Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman met secretly with Bradley County educators Monday night – apparently the latest in a series of such sessions – and at least two members of the county Board of Education members are unhappy about the situation, reports the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Haslam and Huffman met with 10 selected representatives from the Bradley County, Cleveland, Hamilton County, Meigs County and Rhea County school systems in the central office of the Bradley County school system.
The unannounced session, which also excluded the news media, was held in the same chambers used by the county school board, a fact that didn’t sit well with its members.
The school board’s Chris Turner said members received an email about the meeting after its conclusion Monday night. Sent by Sammie Humphrey, the assistant to Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel, the email stated the governor’s office had told local school officials they “… were not allowed to inform board members or media in advance of the event.”
Turner said the fact that school board members were not made aware of the gathering concerned him because he wondered if that meant Haslam and Huffman had “something to hide.”
“That concerns me greatly,” Turner told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “I’m going to assume the worst if it’s a private meeting. Why would you hide this meeting?”
Describing himself as “outraged,” Turner stressed that both the local school system and the state governor’s office need to practice transparency because the educational issues that have been discussed statewide have implications for how children learn in school.
“I think it’s critically important,” Turner said.
While he pointed out he had not yet spoken with anyone who attended the meeting, Turner said he was left to wonder if it concerned serious matters like a “grassroots campaign” meant to be used for political gain.
Talking with the Banner this morning, McDaniel acknowledged the governor’s office asked if the Bradley County school system could host the meeting, and the governor decided who would be invited to attend.
…David Smith, Haslam’s spokesman, told the Banner late Tuesday the governor has made a habit of holding such meetings and is currently traveling to cities around the state to hear from local teachers and administrators.
Haslam is expected to have attended a dozen such meetings statewide this summer.
“Some of those have been public events, and some have been more intimate,” Smith said. “Last year, he did a series of meetings with superintendents across the state, and these meetings like the one in Cleveland are a continuation of those, including teachers and principals.”
Smith said the governor’s office partnered with the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents to organize the meetings, and superintendents of each school system were instructed to choose two representatives to be part of their area’s session. TOSS “took the lead” in organizing the meetings that way “in order to keep them as manageable-sized groups so the meetings can have a candid and productive conversation,” Smith said.
…While Haslam had some questions for the educators, Smith said it was meant to be more of a time for the governor to hear local educators’ concerns than for him to speak on his personal views.