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…]

School board to consider revised budget

The Oak Ridge Board of Education will consider revising the budget it approved in May because, in two meetings this month, the City Council did not approve a 37-cent property tax rate increase that school officials had requested. The rate hike would have helped fund a 2 percent pay raise, hire technology personnel and other staff, comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and start rolling out a technology initiative known as 1:1.

But City Council members wanted to hold the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row, and they passed a budget that does not include a tax increase.

Tonight’s school board meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the School Administration Building at 304 New York Ave. See the agenda here.

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…]

Oak Ridge library offers two dates to enroll in Affordable Care Act

The Oak Ridge Public Library will offer two opportunities for the public to enroll in the Affordable Care Act on Saturday, Feb. 22, and Saturday, March 8, from 2-5:30 p.m.

These events will be held in the auditorium and manned by volunteers who will provide both ACA information and ACA enrollment assistance for those interested in signing up for health insurance under the new ACA Exchanges. Individual computer stations will be available, and volunteers will be on hand to assist as needed. In addition, a Spanish-language translator will also be available.

The official website for enrollment is www.healthcare.gov; this site also contains detailed information about the ACA, and its costs and benefits. [Read more…]