By Steve Hunley
This Wednesday the Knox County Board of Education will vote whether or not to extend the life of the Leadership Academy, the brainchild and refuge of former Superintendent of Schools Jim McIntyre. McIntyre is paid $180,000 annually for teaching three hours per week and while his salary evidently comes from various sources including “private donations”, his supporters claim it is a bargain at the price. More skeptical are Knox County teachers who teach much longer hours for far less money.
Knox County currently spends close to $1 million of taxpayer money for McIntyre to train prospective future principals and assistant principals. Present Superintendent of Schools Bob Thomas said at a recent Board workshop the Leadership Academy has some “merit” as a program and he seems poised to recommend keeping the Leadership Academy, although perhaps scaling it back a bit. Thomas has done his best to ignore the similarity to the scandal in CTE program as nobody seems to be able to find a copy of the agreement between McIntyre and the University of Tennessee. Law Director Bud Armstrong has confirmed he can find no evidence the mysterious agreement was ever reviewed by his office. Armstrong was not the Law Director when the “agreement” was drafted and all that remains in the Law Director’s files is a piece of paper bearing the signatures of Jim McIntyre and Roger Rider, Dean of UT’s College of Health and Human Services. The space for UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s signature remains blank to this day.
East Knox County Board member Mike McMillan has been especially critical about the lost agreement between UT and the Knox County School system. “I fail to see how we authorize a ‘new’ agreement when we don’t have an ‘old’ agreement,” McMillan said. “I find it odd nobody in the school system even seems disturbed by that fact.”
Nor does it appear the original agreement ever went before the Board of Education to be ratified, much less sent across the street for what would have been a pro forma approval by the County Commission. While the approval might have been pro forma, it was still required by state law. One point of contention is McIntyre’s long-held assertion the Board of Education had ceded him much of its own authority. Mike McMillan has asked for a state Attorney General’s opinion as to whether a Board may turn over its legislative functions and powers to a superintendent.
Much of Jim McIntyre’s fall as superintendent of schools came as a result of his ego and arrogance. Whenever he was challenged, McIntyre had a habit of simply dismissing another opinion by saying he “disagreed,” even if it happened to be a legal opinion. McIntyre was no more a lawyer than he was a principal or assistant principal. McMillan says he’s tired of hearing the argument the Board gave up its powers to McIntyre. “I’ve never believed that was either responsible, right or possible,” McMillan said. “I do think it is time to find out if it is legal.”
McMillan was McIntyre’s most persistent critic on the Knox County Board of Education when McIntyre had a solid majority. McMillan was oftentimes the sole dissenting vote in 8-1 decisions by the Board. In time, McIntyre’s rubber stamps began to choose to retire or were defeated in subsequent election cycles as McMillan gained new allies on the Board. McMillan was eventually elected Chairman of the Board, an event which caused McIntyre’s Chamber supporters to rage, the News Sentinel to squall it was the end of the world, and others like Buzz Thomas to privately warn McIntyre would leave. With the last election cycle, McIntyre’s minions on the Board were largely gone or wiped out. Jennifer Owen, Tony Norman, Susan Horn, Terry Hill, Patti Bounds, and Amber Rountree were elected largely because they opposed Jim McIntyre and his policies. Only a couple of months after ramming through yet another extension of his contract as superintendent, McIntyre saw the handwriting on the wall and quit.
McIntyre retired to the nice sinecure at the University of Tennessee and even the Knox County School system can find no data to support the contention the quality of the graduates of McIntyre’s Leadership Academy are any better than anyone else being appointed to serve as a principal or assistant principal. There is even less justification for spending $1 million of taxpayer money annually on a program the school system admits it could do in house. McIntyre’s program is a duplication of a program already in existence for training prospective principals by the State of Tennessee. Basically, what it comes down to is it’s merely a high paying job for Jim McIntyre. It’s enabled McIntyre to remain here, although for years we were warned he would be snapped up in a heartbeat by another school system. That never happened and I’m hardly surprised. I never believed it would.
Considering that most of the current members of the Knox County Board of Education were elected as opponents of McIntyre’s regime, it makes little sense to keep plowing money into a program of questionable success or use. Continuing to fund the Leadership Academy is an admission by the present Board maybe McIntyre wasn’t that bad after all.
If McIntyre is good enough to train future generations of our principals and assistant principals, then he should have stayed on as superintendent. If the Board votes to keep the Leadership Academy in place under McIntyre, they will be sending a chilling message to the entire community and turning their backs on the very people who elected them in the first place.