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Gov. Bill Haslam speaks in Nashville on March 11, 2015.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and superintendents of the state's four largest counties said this afternoon said they are committed to discussing short-term and long-term ways to improve student outcomes, including funding.

"Some of those are going to be funding issues," Haslam told reporters following the hour-long closed-door meeting with superintendents from Hamilton, Knox and Shelby counties as well as Metro Nashville.

Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith and the three other superintendents joined Haslam to speak with reporters. The meeting is seen as Haslam's last and best chance of averting a school funding lawsuit by Hamilton County and six other smaller systems, mostly in Southeast Tennessee.

At least three other systems are weighing joining in.

Haslam said "we're going to be proactive about it [improvements] and see what things there are from a funding side that are going to affect better outcomes."

He also said there are "some short-term things we can do, but this is primarily a longer kind of question" to move the state "in a better direction."

It's unclear, however, whether the meeting will avert a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of funding for the Basic Education Program funding formula. Those decisions are in the hands of elected school boards.

Hamilton County's Smith told reporters he was "pleased with today's conversation" and he and fellow superintendents "really appreciated" the governor taking time to discuss problems.

"I think there were some very positive things discussed at the meeting that I intend to take back to my board and discuss," Smith said. "I think anytime we can sit down and have conversations is important. And I think that's what this was for for us in Hamilton County."

The governor said he has tasked his new education commissioner, Candice McQueen,  take the lead in "to go out practively and start having those conversations" with all of the state's 141 superintendents.

Among other things discussed were raising portions of teacher pay covered by the state's Basic Education Program funding formula. Another item under discussion is the formula covering all 12 months of the year for educators and not just ten months.

Superintendent Smith and colleagues said they were encouraged by the meeting.

Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press

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