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Haslam stumps at Chamber breakfast

Knoxville Mayor and candidate for Tennessee governor Bill Haslam addressed community members at Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast speaker series, Tuesday, Sept. 29.

“Being the next governor will be, I think, the most difficult time to be governor,” Haslam said, largely because the state is returning from a $1.3 billion budget deficit last year.

The long-term solution to state budget problems isn’t stimulus funding or savings account withdrawals, it’s “drastically reshaping government,” Haslam said.

“There aren’t a lot of alternatives besides making hard choices,” he added.

In hard economic times, he said, families and businesses are learning to run economically.

“The only people who aren’t, quite frankly, are governments,” he added.

Since he became Mayor, the City of Knoxville has 25 percent less debt and a 300 percent increase in savings, Haslam said.

In a state with a budget largely determined by sales tax, the long-term solution involves shaping Tennessee into the No. 1 job market in the southeast.

“We have a lot to sell in Tennessee. … We have so much to sell and highlight,” Haslam said.

Curtis Johnston, Appalachian Business Communications, said he admired that.

“I think if what he’s done in Knoxville is any indication of what he can do at the state level, he can really turn around some of this deficit that we have.

“He’s really proven himself here, and I really think he would be great for a larger population statewide,” Johnston said.

K-12 education also was high on Haslam’s list for reform in state government.

“We have to become not just a little better, but a lot better in K-12 education,” Haslam said.

Tennessee currently ranks 42nd in the nation in educational achievement, he said, adding that when Tennessee set its proficiency standards, it “set the bar as low as it could be.”

Currently, 90 percent of Tennessee students rank proficient according to the state’s own standards. If Tennessee switches to national standards (which it plans to do next year), only 25 percent of those same students, performing at the same level, would rank proficient.

That wake-up call, Haslam said, is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to frankly discuss education.

Mike Such, Junk Bee Gone owner and father of two, asked if restructuring government could involve educational budget cutbacks.

“Don’t cut education and teachers,” Haslam said, adding the K-12 budget should be financially “sacred.”

Farragut Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche asked for more specifics in how to change the status of education in the state.

“In the end, it’s all about getting great classroom teachers,” Haslam said. Accomplishing that could mean allowing professionals to enter the classroom and teach, and establishing truly great principals.

“Studies have shown great teachers stay because of great principals, even more than compensation,” Haslam, pictured above standing, said.

“I think we’ve got a challenge, and I don’t think that money is the solution to everything. I think creativity is more the solution,” Farragut Mayor Ralph McGill said.

Farragut schools, he said, were the top performing schools in Knox County … and the least funded.

“What’s the difference? It’s motivation by parents, parent involvement … [being] engaged in the process,” McGill said.

“We need to be looking at every possible boost you can give from every angle.

“So many politicians seem to think any problem can be solved by throwing money at them, and obviously in education that hasn’t worked,” he added.


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