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By Steve Hunley

Mike McMillan, in spite of repeated attacks from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Chamber of Commerce types and the establishment, is the new Chairman of the Knox County Board of Education.  The new members of the board, John Fugate, Terry Hill, Patti Lou Bounds, and Amber Rountree, all former teachers, supported McMillan.  It was a stunning victory and signaled real change.  Just two and a half months ago, McMillan was a lone voice in the wilderness, almost always on the losing end of 8-1 votes on a board comprised of members loyal to superintendent Jim McIntyre.

The Chamber and Sentinel thought they had it won. Last month, after Lynne Fugate couldn’t muster the votes and announced she had sadly concluded she had become a “divisive” figure, they threw their lot in with Doug “High Tax” Harris.  Chamber types like Mike Edwards and Mike Cohen were whispering darkly if McMillan won, McIntyre would resign and go enlighten another school system.  Talk about an empty threat.

When Harris lost the chairmanship, McIntyre’s expression would have caused folks to think he had been raised on persimmons.  And did “High Tax” Harris ever live up to his name.  He went on a tear about how our taxes are too low.  You got that right.  Our taxes are too low.  Ol’ “High Tax” Harris started comparing our tax rate to those of Nashville and Chattanooga and concluded the school system needs $50 million new dollars.  That’s 50 cents on the property tax rate.  The ONLY public officials you’ll ever hear tell us our tax rate is too low would be board of education members that are McIntyre rubber stamps.  That body has no responsibility for raising the money, just spending it.

And just in case you think the schools are underfunded, keep in mind they have a budget in excess of half a billion tax dollars.

This happened just after the board had been considering a new, supposedly innovative International Baccalaureate Programme  for Bearden Middle School with a price tag of approximately one million dollars.  There were very few specifics because the proposal had just been put before the board less than a week earlier and McIntyre was squalling about how imperative it was to pass it now and promised to “find” the money later.  How can he find a million dollars?  I sure would like to search the sofa in his office, as there must be all kinds of serious spare change beneath the cushions.

McIntyre told the board the public was clamoring for this project.  Folks around Gibbs and Hardin Valley are clamoring for new middle schools, too, so I’m waiting to hear about that any day now.  For you folks who have a need, real or imagined, you need to start clamoring. Maybe McIntyre can find money for your project, too.  We all need to get to clamoring right this minute.

Lynne Fugate, who represents Bearden Middle School where the International Baccalaureate Programme would be implemented, made a nifty little speech and dismissed the notion of not having the money in hand and told the board sometimes one just needed to “make a leap of faith.”

Ms. Fugate is a banker by profession and it occurred to me her bank must have a mighty liberal loan policy.  In fact, I thought you good folks might want to run down to the Smart Bank and get you a Leap of Faith Loan.  You can call Ms. Fugate at Smart Bank and ask her for a Leap of Faith Loan. I’ll be waiting to hear how that works out for you but I won’t be holding my breath.

I wonder if Ms. Fugate is a bit more conservative with her bank’s money than she is yours?