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Publisher’s Position: Appointed Superintendent Playing Politics

By Steve Hunley

An appointed School Superintendent has a constituency of exactly five, a majority of the nine member Board of Education.  So long as the superintendent can keep five members of the Board happy, he can hang on to the best paying job in local government. In fact, McIntyre makes more than the vice-president of the United States.

Of course all the elitists have always assured us the entire point of appointing a superintendent of schools is to eliminate politics in the school system. Ha! Five seats on the Knox County Board of Education are being hotly contested in the current election and many of the incumbents are under fire for their rubber stamp support of McIntyre and their lackluster records.

Not coincidentally, the school system has been churning out a steady stream of press releases lately and the superintendent has been making appearances at ribbon cuttings and the like as the elections approach.  For instance, the timing of the ribbon cutting for stadium improvements at South-Doyle Middle School is hardly a coincidence and is clearly timed to try and give floundering South Knox Board member Pam Trainor a much-needed boost in her anemic reelection campaign.  And if anyone ever doubted the connection between the Chamber of Commerce and the school administration, one has but to follow the money trail.  According to her financial disclosure, Trainor has received virtually no contributions from her district. Most contributions have come from the Chamber elite. In recent years and continuing into this election, there has been a political trifecta consisting of the school  system administration, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Knoxville News-Sentinel to make sure control of the school system stays where they want it to stay.  Even the PTA has become a political instrument; so much so, it causes one to question the PTA’s existence as a tax-exempt organization.

The current president of the Knox County PTA, Sandra Rowcliffe, is a candidate for the Knox County Board of Education in the Sixth District and did not resign her position in order to run.  Lynne Fugate also  emerged from the PTA. Pam Trainor, too, came from the PTA ranks.  The Knox County PTA has recently been handing out lifetime achievement awards to some of these folks including Trainor like candy on Halloween. I just recently found out that anyone can buy a lifetime achievement award from the PTA for a mere $125 contribution. In fact, I’m beginning to think PTA is actually an acronym for Political Training Academy.  Rowcliffe should have resigned as president of the Knox County PTA the minute she announced that she was a candidate for the Knox County Board of Education.

In a rare exception, the News-Sentinel, while not actually endorsing Rowcliffe, said that she was a good second choice, which should be astonishing.  Just how any publication could promote a candidate who, in the recent past, engaged in a public brawl and maintain its credibility is beyond me.  Does anyone really believe such a candidate is fit to rule on a zero tolerance policy with a straight face?

All of the incumbents running this year have been McIntyre rubber stamps, approving everything the superintendent has wanted passed.  My guess is all of them will approve the budget submitted by McIntyre, which would require a tax increase.  That will be a heavy political burden for those incumbents to carry into a general election.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has made it plain he will not support any budget necessitating a tax increase. The superintendent, as well as every member of the Board except for Mike McMillan, has endorsed budgets that require tax increases.In fact, one such budget two years ago would have necessitated the biggest tax increase in Knox County’s history.  That proposed increase didn’t even get the support of a single County Commissioner when push came to shove. Outraged citizens deluged Commissioners with objections despite the fact the Sentinel editorialized almost daily on behalf of the tax increase and a handful of Chamber millionaires bought $50,000 worth of TV commercials to help sell the tax increase. The superintendent went home empty handed and the Chamber types and the Sentinel muttered darkly about replacing Mayor Burchett, who, incidentally, is running without opposition this year.

Now McIntyre is claiming he wants to give the teachers a raise and thinks he’s being pretty clever.  If the Commission caves and gives the school system the extra money it wants and the teachers get a raise, McIntyre will claim all the credit.  If the Commission refuses to give them the extra money, McIntyre can point to the Commissioners and blame them for being stingy and that he did his best.  McIntyre and his rubber stamp Board are fooling nobody.

Neither McIntyre nor the Board gave a hoot about teachers until educators were so fed up they began publicly criticizing the superintendent and his administration.  The absence of teachers at the Commission meeting to discuss the proposed biggest tax increase in county history was notable for the conspicuous absence of teachers in the audience.  It was a stinging defeat for McIntyre, the Board, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Sentinel.

McIntyre disingenuously claims he is not seeking a tax increase; he’s merely asking for the money to run the school system.  Mayor Burchett retorts that his job is to give the school system what he can and the Board and superintendent have to decide what their priorities are and spend it accordingly.  This is the same superintendent and Board who wasted $1.2 million on an outside survey by the Parthenon Group that was utterly embarrassing and ultimately useless.  That money would have gone a long way to providing raises for teachers.

Hollering “It’s for the children!” doesn’t work anymore; voters have caught on to that old trick.  People saw just how much these folks love children when Board Chair Lynne Fugate wouldn’t even give a student addressing the Board an extra minute to speak.  But then, the young man was being critical of McIntyre and we can’t have that.  When the young man asked for an additional minute, Fugate coldly snapped, “No!”  Apparently Fugate and her cohorts admire young people taking an interest in our system and schools (and after all, schools are supposedly for our children) only if they are supportive of McIntyre.

McIntyre and his Board seem to think they should have more and more taxes to spend each and every year.  Some, like Doug Harris, whine we need to make a “commitment” to education.  They are already spending over half a billion dollars a year and the fact is were we spending a billion dollars a year, we’d still be hearing the very same thing.

For McIntyre and his cronies, this election is about one thing: maintaining a Board that will support the superintendent and let him do as he pleases.  The opposition to the incumbent Board members are from candidates who believe the superintendent should work for the Board and not the other way around.

Pam Trainor has made the comment recently that Board members who ask too many questions haven’t studied the agenda. Were that actually true, she must be the best informed member of the Board and Indya Kincannon has never read an agenda in her life.   Ha!

The Board has followed McIntyre like a blind puppy.  They neither follow their own rules or simply apply them to their opponents.  They have tried to punish Mike McMillan for actually obeying state law.  Most of the Board members, and McIntyre himself, are nothing but a disgrace to this community and it is high time we stopped pretending.

Early voting is underway and Election Day is on May 6.

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