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Archives 05-03-2011

News

Police raid University St. residence after cocaine buys
Overcrowding brings talk of school zoning, junior high
Storms, rain leave aftermath across county

Police raid University St. residence after cocaine buys

Dale Welch/Hilltop Express photo
Livingston Police Department SWAT team members prepare to raid a residence on East University Street after an undercover investigation by LPD and Monterey Police Department where police bought approximately $3,000 worth of cocaine from individuals connected to the home.

By Lyndon Johnson,
OCN staff

Livingston and Monterey police departments conducted a raid on two residences on University Street in Livingston Thursday afternoon, April 28, after police allege they bought approximately $3,000 in cocaine from Hispanic individuals in Livingston and Monterey recently.

According to Livingston Police Chief Greg Etheredge, authorities raided 301 and 303 East University Street Thursday afternoon just before 5 p.m. He said LPD SWAT officers used a “flash bang” explosive device to subdue occupants of the residences before entering.

“We conducted surveillance and did some undercover buys in Livingston and Monterey,” Etheredge said. “Based on our investigation, we believe the cocaine was being stored and transported for resale at the residence.”

The residence was located just two doors down from the Overton County Courthouse Annex, where the local Tennessee Highway Patrol and District Attorney’s offices are located. It was also within sight of A.H. Roberts Elementary School’s playground.

Etheredge said that “more than a dozen” suspects were being investigated as of press time. He said authorities are still working to determine who the suspects actually are because they may be illegal immigrants who are using assumed names.

“When we started writing it (the warrant), we couldn’t identify their names because we couldn’t go up and talk to them,” Etheredge said.

He said authorities attempted to get names from the registration information of the cars the suspects were driving, but that investigators found out after the search warrant was executed that the names on the registration documentation were names of individuals who had possibly been deported “months ago.”

Etheredge said LPD and residents of the area had concerns about the two adjacent residences as early as 2009, and officers were finally able to connect undercover cocaine deals to the residences in recent weeks.

According to reports from Monterey’s Hilltop Express newspaper, Livingston SWAT officers were first to enter the residence, rounding up two suspects and bringing them outside for questioning. The newspaper reported that at the same time officers were executing the search warrant at the University Street residence, Monterey police officers stopped the individual they had bought cocaine from on Highway 84 just outside Livingston. The report said that suspect was one of the suspects involved in the seizure of half a kilo of cocaine by Monterey authorities late last year that was said to be gang-related.

Though the case was still under investigation and Etheredge did not yet have a conclusive list of items found and seized in the residences, he said officers found an unspecified quantity of cocaine, an unspecified quantity of marijuana, $3,000 to $4,000 in cash, and a cell phone with a picture of a large quantity of what appeared to be cocaine and cash in its photo album.

The Hilltop Express reported six vehicles were seized in the raid, including a truck with a Spanish phrase that translated as “It’s not much, but it’s paid for” in the back window.

Etheredge said charges will be filed at a later date for the suspects. The Hilltop Express reported the individuals may be taken before the Putnam and Overton County grand juries at a later date.

“We’re not picking at them because they’re Hispanics and probably illegal,” Etheredge noted. “We don’t like cocaine being sold in our jurisdiction.”



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Overcrowding brings talk of school zoning, junior high
By Dewain E. Peek,
OCN staff

An idea long considered taboo by Overton County Board of Education may become the short-term solution to overcrowding at Rickman Elementary School. “Zoning” is being brought into the forefront of the conversation as the School Board and the County Commission work on the problem.

Crowding at Rickman Elementary School and at Livingston Academy has once again pushed Overton County Board of Education to create more room. Knowing that Overton County Legislative Body will likely have to be involved in the funding of any building plan, the School Board has asked for input from the County Commission. That input has brought up two controversial possibilities, one that appears to be gaining consideration by the school system, despite being spoken only in whispers in the past, and another that the two entities appear to be in fundamental disagreement.

Overton County Mayor Ron Cyrus said redistricting, meaning zoning, is necessary in alleviating the crowding at Rickman.

“I think redistricting would fix it,” he said in an interview with OCN last week. “That’s a word that the school board absolutely hates to talk about. In the times that we’re in, we need to look at things in an economical way.

“We can either redistrict the school system and have the children go where they’re supposed to go within their community, or we can piecemeal together and cobble together a few rooms here and a few rooms there. Does that fix the problem? It may fix it for a year or so, but a year from now or two years from now we’re going to come down this same road. We’re going to still owe for what we’ve just cobbled together, and yet we’re still going to have the problem three years down the road.”

