Commission refuses to ‘cure’ Broad contract

By Mike Steely

By a 9-1 vote the Knox County Commission refused to “cure” Knox County School Superintendent James McIntyre’s unapproved acceptance of a $29,700 grant from The Broad Center for Management of School Systems. The Superintendent received the grant last year but did not get approval from the Board of Education.

The grant came with a requirement for matching funds of $60,300 plus an additional $30,000 in benefits and taxes for a Broad Residency program and he hired a Broad graduate to become part of the school’s central office. When the public became aware of the money being spent without a vote by either the board of education or the county commission, McIntyre went to the school board, where he got a 5-4 vote to “cure” the contract with a “retroactive” resolution. The resolution had the school board asking the commission to approve the grant agreement that ran from August 15, 2014 until July 30 of this year.

The retroactive resolution came to the commission last Monday and McIntyre was present and received some criticism from the public and the commissioners about his actions regarding the Broad agreement.

Robert Taylor and Jennifer Owens spoke in public forum with Taylor saying the superintendent “bypassed the board of education and the commission” and calling acceptance of the grant money a “class E violation.”

Taylor said the Broad Center allocations by the school board could have funded many teachers and teacher aids and said the funds were “illegal” and taken away from funding classrooms.

Owen said the Broad Center grant and salary for a Broad employee were “hidden for an entire year” and called for McIntyre’s ouster. She suggested that the commission “discuss ouster with the DA,” (District Attorney.)

After Commissioner Bob Thomas said he wasn’t “in favor of clearing up another problem” for the school board, Commissioner Randy Smith asked McIntyre if hiring the Broad employee was worth it and the superintendent said the employee is “valuable.” He added that the employee might stay with the system.

Chairman Brad Anders said the county should send the Broad Center’s grant back.

Only Commissioner Sam McKenzie voted to accept the grant, saying the money has already been spent as well as the county’s matching funds. He said “This is just a cleanup.”

“The money was spent before it was approved,” Commissioner Charles Busler said, adding, “We have a responsibility to the voters. Something has to be done.”

“We need to send a message,” Commissioner Mike Brown said.

Smith said the Broad employee has been drawing a salary on “a contract that has not been approved.”

Law Director Bud Armstrong responded to questions and said, “I’ll have to address this with the school board, depending on how you vote, on the potential legal actions.”

How the school board will deal with the rebuttal by the commission is yet to be seen. Whether the District Attorney will be approached to pursue action isn’t known, but the commission wasn’t finished with the school board yet.

Commissioner Jeff Ownby said that 35 more teachers were not renewed at the end of this school year and noted that 44 were not renewed last year. He recalled the February 2014 resolution by the commission granting all county employees, including teachers, the right to speak without fear of losing their jobs.

“Perception is that they were retaliated against,” Ownby said, adding, “It concerns me greatly.”

The commission also voted to add a $5 tax on all Criminal Court, Fourth Circuit Court and Criminal Sessions Court cases. The tax would not be charged to anyone seeking an order of protection and the resolution passed unanimously.