Pellissippi State transcript: Obama proposes free community college for two years

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama


This is a transcript of remarks made by President Barack Obama at Pellissippi State Community College in Hardin Valley in west Knox County on Friday, January 9. The president was at Pellissippi State to announce a proposal that would make community college free for two years to responsible students across the country. The proposal is modeled on the relatively new Tennessee Promise.

Friday’s visit was the first by a president to Pellissippi State.

Pellissippi State Community College

Knoxville, Tennessee

2:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Hey!  Thank you!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Please have a seat.  Well, it is good to be back in Tennessee.  I hope you guys aren’t getting tired of me.  I’ve been coming around a lot lately, because there’s a lot of good stuff happening here.

I want to begin by thanking Joe and Jill Biden.  They’re not just good friends and good partners, but they really believe in the power of education and they really believe in creating those kinds of ladders of opportunity that gave all three of us and Michelle the chances, the incredible opportunities that we’ve had today.  And they understand the promise of America’s community colleges.  Well, Jill really understands it, and Joe — (laughter) — he doesn’t really have a choice.

Before I get into the reason that I’m here today, I want to begin by saying just a few words about the tragic events that we’ve watched unfold in France over the last several hours and days.  And because events have been fast-moving this morning, I wanted to make sure to comment on them. [Read more…]

Gov. Haslam announces Insure Tennessee plan

Governor Bill Haslam

Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE—Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam this month unveiled his Insure Tennessee plan, a two-year pilot program to provide health care coverage to Tennesseans who currently don’t have access to health insurance or have limited options. The program rewards healthy behaviors, prepares members to transition to private coverage, promotes personal responsibility, and incentivizes choosing preventative and routine care instead of unnecessary use of emergency rooms, a press release said.

The governor announced that he plans to call a special session to focus on the proposal after the 109th General Assembly convenes in January.

“We made the decision in Tennessee nearly two years ago not to expand traditional Medicaid,” Haslam said in the press release. “This is an alternative approach that forges a different path and is a unique Tennessee solution. This plan leverages federal dollars to provide health care coverage to more Tennesseans, to give people a choice in their coverage, and to address the cost of health care, better health outcomes, and personal responsibility. [Read more…]

UT study: Percentage of uninsured in Tennessee at its lowest in a decade

KNOXVILLE—The percentage of uninsured Tennesseans is at its lowest rate in a decade, according to a report released Monday by the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The report shows that 7.2 percent of Tennessee’s 6.5 million residents are uninsured, a 25 percent decrease from last year. The report also shows that 2.4 percent of children in the state are without insurance, a 35 percent decrease from last year.

The findings are included in “The Impact of TennCare: A Survey of Recipients 2014,” prepared by UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research, or CBER. The report’s authors are Angela Thacker, CBER research associate, and LeAnn Luna, CBER associate professor.

The declines coincide with the establishment of the Health Insurance Marketplace, which was put into place in early 2014 through the Affordable Care Act. The act also has had an impact on the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, which has experienced the third highest new enrollment in its 20-year history. [Read more…]

Supreme Court justices campaign to stay on bench

Tom Beehan and Gary Wade

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, right, talks to reporters during a campaign stop at Razzleberry’s Ice Cream Lab and Kitchen on Thursday. Also pictured is Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan.


In most elections, voters don’t pay much attention to the retention elections for judges.

This year, though, the decision on whether to keep three of the five Tennessee Supreme Court justices on the bench is one of the most closely watched races in the state. More than $1 million has already been spent.

The three judges facing retention elections this Thursday—Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark—were in Oak Ridge last Thursday trying to convince local voters to let them keep their jobs for another eight years.

Appointed by former Governor Phil Bredesen, the justices said they’re fighting out-of-state money and inaccurate portrayals of their work. They’re battling back against what they consider an attempt to introduce partisan politics into the courtroom.

“Partisan politics has no role in courts of law,” Wade said.

“We want to preserve fair and impartial courts,” Lee said. “When you put politics in the courtroom, you push the Constitution out.” [Read more…]

Fleischmann touts record, Appropriations seat; Wamp willing to work across aisle

U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann

Chuck Fleischmann

They’ve battled over negative ads, political endorsements, special interest money, and the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, the two-term incumbent, touts his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and, important to Oak Ridge, the Energy and Water Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, Weston Wamp, his challenger, has suggested a willingness to work across party lines to “move the country forward.”

The two men face off in a in two-man battle in the Republican primary on Thursday. It’s in part a rematch of the three-man GOP primary in Tennessee’s Third District in 2012, when Wamp and Scotty Mayfield lost to Fleischmann. [Read more…]

In final vote, City Council again rejects tax increase for schools

Oak Ridge City Council Budget Meeting

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday again said “no” to a property tax rate increase to give more money to Oak Ridge Schools. Council is pictured above during a June 9 budget meeting.


Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. June 17.

Two last-minute attempts to pass smaller-than-requested tax increases for the Oak Ridge Schools failed on Monday, and the City Council voted 4-2 to approve a budget that does not raise taxes in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The decision to not raise taxes for the seventh year in a row came after a parade of residents in two meetings this month asked Council to fully fund the schools. Many said they moved here because of the schools, and they said the educational system is Oak Ridge’s primary asset. School teachers, administrators, and school board members also said they support a greater investment in the schools.

“Flatline budgets will eventually produce flatline results,” said Steve Reddick, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Jefferson Middle School and co-president of the Oak Ridge Education Association.

