Also, Big Turnout for Christina Graham
By Sally Absher
The Board of Education was desperately looking for a way to fix the problems with the Broad Resident Program grant revealed last month, in which a grant award requiring matching funds from the county was neither voted on by the BOE or submitted to the County Commission for approval as required by statute.
They hoped that by retroactively voting to approve the grant award, they could slip it over to Commission for approval, and all would be well. But there are those pesky laws and statutes to contend with. The KCS administration is not used to having BOE members who research issues and ask questions.
In question was the Broad Resident Program grant agreement for the period August 25, 2014 through July 30, 2015 for $29,700 from Broad with matching funds of $60,300 from Knox County.
In last week’s work session, Amber Rountree asked if the Broad Resident’s employment would end as of July 30, 2015, and if so, would KCS pay the full salary of $90,000 plus $30,000 in benefits. Dr. McIntyre said, “Yes, if we decide to continue the employment of the incumbent.”
Patti Bounds asked if the administration was revising Board Policy to follow Tennessee statute. McIntyre said he hoped to bring a draft policy to the BOE in July. She also asked, hypothetically, what happens if the Broad grant is not approved. Law Director Bud Armstrong said that if the grant isn’t approved by Commission, KCS would have to renegotiate with Broad. Possibilities range from making it a non-matching grant, to having to return the money.
During Wednesday’s Regular Board meeting, Amber Rountree urged her fellow Board members to proceed with caution in approving any agreement in an ex facto (after the fact) manner. She said while the Superintendent has said on several occasions that he acted in a good faith effort (honestly, objectively, with no deliberate intent to defraud the other party), she was having a hard time taking that statement at face value because policy DM was drafted after Dr. McIntyre became superintendent of KCS. He has followed policy DM correctly in the past with regard to other matching grants.
She said, “I have some grave concerns about doing my fiduciary duty and approving an agreement in an ex-facto manner. I would like to reiterate that Tennessee Code states that the Superintendent’s first duty is to act for the Board in seeing that the laws relating to the schools and the rules of the state and the local Board of Education are faithfully executed.”
A roll call vote was taken, with the predictable results that Deathridge, Sanger, Harris, Fugate, and Carson voted to approve the Broad grant. Hill, Bounds, Rountree, and McMillan voted no.
Did McIntyre “knowingly and willingly make or cause to be made false statement or report or otherwise violate the requirements of TCA 49-50-1402” by failing to have the BOE approve the grant and failing to send it to the commission?
Several Public Forum speakers think that may be the case. Jennifer Owen presented a detailed analysis of TCA-49-50-14, known as the Education Truth in Reporting and Employee Protection Act of 1989. She said that this act addresses several of the problems we are seeing in KCS:
(a)….It is the intent of the general assembly to reduce the waste & mismanagement of public education funds, to reduce abuses in governmental authority & to prevent illegal & unethical practices.
(b) To help achieve these objectives, the general assembly declares that public education employees should be encouraged to disclose information on actions of LEAs that are not in the public interest … any employee making those disclosures shall not be subject to disciplinary measures, discrimination or harassment by any public official.
Parents and teachers alike spoke in Public Forum in support of teachers who have been “non-renewed.” The Copper Ridge and Mt. Olive communities were present in large numbers. Mt. Olive PTA president Holly Child and parent Therese’ Sipes; Copper Ridge parents Jenny Orkner and Kelly Wright decried the loss of great teachers at their school.
The underlying question is, why? Parents, teachers, and students want to know. Former Copper Ridge Kindergarten teacher Christina Graham explained that all she ever wanted to do was teach. She said she is trying to be optimistic that she will find another position, but every application she fills out asks, “Have you been non-renewed or dismissed?”
“It doesn’t make sense to me why someone could be dismissed or not renewed for no reason. If we are trying to fix this culture of fear, this is not how to do it. My non-renewal sends a message throughout Knox County that any non-tenured teacher can be dismissed or non-renewed, even if their scores are good and even if they’ve done nothing wrong.”
Many who spoke in support of Graham ask if she was non-renewed in retaliation for her speech against the SAT-10 Assessment for grades K-2. That test has since been discontinued, but Graham’s principal issued a personal communication record to her after her speech, challenging some of her statements to the Board. She respectfully defended all her statements. She can’t say for certain that is why she won’t be returning to Copper Ridge in the fall, but it is the only plausible reason given her good evaluation and professionalism scores.
Other speakers touched on the culture of fear that Knox County is perpetuating. Rob Taylor, a former KCS SpEd teacher who left for a (lower paying) job in another county, used the analogy of the school yard bully, and lamented that the current treatment of teachers and by extension their students won’t stop “until our school system’s biggest bully is finally sent packing to a different playground.”
There were many other excellent, passionate speeches made in Public Forum. Please visit the SaveOurSchoolSystem YouTube channel to see all the people who came out to support REAL Excellence in Education last week.