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By Steve Hunley

Most folks are aware that the Knox County Board of Education has been dithering about whether or not to sue the State of Tennessee, along with the three other big urban counties – – – Shelby, Davidson, and Hamilton. Shelby and Hamilton have apparently already voted to sue the state over the distribution of BEP (Basic Education Program) funds. They want more money, which I’m sure does not surprise you. I know it did not shock me.

School Board Chairman Mike McMillan pointed out when the idea was first discussed, he didn’t think much of it. McMillan also was quick to point out, in essence, the Board would be using your tax dollars to sue the legislature to force the General Assembly to raise your taxes. Some of the Board members exclaimed horror of that idea and said they believed if they threatened to sue, perhaps the state could “find” an extra $20, $50, or $100 million lying around for them to spend.

All of us know where government “finds” money: our pocketbooks.

Now it turns out Governor Bill Haslam is none too happy about the idea of being sued. Superintendent of schools Jim McIntyre has, at the very least, been quietly pushing along the idea of suing the state. Evidently McIntyre has finally figured out neither Mayor Tim Burchett nor the County Commission are going to give him more money to spend. McIntyre is facing a significant shortfall this year and the 4% raise provided by Governor Haslam is going to amount to much less once its spread across all of the certified personnel. As noted in a previous editorial, Knox County has roughly 60% more certified personnel than the State of Tennessee will pay for. There’s going to be hardly any butter on that particular slice of bread.

The point is, McIntyre needs to find some ready cash and in a mighty big hurry. So, he came up with the idea of suing the state government. In fact, the Board of Education spent some $37,500 of your tax dollars to join an outfit called “CLASS” that has been encouraging school boards to sue their respective state to squeeze out more money. And, of course, the taxpayers pick up the tab for McIntyre to travel about the country to attend these important CLASS meetings. There’s enough butter on that particular slice of bread to smother a cow.

A lot of these school systems are going to start poor mouthing and telling us how much the children are suffering. What they are NOT going to tell you is information like I said before that Knox County employs fully 60% more certified personnel than what the State of Tennessee requires. McIntyre isn’t going to brag about hiring a host of “teaching coaches” with one-time money and folding it into the budget so it becomes an annual expense. McIntyre is constantly promoting some new pet project as the next big thing, although he doesn’t usually have the money necessary to implement it in hand. He just seemed to create more and more programs and levels of bureaucracy. One such example is the recent proposal to change to a balanced calendar, which is, in East Tennessee-speak, Year Round School. McIntyre hasn’t even bothered to estimate the price tag for that.

Nobody did more to bring Jim McIntyre to Knoxville than the Haslam family and now, despite what he might say, McIntyre has been encouraging his Board to sue the governor. Talk about biting the hand that picked you!

Jesse Register, the Director of the Davidson County school system, flat out told his own Board suing the state was a very bad idea. Obviously, Jesse Register is as smart as Jim McIntyre thinks he is.

If the large urban school districts are successful in their suit, the small school systems will be right behind them and the price tag will soon become gargantuan. So will the tax bill. For the moment, we’ll just forget about the notion people like McIntyre are counting on appointed judges to make decisions that belong to our rightfully elected representatives.

Bill Haslam doesn’t want to be remembered as the biggest tax and spend governor in Tennessee’s history. If the large urban school districts are successful in their law suits, it will mean the General Assembly won’t have money to fund much of anything else and finding more money will be but a fond memory. So will Haslam’s political future.

Evidently Jim McIntyre never really thought his lawsuit scenario through; the governor isn’t at all happy about this nor do I blame him. McIntyre seemed to think suing the legislature was a mighty fine idea, but I’m wondering if they taught civics in Boston Public. It didn’t seem to occur to McIntyre he’d have to sue the governor as well. It’s the governor who formulates the budget and the legislature rarely does much more than tinker with it slightly and pass it. McIntyre is going to have to try and find a way to blame this mess on his Board without finding himself in Governor Haslam’s doghouse.

So will Board member Tracy Sanger, who got something like over $50,000 in campaign contributions from the Haslam family and friends, support suing the governor and state legislature? Her husband is a pilot employed by the Haslam family business. It will be interesting to see if she’s a biter, too.

My little Jack Russell terrier, Opie Hunley, has never once even offered to bite me. But then, Jim McIntyre is more like a ferret than a dog. The dog is, in my opinion, God’s most noble creature. Ferrets, twist and turn, squirm, get into all sorts of things they shouldn’t.

Billy, you should have picked a dog instead of a ferret. Dogs are a lot more loyal.