By Steve Hunley

I’ve always said people think the best tax is one somebody else pays while they derive the benefit. One could use the same logic with several school systems announcing they are filing suit against Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, and the Tennessee Board of Education.


Numbers are beginning to trickle in as the result of the suit being filed and it is ridiculous for local board of education members to think the governor can somehow “find” the money. The suit claims Tennessee has underpaid teachers some $532 million; it further claims the state has underfunded classrooms some $134 million. Folks, that’s $666 million… so far.


Look for that figure to escalate and start climbing. Keep in mind this is largely a claim by the big four urban counties in Tennessee. Evidently a lot of folks serving on the local Boards of Education in Shelby, Knox, Davidson, and Hamilton Counties have forgotten about the “small schools” lawsuit that put us where we are. Or perhaps they don’t care. For those members who point out Knox County doesn’t get back as much money as it sends to Nashville, do you suppose California and New York get back as much as they send the federal government. If the big counties got back everything they sent to Nashville, there’d be no state government.


There’s really one reason for this lawsuit: the local Boards of Education can’t force through tax increases with the local legislative bodies to give them more money to spend. As a last resort, they are suing the state to force the General Assembly to raise at the very least, $666 million new dollars, largely to merely hand over to teachers. Knox County schools already spend over half a billion dollars annually, yet you have Board of Education members like Doug “High Tax” Harris who claim the system is “vastly underfunded.” I wonder if he would still think so if the mechanism to collect the $666 million was a $10 tax on each and every pizza sold in the country? (Harris is in the fast food business.)


Look for the price tag to grow, as the small schools will be following the big sharks to take a bite out of the whale as well. Before it’s all said and done, I would be surprised if the price tag is over $2 billion.


Neither Governor Haslam nor the legislature have $2 billion lying around unused; for that matter, they don’t have $666 million lying around unused either. Other programs have been starved because the education folks, along with health care, have been eating up what little natural growth we have had.


I am not saying teachers don’t deserve a raise, but most everyone deserves a raise who works for a living. When was the last time you and your family got a raise? Sure teachers work hard, but most working people do.


One has to make the presumption all the tax dollars expended are necessary and spent wisely and well; at least here in Knox County they are not. Superintendent of School Jim McIntyre has spent the “rainy day” fund down to the point where that’s no longer a viable option any longer. McIntyre has admitted that’s a good thing, as it will cause the school system to manage its money better and be more fiscally responsible. It would have been easier to be fiscally responsible in the first place. McIntyre has taken one-time money and hired dozens of new employees; he has expanded the bureaucracy at every opportunity. Why does the Knox County School system need a chief operating officer and a chief executive officer? We got along without one or the other for decades.


All we hear is test scores are up, yet 77% of graduating Knox County students need remedial courses before they can actually do college level work. Not even 30% of our students graduating from high schools are prepared to either go on to college or get a job.


The people who have compiled this sterling record want more of your money to spend. They are not really suing the governor and the legislature, they are suing YOU.


I thought school board members were elected to represent the people who elected them. In this instance they are certainly not putting the people who elected them first. I hope you are already reaching for the phone to call your own member of the Knox County Board of Education and let them know what you feel about this issue.


Suing the people who fund you is a horrible idea and will not turn out well for public school systems across the state.