carry guns in schools. Only people who have gone through regular law enforcement training, hold a handgun carry permit and take an additional 40-hour course in “school policing” would qualify.
“These are not just people we’re handing out guns to,” said Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, the House sponsor of the bill. “These are seasoned, veteran officers.”
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, the Senate sponsor, described it as an option for “top-quality security at a real good price.” Retired officers are likely to sign up for such work for very modest wages, he said.
Haslam has included $34 million in his proposed budget for the coming year for distribution to schools statewide for security improvements. A school could use its share of that money to hire the officers if local school officials choose, an administration spokeswoman said, though it can also be used for other purposes such as equipment or building renovations.
The bill (SB570, as amended) touched off lengthy debate in the House Education Subcommittee and the Senate Education Committee in its initial airing. Both approved the measure, but in different form.
As drafted, the “consensus bill” — a term used by Niceley and Watson — grants immunity to schools for any damages or injuries caused by a retained security officer.
The House panel, however, stripped that provision from the bill at the urging of Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, who cited an incident in New York wherein a security officer’s gun accidentally discharged and hit a 5-year-old student. School systems carry insurance for such things, he said, and granting them immunity could “leave a child out in the cold” after being gravely and permanently injured.
Critics of the move said that without immunity schools would pay higher insurance premiums, and the cost would prevent many from hiring new security officers. But Stewart’s motion prevailed.
The immunity issue was not mentioned in the Senate committee debate, and the provision remained intact. Instead, senators argued over the bill’s effectiveness.
Niceley, who after the Newtown shootings initially proposed requiring a security officer in every school, defended the proposal that he said was worked out during “three or four weeks of back and forth with the governor.”
“This is as good as anything we can pass this year,” Niceley said.