Populists Versus Elitists

By Steve Hunley

I can’t help myself, but I have been thoroughly amused by the uproar about the “side” agreement between the superintendent of schools and the Knox County Board of Education. The Focus was writing about this two and a half years ago. Mike McMillan was the only member of the Board who protested the portions of the agreement even the Knoxville News Sentinel labeled “un-American,” words McMillan used first. Yet, never once did the Sentinel, nor any radio station nor any TV station run the first report about McMillan’s objections to an agreement that stinks to high heaven. Were it not for WBIR reporter Mike Donila, the TV stations would never have gotten it right even at this late date.


For any of those of you who doubt my contention that Jim McIntyre has been protected by much of the local news media, this should make you think. The establishment has plenty of spokespersons in this town. The Sentinel of course; Hallerin Hilton Hill on WIVK radio; and even some of the folks who pretend to be unbiased observers participating on the “talking head” shows, some of whom actually earn their livings as paid lobbyists and certainly don’t bother to disclose their clients while pontificating on politics and current events. Yet, I have an agenda.


The Sentinel recently published an editorial talking about protecting the rights of the minority on the board of education. This is the surest sign the establishment expects to lose control of the board.


Attempts by McIntyre and his pack of pet circus poodles to stifle dissent has been going on for months, if not years. Certainly, Mike McMillan has been McIntyre’s biggest detractor on the Board and many of the votes were 8-1. Yet when did the Sentinel ever once cry out about protecting the minority for the three years Mike McMillan was trampled in the dirt? When did the Sentinel declare its outrage when board chair Lynne Fugate refused to allow a student a single minute more to speak, while allowing pro-McIntyre principals to drone on?


As to settling political scores on the board of education, where was the Sentinel editorial expressing horror when Indya Kincannon attempted to bludgeon Mike McMillan with a bogus ethics complaint for following state law?


Where was the Sentinel’s mighty morals when Karen Carson just happened to find a rule that helped to stifle the voices of teachers?


Only now, that the pro-McIntyre droids appear to be in the minority, does the Sentinel have an acute case of the worries for the rights of the minority.


It was a virtual Declaration of Hypocrisy.


Yet, other voices are beginning to be heard.


The Rude Awakening radio show is making an impact in our community, making Hallerin Hill’s own show seem about as interesting as cold mashed potatoes. In the past, those who have raised their voices to question the establishment elite in this town have been discounted, diminished and ridiculed as malcontents or having some sort of unsavory agenda. This, to put it politely, is just not true. The truth is that the elitists want to do all the picking and choosing while we pay the tab. They are for an appointed superintendent; I am for an elected superintendent. If they had their way, just about every official short of the county mayor would be appointed, precisely because they think they would be able to do the picking. Make no mistake about it, these folks have their own agenda. They simply attribute their own motives and actions as being above reproach. This, to put it politely, is just not true. Jim McIntyre’s record as superintendent is a sorry one. How could any rational person think everything is hunky dory when more than 70% of our teachers say that Knox County is no longer a good place to work or learn? Our preparation rates — those rates that indicate how many of our students are prepared to go on and further their educations or get a job — are truly abysmal at only 21%. McIntyre’s arrogance has poisoned his relationship with Mayor Burchett and the County Commission.


What McIntyre has been good at is a never ending flow of glittering generalities and mighty few specifics. McIntyre spent $1 million for the notorious report from the Parthenon Group, which nobody thinks is worth air in a jug. McIntyre has excelled at spending more and more money and wanting even more to spend. McIntyre has an exemplary record at expanding and creating new layers of bureaucracy; he had hired scores of “coaches”, not for new teachers, but veteran teachers. His strategic plan calls for yet another layer of bureaucracy to do the same thing for veteran principals. Anyone but a pluperfect bureaucrat could have accomplished addressing changes through a series of in-service meetings, but McIntyre prefers hiring full-time employees for this sort of thing.


Of course the elitists have little choice but to support McIntyre to the very last; after all, he was their pick from the beginning and to do otherwise is to admit they just aren’t that good at picking and choosing. These folks like to be horrified by some of the choices made by average voters, but their own track record of picking and choosing is just horrible.


As a populist, I will always put my confidence in “we the people” instead of the self-appointed few.


Change Is Coming

By Steve Hunley


The Knox County Board of Education, as expected, deadlocked while attempting to elect a new Chair. Incumbent Chairwoman Lynne Fugate announced she would not be a candidate for reelection as she had recently come to the conclusion she had become a divisive figure. The allies of superintendent Jim McIntyre rallied behind Doug “High Tax” Harris, while the independents backed Mike McMillan.


The contrast between the two candidates is as wide a gulf as can be.


Harris has loudly advocated more and higher taxes to support the schools. In fact, Harris has repeatedly gone on record as saying the school system should have a virtually unlimited budget. Harris has regularly supported just about anything and everything advocated by McIntyre.


McMillan, on the other hand, has spent most of his three years on the board of education as the lone voice of dissent. McMillan, a former county commissioner, been the champion of teachers on the board and has been critical of McIntyre’s frequently dictatorial approach to running the school system.


Both candidates were asked by board member Karen Carson to elaborate on their respective philosophies. Harris promptly bragged that he enjoyed a warm relationship with McIntyre and could resolve differences “behind closed doors.” The pro-McIntyre crowd seems to agree they can get a lot done behind closed doors. At least three of the four McIntyre acolytes — Lynne Fugate, Gloria Deathridge, and High Tax Harris — have all talked about just how much they can get done outside the public view.


McMillan supports real change.


The “side” agreement between the superintendent and the board that has been roundly condemned by just about everybody was quietly allowed to slip into the background precisely because Mike McMillan refused to go along. Unlike Harris, McMillan believes board members need to be careful stewards of the taxpayer’s money. McMillan will have far more credibility with Mayor Tim Burchett and the county commission; should High Tax Harris become chairman of the board of education, his constant pleas for more and more money will certainly fall on deaf ears for the next four years.


McMillan has said everyone, friend or foe of the superintendent, should be treated alike. McMillan has said he is opposed to making any person, should he or she be parent, student, teacher or citizen, have to navigate a bureaucratic maze before being allowed to speak before the Board.


It is imperative to McIntyre that the chairman of the board be a rubber stamper. It won’t be long before McIntyre is in a serious quandary as much of the money the board has been spending freely at his behest has come from the federal government and is running out. It is only a matter of time before the superintendent and Harris and the rest of that crowd start their warnings about an impending crisis unless the schools receive a lot more of your money. I think Mayor Burchett has the guts to tell McIntyre that the schools, like everybody else, have to live within their means.


High Tax Harris represents more of the same. Mike McMillan will usher in much needed change. The choice should be simple.