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Publisher’s Position: A Case of the Quivers

By Steve Hunley, Publisher

Superintendent of Schools Dr. James P. McIntyre is beginning to promote his “State of the Schools” address.  This has become an annual event and not only promotes McIntyre, but helps to set the table for the expected request for more money for the school system.  Last year, McIntyre unveiled his new vision for the future of education which would have required an increase of at least 35 cents in the property tax rate.  You can bet your boots when the Superintendent brings out his budget there will be plenty of school-speak rhetoric and yet another request for a hefty hike in taxes.

Of course the Superintendent will maintain that he’s not asking for a tax increase; he’s merely asking the Mayor and the County Commission for new money.  It is the responsibility of the Mayor and local legislative body to actually find the money he wants.  McIntyre’s logic is it matters little to him where the Mayor and Commission find the money he wants, so long as they find it.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anything left to find between the sofa cushions.

McIntyre has a devoted band of good government types who positively quiver with his every utterance.  One can expect The Knoxville News-Sentinel to righteously thunder in daily editorials about the need to support education; the Save Our School folks will freshly launder their faded yellow tee shirts yet again and deliriously declaim that one cannot put a price tag on children.  The Chamber of Commerce, lacking any real accomplishments or direction, will summon a few local millionaires to put up some more money to sponsor television and radio ads to convince us to part with more of our hard earned money.  Several of the Board of Education members will remind us whatever tax increase McIntyre proposes would really only amount to the cost of a Coca-Cola per day.  All of it sounds familiar because it’s precisely what happened last year and yet not a single member of the County Commission made a motion to increase taxes.

To be fair, there was considerable talk about just how to raise taxes, what taxes to raise and then Commission Chairman Mike Hammond publicly pondered the advisability of a combination of increased sales and property taxes.  The reaction of the local citizenry was outrage, a reaction that surprised no one except McIntyre and his allies.  While most of the Board of Education seems to be slow to learn any new trick, Lynn Fugate did seem to understand that the budget fiasco last year was bad for Dr. McIntyre.  She acknowledged as much in a Board meeting where she stressed that the budget needed to be the Board’s budget, rather than McIntyre’s budget, as otherwise it made him a “lightning rod.”  Fugate was entirely right and when McIntyre asks for yet another tax increase this year it will be even worse.  Nobody will be fooled into thinking the various members of the Board of Education remotely had a hand in crafting the budget the Superintendent will be touting.

Over the next several months, it will be surprising if the school system doesn’t see a decline in both state and federal funding and don’t be surprised if the school folks think they can make up the difference from your pocketbook.  There will also likely be significant changes in Nashville this year and observers think there is a very good chance the General Assembly will authorize legislation to allow localities to elect the Superintendent of Schools.  Also expect legislation to pass making it easier to form charter schools.

Of course Dr. McIntyre isn’t likely considering any of these possibilities, much less actually planning for them; he is very quick to say he isn’t a politician and it shows.  Like it or not, running the schools and acquiring funding from the Commission is a political process.  That would likely explain much of McIntyre’s lack of success in acquiring new money for the school system.  Board member Mike McMillan pointed out in his evaluation last year that the school system wouldn’t have gotten a dime more or less regardless of who was Superintendent and that is true.

The labyrinth one has to run where the General Assembly is concerned is equally political and despite McIntyre’s ability to cause his supporters to quiver with delight, the results from his reign don’t merit the huge tax increases he insists are necessary.  If indeed the General Assembly allows localities to choose whether or not to elect the Superintendent of Schools, it will immediately become a huge issue locally and will be featured prominently in just about every campaign.  The quiverers are counting on Governor Bill Haslam to veto any bill giving the locals a choice; just why the governor would veto a bill allowing local communities to decide for themselves is anybody’s guess, but it is entirely possible the heavy majority of Republican legislators would override the governor’s veto.

Looking into the future is enough to cause the quiverers to cease quivering and start shaking.

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