The schools had requested $17.9 million from the city, but the no-tax-increase budget lowered that amount to $14.6 million. School officials had previously said they will have to “go back to the drawing board” and make cuts if Council did not approve the tax rate increase. It’s not clear yet what cuts might be made. The Oak Ridge Board of Education could discuss changes to the school system’s budget, which was approved in May, during a Monday evening meeting.

[Read more…]

In budget talks, school board considers smaller rollout of technology initiative

Oak Ridge Board of Education

The Oak Ridge Board of Education asked for a smaller rollout of a technology initiative in budget talks that will resume Wednesday evening. (File photo)

The Oak Ridge school board devoted most of its Tuesday night meeting to reviewing the proposed budget for next year, but members haven’t voted on it yet. Instead, the board has asked school administrators to bring back a budget that has a smaller rollout of a technology initiative known as 1:1, and the discussions will resume Wednesday evening.

The board agreed that the 1:1 integration is necessary, but they had reservations about how exactly to roll out the electronic devices to students. Several board members said they support the addition of the new technology, but they are unable to completely stand behind the changes because of the costs.

Board members spent nearly two hours going through expenditures Tuesday and discussing the changes they thought were needed before they would feel comfortable sending the budget to the Oak Ridge City Council.

“It includes some things that I’m not sure I’m ready to support,” said board member Jenny Richter. She suggested implementing a rollout among a smaller number of students at first so that “we can learn from our own experience and meet the whole thing halfway.” She said she could support the budget with modifications to the technology initiative. [Read more…]

If elected, Wamp could become youngest member of Congress

Weston Wamp and Verrner Anderson

Weston Wamp, right, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, talks to Verner Anderson, who volunteered for the first campaign of Wamp’s father, Zach Wamp, in 1994.

If elected this year, Weston Wamp could become the youngest member of Congress. The Chattanooga Republican turns 27 this month.

If elected, he would return the East Tennessee seat to a member of the Wamp family. His father, Zach Wamp, held the seat for 16 years, from 1994-2010.

Wamp tried to unseat the incumbent, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, once before, in 2012. He wasn’t successful. Now, he’s trying again.

“Tennessee’s Third District deserves better representation,” Wamp said during a recent interview in Oak Ridge. “At the very least, they deserve a choice at the ballot box.”

Wamp suggested Fleischmann’s record could hurt the two-term congressman. Wamp said many federal employees and U.S. Department of Energy contractors are not pleased with Fleischmann’s performance, especially after a high-profile budget vote that led to a partial government shutdown in October. [Read more…]

Schools consider revised outsourcing proposal for substitute teachers

Oak Ridge Board of Education

An outsourcing proposal strongly opposed by teaching assistants last month has since been revised to include only substitute teachers at Oak Ridge Schools. It will be considered by the Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday.

An outsourcing proposal strongly opposed by teaching assistants last month has since been revised to include only substitute teachers at Oak Ridge Schools.

The new proposal to use Professional Educational Services LLC, or PESG, of Nashville, to provide substitute teachers will be considered by the Oak Ridge Board of Education during a Monday evening meeting.

The outsourcing proposal began as an attempt to help the school system comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act and to avoid potentially large fines of up to $1.2 million for errors that might be made in following the new federal health care law. [Read more…]

TAs unite in opposition to outsourcing proposal as schools consider changes

Oak Ridge TA Outsourcing Teachers and Parents

Stacey Callison, left, says teaching assistants play important roles in the education of her children, and she thinks Oak Ridge Schools should seek another solution before outsourcing their jobs.

Note: This story was last updated at 12 a.m.

Teaching assistants have been united, and sometimes fierce, in their opposition to a proposal to outsource their jobs to a private company, and on Monday, Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers said administrators might have to “go back to the drawing board.”

The outsourcing proposal began as an attempt to help the school system comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act and to avoid potentially large fines of up to $1.2 million for errors that might be made in following the new federal health care law.

But in the second half of a 3.5-hour school board meeting on Monday, teachers, teaching assistants, family members, and parents said the TAs would be concerned about their health care and retirement benefits if they were to become employees of PESG of Nashville. The 10 speakers also questioned the benefits of outsourcing in general, and they praised the work of Oak Ridge’s teaching assistants. [Read more…]

Oak Ridge TAs concerned about outsourcing proposal

Christopher J. Marczak

Christopher J. Marczak

Note: This story was last updated at 7:28 p.m. Feb. 24.

Teaching assistants reacted with concern and indignation last week to a proposal to have a Michigan-based company provide substitute teachers, teaching assistants, and paraprofessionals to Oak Ridge Schools.

Chris Marczak, Oak Ridge Schools assistant superintendent, said the proposal to hire Professional Educational Services LLC, or PESG, would allow current employees to keep their jobs, save money, and help the school system comply with the reporting requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act. Marczak said there would be a negligible impact on TAs.

“The only thing that’s going to change is the name of your employer,” he said during a 2.5-hour meeting with teaching assistants and others on Thursday.

But teaching assistants are concerned about their future employment and benefits, including health insurance and retirement. Some said they hadn’t received adequate notice of the proposed change and aren’t being treated with the respect they deserve after years of working for Oak Ridge Schools. Marczak said school administrators, including the human resources department, took notes during the meeting and will respond to the staff’s concerns. [Read more…]