Region’s commissioners eye education
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Sep 12, 2012 | 748 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bradley County hosted representatives of Hamilton, McMinn, Rhea, Meigs and Polk counties during the Tennessee County Commissioners Association Regional meeting Tuesday.

The commissioners came together to receive information about resources and state legislation affecting county governments.

The meeting also provided an opportunity for commissioners to ask questions.

Bradley County Commissioner Terry Caywood asked about changes to the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model for teacher evaluations.

“It’s (the TEAM model) just unrealistic,” the former principal said.

TCCA Executive Director David Conner said legislation revising the evaluation system is in the works, following roundtable discussions with those who have used it.

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock wanted to know if legislation is in the works to solve the issues with funding 911 centers.

Connor said the 911 center issue comes up every few years. Differing rates and division of funding for landlines and cellphones has led to much of the funding going to the state level instead of the local level, and Connor agreed this needs addressing.

The TCCA provides commissioners with information on resources aimed at helping them better serve their counties. Retirement and loan programs that work to get county governments low interest rates were highlighted during the meeting.

Connor presented information about legislation affecting the counties.

“We are seeing many changes in K-12 education in the next few year,” Connor said.

He said charter and virtual schools continue to be options becoming more available through legislation. One county, he said, has partnered with a for-profit company to offer a K-12 virtual school. This virtual school could divert state funding from the counties to this entity, he said.

Vouchers for students who want to attend private school also continue to be studied and discussed.

“Depending on the number of students flowing in and out of your school system, and the money following them to these other programs, that can create some challenges for your school system,” Connor said.

He said legislation is also being discussed that would require all counties to go to a centralized financial management system. This would require every county to adopt the same system even if it already uses a form of centralized financial management. TCCA has been opposed to this legislation. Legislation affecting how special fees can be collected is also in the works.

Also during the meeting, Commissioners heard a presentation by Rosalind Kurita, a former senator and county commissioner, from the state Department of Health on ways they could impact the obesity rate in Tennessee.

“You all have an opportunity to affect what really is an epidemic,” Kurita said.

Tennessee has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation.

She said county commissioners have an opportunity to impact this issue by revitalizing parks, creating walking trails, recycling old bridges into walking areas and turning unused buildings into recreational areas. Kurita said there are grants available for these projects.

Kurita said many companies have begun offering wellness centers because it brings down the cost of health insurance for employees.

Another way the commissioners can make a difference is by requiring subdivisions to include sidewalks in plans. According to Kurita, Colorado has one of the lowest obesity rates in the nation because commissioners will not approve construction of a subdivision without sidewalks.

“We are very quick to say that our kids are obese because they don’t go out and play. Well ... if we say, ‘Go ride your bike.’ If they turn around and shrug and say, ‘Where? Where do I ride my bike? That kind of comes back on us,” Kurita said.

She said local farmers markets can also be assets to a community fighting obesity.