In a School Board work session held April 18, School Board member Ray Smith asked how big Rickman School should be before it is too big, talking about how many more students Rickman has in comparison to other schools in the county.

Last year, A.H. Roberts Elementary had 532 students, Livingston Middle School had 436, and Rickman had 710. The next largest elementary was Allons at 309. This year, Rickman was up to 741, according to Cyrus, while A.H. Roberts was down to 513.

In a separate interview with OCN last week, Overton County Director of Schools Matt Eldridge said the trend in recent years is that the county’s schools have been losing students.

“Everyone’s lost in the last five years, except Hilham’s gained students and Rickman’s gained students. A.H., Livingston, Allons have all lost. Wilson’s maintained. Everyone else has lost.”

As for how big an elementary school should be, Director Eldridge said the state does not have a recommended size for elementary schools.

“As a whole, I think everyone likes a smaller school, truthfully,” he said.
Eldridge said that the state does have requirements for class sizes.

Kindergarten through third grade is limited to 25 students per class, and cannot average more than 20 for the grade level.

“When you move up, 4th through 6th, it goes up 5,” he said. “You can’t have over 30 in a classroom, and the average can’t be over 25. You move up 7th through high school, it moves up 5 more.

“We’re in better shape than that right now.”
In the case of running out of room, the state calls for team -teaching, sharing a classroom.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” Director Eldridge said. “Now, we’re not having to do that anywhere.”

In Tennessee, parents are allowed to register their children in any school in the county if they choose to drive the child to that school. This practice has been questioned as possibly exacerbating the problem at Rickman. In recent work sessions, some School Board members have talked about so-called “soft zoning”, which would limit this option.

In soft zoning, the school system would determine which students live in the immediate area of the school and once those students are placed, then students from outside that area would be allowed to attend that school. If the school had no openings left, then students from outside the area would have to attend a different school.

“Let’s say, we’ve got a child that wants to go to Allons, we don’t live in that area, if there’s room at that school, they’re allowed to go, if there’s no room, they can’t go,” Director Eldridge said.

Zoning would also allow for changing bus routes as needed to take students in fringe areas to the school that has more room.

Eldridge isn’t sure zoning would help because so many students are being driven to schools outside of their home communities.

“It may be a wash,” he said. “It’s all over the county right now.”

To assist the School Board in its decision on a plan of action, Director Eldridge is gathering information to gauge the areas of classroom needs for next year.

“Enrollment, right now, in our early grades, in the pre-Ks, the kindergartens, the first grades, are kind of down in the county. So, what they wanted us to do, is we always send out a pre-registration letter to see
what our enrollment is,” he said in reference to a joint meeting of the School Board and Overton County Legislative Body’s Education Committee, which was held Monday, April 25.

“The suggestion was, if we have less students at those schools, they may be able to get by another year.

“I’m going to get the pre-registration out, see where our numbers are, and see what our enrollment will be at these schools next year. We have several that’s going to be down.

“All of our kindergarten classes for the upcoming year, so far, are down countywide. Every school, they’re down in numbers. I don’t know why.”
The other controversial solution is one Mayor Cyrus believes strongly in – a junior high school.

“I’m not looking at education, just tomorrow, I think it needs to be looked at 15 years down the road,” Cyrus said. “We know where we’re at today, buildingwise, and I think there’s been an ad hoc attempt at trying to resolve the issue of crowding and overcrowding.

“I don’t think we’re financially able to do it at this point in time. But, if we really want to fix the overcrowding in schools, there’s one way to do it, and it will accomplish several things in the process. I think we need to look at a junior high approach to education.”

A junior high, as Mayor Cyrus proposes, would be made up of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, which would free up the 7th and 8th grade classrooms in the elementary schools and would free up the space taken up by freshman classes at Livingston Academy.

“I’ve had a couple of school board members say to me, ‘you have to restaff that whole system’,” Cyrus said. “You don’t. You’ve got the teachers already teaching them.”

With students being combined into one school, fewer teachers may be needed in each class level because of the teacher to student ratio required.

As an example, if an elementary school 8th grade class had 36 students,
requiring two teachers at that school, and the other four elementary school 8th grade classes had 28 students each, requiring one teacher each, then if the 8th grades were all combined, instead of six 8th grade teachers, just five would be needed.

