By Ken Lay

It took less than 30 minutes for the Knox County Board of Education to appoint the district’s new leader.

In a special meeting, the board voted unanimously to offer the position to assistant superintendent Bob Thomas, a veteran educator of more than four decades. The final vote was 9-0 and Thomas, who was passed over for the position in 2008, was chosen over Hamblen County Director of Schools Dale Lynch.

Thomas, who has worked in the Knox County Schools central office for more than 30 years, said that he’s eager to begin his tenure as the county’s next superintendent.

“I’m grateful to the board for selecting me and I was overwhelmed when I found out that the vote was 9-0,” Thomas said. “I appreciate the board very much and I feel honored to have the opportunity to serve our students and our community and the board and our educators and our employees.”

The final vote may have been unanimous but the decision was a tough one according to board members Lynne Fugate and Gloria Deathridge.

“I’ve been on this board when it has been divided,” Fugate said before the vote. “I want to make it perfectly clear that we have two great candidates and I also want to make it perfectly clear that I will support whoever the board selects as the next superintendent.”

Deathridge agreed.

“I did my homework and I went to Hamblen County,” she said. “Mr. Lynch has done some wonderful things in Hamblen County.

“He would be a good superintendent for Knox County, but I don’t think he appears to have the support that he needs to succeed here.”

Thomas was offered the job but he must work out a contract with board chairperson Patti Bounds and the county law department to negotiate the terms of his deal, which include his salary and length of his contract.

Board co-chairperson Amber Rountree, who chaired the search committee, said she was looking for Thomas to serve a two-year term and added that his annual salary would range between $200,000 and $240,000.

“We have a [salary] range and I would like to see a two-year contract,” she said. “I’m happy that we selected Bob Thomas. I’m happy that this marathon is over.

“I think a big difference is that he’s here and he has some good ideas and he can hit the ground running.”

Rountree said that she hopes that the contract will be settled in time for the board’s next work session meeting in early-April.

During the interview process, Thomas said that he hopes to promote teacher empowerment and student achievement. He also pledged to continue to eliminate educational disparities.

“My priorities are student achievement and teacher empowerment,” Thomas said. “We have to get our students ready for college, And for those, who don’t go to college, we need to get them ready for work. I want to eliminate the educational disparities.

“We want to provide the best opportunities we can for all our students, and that speaks to the academic side and also the career-ready side.

Interim superintendent Buzz Thomas is looking for a smooth transition and noted that he’s hoping that will be complete by May 1 after that, Buzz Thomas plans to return to his previous position as head of the Great Schools Partnership.

Bob Thomas, a lifelong educator, said he expects to have a contract quickly.

“I feel like I’ll be pretty easy to work with,” he said. “I feel like I have a good relationship with the Knox County Education Association.

“I’m just eager to get started. I’ll work with the board in whatever fashion they want me to work with them to make the transition as smooth and as quickly as they want to make it.”

Bob Thomas was endorsed by KCEA President Lauren Hopson before the board voted.