By Steve Hunley
When Jim McIntyre was at the peak of his power —and he lorded over the Knox County school system like a Byzantine emperor—few members of the board of education lauded or more steadfastly supported McIntyre than did Doug Harris. A wealthy businessman with close ties to the Chamber of Commerce crowd, Harris supported McIntyre in his attempt to impose the largest property tax increase in Knox County’s history on the public. “High Tax” Harris warned those of us who thought less of McIntyre’s abilities not to offend the superintendent for fear McIntyre might be lured away by another school system. That was a continued refrain of the Harris siren song about Jim McIntyre: we had to be kind to and supportive of McIntyre lest another school system offer him much more money—and he already was paid more than the Vice President of the United States at the time—to superintend somewhere else. That same song and dance was repeated by Great Schools Partnership leader Buzz Thomas who proclaimed McIntyre was one of the best school superintendents in the country. As it happened, apparently no other school system was breaking down the doors to carry McIntyre off when he abruptly resigned, only a month or so after having the then existing board of education renew his contract only to announce his resignation after new board members were elected, citing that the local atmosphere was toxic. It was a toxicity bred by McIntyre himself and abetted by a rubber stamp board of which Doug Harris was a member.
Now Harris is back trying to reconfigure the board of education in the upcoming election by recruiting and/or supporting candidates that would change everything that has been accomplished post-McIntyre. Why would he want to reconstitute the present school board? Very likely because he thinks the current board of education is too good to school employees and the people who elected them.
Harris himself chose not to run again four years ago, quite likely because he knew he probably could not be reelected. Many of the pro-McIntyre members of the board opted to retire rather than face defeat. Karen Carson, one of the more vocal and persistent supporters of Jim McIntyre, ran for the state legislature in a Republican primary with the open support of then-governor Bill Haslam and lost badly. Harris was succeeded on the Knox County Board of Education by Tony Norman, a former teacher with a broader perspective. Norman had served two terms on the Knox County Commission and had distinguished himself as a true representative of the people. It was the election of Tony Norman and others, including Mike McMillan earlier, that sealed the fate of Jim McIntyre who saw his reign come to an end. McIntyre no longer had a majority on the board and could not rule like an autocrat any longer. Instead, McIntyre found a golden parachute at the University of Tennessee to run the Leadership Academy that he had founded while he was superintendent. He had the sole authority to appoint and promote school principals and assistant principals within Knox County schools. McIntyre started this academy to handpick those to attend that he wished to appoint. Knox County schools predictably grew with principals like the poppy fields of Turkey. The number of assistant principals grew faster than Topsy, costing taxpayers millions with little appreciable positive results.
Ole “High Tax” Harris isn’t against corporate welfare or much of anything he believes benefits business and is likely still all for raising property and sales taxes and an imperial superintendent. “High Tax” and his friends wouldn’t mind a bit in the world in flipping the school board and installing Jim McIntyre or, if they have smartened up a bit, somebody with better people skills as McIntyre 2.0.
The bottom line is this: the school system has improved dramatically under the current board and the new superintendent, Bob Thomas. Employee morale is great. School construction projects have been completed or are on schedule. Sound fiscal management has returned. There have been no tax increases over the last several years.
Why in the world would we want to flip the school board and return to a dictatorial and tax and spend school board and superintendent?
This is the big question that voters will have to ask themselves in the upcoming election. Do we want to continue the great progress made after McIntyre over the past several years or return to a rubber stamp school board and a “my way or the highway” superintendent?
There are four school board seats up for re-election on March 3rd: Jennifer Owen in the Second District, Tony Norman in the Third District, Susan Horn in the Fifth District (no opponent), and Mike McMillan in the Eighth District. Owen, Norman and McMillan all have opponents that have been recruited and/or supported by Doug Harris and the old McIntyre crowd.
The choice for the direction that we will take rests solely with We The People.
Let’s hope that we, the voters of Knox County, will make the right choices in the upcoming election.