“You may cut down on the expense instead of expanding the expense,” Mayor Cyrus said.

According to Cyrus, when he has brought up the subject of a junior high, School Board members have told him that would not go through.

“And I ask them why, and they say, because of basketball,” Cyrus said. “I think that is very narrow-minded. They are so focused in one direction that they can’t think outside the box.”

In building planning meetings held in past years, some School Board members have voiced the worry that members of the community would be irate because a junior high school would take the 7th and 8th grade basketball program out of the elementary schools. The 7th and 8th graders would join 9th graders in representing the team for the junior high school, and they would play against junior high teams of other counties, similar to the present Jr. Wildcats football program, Jr. Lady Wildcats softball program, Jr. Wildcats baseball program, and Jr. Lady Wildcats soccer program. Ostensibly, the best players would begin playing together at an earlier age as a feeder program to the high school.

A junior high school would not affect Bantam basketball.

“If we’re going to fix education in Overton County and keep up with the rest of the people in the state of Tennessee and around the surrounding states, we’re going to have to really look at a different way on how we do education,” Mayor Cyrus said.

“I think there’s more to it than basketball.”

He sees having 7th, 8th, and 9th graders together in a junior high school as a boon to the self esteem of students who are often lost in the shuffle. He said the junior high concept would elevate the 6th graders at the elementary level to being the senior students, and possibly give them more confidence because they are the kids being looked up to in the elementary school, and that it would elevate the 9th graders in the junior high level so they would be the kids being looked up to at their school and should give them more confidence moving into high school with the sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

“It’s an esteem thing,” Mayor Cyrus said. “It helps with the kid’s esteem.”

Director Eldridge has a different view on how to take care of the growing problem at LA, a school that has grown from around 840 students 5 years ago to 925 this year.

“The best thing at the high school would be if they added a few rooms, and you would make that a freshman wing only,” Eldridge said. “What that would do, is take about 300 students out of the hallway immediately.

“That’s usually called a freshman academy. They usually don’t lose as many credits as a freshman that way. Teachers keep up with them more; they’re not thrown right in with the mix of everyone else. It’s usually better for that child, as far as through their studies.

“That is what I think Mrs. Riddle would like to have, and that’s what the Board has talked about some also.”

As for a junior high, Director Eldridge differs from Mayor Cyrus in his belief in its effectiveness and in what grades would constitute a junior high school.

“A lot of these counties that’s had the big junior highs are going away from it,” Eldridge said, pointing out that Avery Trace in Cookeville was made into a junior high school and is now a middle school.

“You throw 900 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders together, a lot of times what you do, is those kids lose an identity, and that’s a very hard age for children.”

He said the age discrepancy of a junior high, with 6th through 8th graders, could cause problems.

“Junior high, I don’t like it,” Director Eldridge said.

By the same token, Mayor Cyrus isn’t sold on a freshman academy.

“It does not solve the problem of the overcrowding in the elementary schools; it’s still going to be required that we either build a school or build onto these schools, which I think is a very poor way to manage the county’s money,” Cyrus said. “If we’re going to be successful in Overton County, our goal needs to go toward a junior high concept. I’m convinced of that.

“And I honestly believe, in the long run, that is going to save us a lot of money. It may cost a little bit more to do it than it will to cobble all these schools together and add a room here and add a room there. By building one school, you will eliminate a lot of the problems that are ongoing now.”
One thing Cyrus hopes can be eliminated in the future is the idea that one school in the county is better than any another school.

“I heard a couple of people say they wanted their kids to go to the best school, they wanted their grandchild to go to the best school,” he said. “We should want all of these schools to be the best schools. We don’t want to just focus on one or two schools. We need to focus on all the schools.”


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Storms, rain leave aftermath across county

Lyndon Johnson photo
Crews from Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation and TDOT work to clear a large tree that fell in the storms Wednesday morning, April 27, blocking Highway 85 between Livingston and Hilham. The road was blocked for more than an hour and sent many commuters down side roads to get around the obstruction. Overton County was placed under a tornado warning by the National Weather Service Wednesday morning at approximately 7 a.m., just before the tree was found laying across the road.

Mac McLeod photo
A creek on Diamond Back Lane on Highland Mountain swells as a result of rains experienced last week. The rains pushed Overton County rainfall totals for April up to 10 inches in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.



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