By Steve Hunley
Some of you are surely tired of reading editorials about the Knox County School System. Heaven knows I’m tired of writing them, but the sad truth is you’re not going to get the in depth coverage anywhere else. That isn’t the way it should be, but for whatever reason, the local news media just doesn’t want to provide in depth coverage of the School System. Or maybe they simply don’t want to print some things because they are doing their best to try and protect superintendent of schools Jim McIntyre. Attempting to protect McIntyre has become something of an avocation for a few folks in this town, including the majority of the current board of education and Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Tim Burchett has poked fun at some local reporters who cover the board of education, referring to them as “recording secretaries” and that is not only apt, but all too true.
During the Board meeting last week, the members discussed McIntyre’s self-evaluation, as well as their own. Board Chair Lynne Fugate attempted to dispute the assertion the Board of Education has “rubber stamped” McIntyre’s policies and wishes. Fugate declared there were no arguments about policy because they worked out their differences in private. Sometime ago, Board member Gloria Deathridge made a similar comment about doing business “behind closed doors.” After Ms. Fugate’s comment, one can only presume everything is decided in advance of the actual meeting. Is there really any other way to interpret that statement? Most all of the Board members have their questions answered by McIntyre prior to the meeting, they have resolved any differences and are ready to vote. Does anyone really believe the media would tolerate that in either the City Council or the County Commission?
McIntyre is not an elected official, so when he and a Board member meet privately, it is not a violation of the Sunshine law. So, apparently enough Board members and McIntyre meet privately and resolve their differences and present a united front at the actual meetings. Obviously a Board member like Mike McMillan, who dissents, isn’t invited to these private meetings nor are his views solicited or considered.
Even if there is no actual violation of the Sunshine law, the spirit of the law has been positively trampled. In an age where just about everybody screams about transparency in government, especially in the news media, why isn’t the Sentinel chastising McIntyre and his minions? Mayor Burchett has made the comment, as has this paper, that were this to occur on any other legislative body, the News-Sentinel and just about every other media outlet in town would be raising Cain. It is, as the mayor suggests, a double standard and a whopper of one at that.
Apparently Ms. Fugate doesn’t see anything wrong with transacting public business behind closed doors. Keep in mind, the schools spend about two-thirds of every tax dollar collected in Knox County; they spend over half a billion of your tax dollars annually. The “Executive Committee” of the Board of Education is comprised of the Chair and McIntyre. Why is McIntyre even on the Executive Committee? Obama holds no such position with the Congress, nor the governor with the legislature, nor the mayor with the County Commission. Nor should they. McIntyre is an employee of the Board and it would be more proper to have an Executive Committee comprised of three Board members appointed by the full Board. Of course then the meetings would be subject to the press and have to be out in the open. It would not impair McIntyre’s ability to communicate with the Executive Committee; he can make recommendations just as he does to the full Board.
Creating bogus emergencies would be far less likely with an Executive Committee comprised of three sitting members and the public would have to be given an explanation just precisely why something was an actual emergency.
McIntyre pledged in his self-evaluation to work hard to win back the confidence of the teachers, yet his first action – - – and actions really do speak louder than words – - – was to reconstitute the teacher advisory board with his own appointees and forbid audio and video tape at the meetings. Is that supposed to fill the hearts of teachers with joy and confidence? How transparent is that?
Are you buying it? Even if you’re not buying it, you’re paying for it.