By Sally Absher

Tim and Jim reach budget compromise.

Last Monday, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knox County Schools Director Jim McIntyre held a joint press conference to present a budget compromise that they say would allow for the construction of both the Hardin Valley and Gibbs middle schools, as well as provide a 2% raise for teachers. The compromise also bridges the gap between the Mayor’s budget of $435M for KCS, and the $441.5M requested by the Board of Education.

The details were outlined in a DRAFT Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Both the School Board and County Commission still need to approve the MOU. We reached out to Knox County Finance Directory Chris Caldwell, who explained the budget compromise as follows:

The County would allocate an additional $3M as a one-time fund transfer to cover APEX teacher bonuses for next year, increasing the County funding of KCS from $435 to $438. This frees up $3M in the general fund budget for KCS to use for teacher raises. The one time transfer is not subject to the Maintenance of Effort.

The school system would reduce teacher raises from 3% to 2%, cutting $2.5M. KCS would cut an additional $1M from their budget, and agree to contribute this amount to raise funds for certified teachers. Thus, $441.5M minus $2.5M cut by reducing teacher raises minus $1M in additional cuts yields a budget of $438M.

Why is it that teacher raises are always the first thing cut by Knox County Schools?

Burchett also agreed to include construction of the two middle schools in the capital improvement plan. But there are conditions, including, “The procedure shall be by a public “design/build” procurement process as dictated by Knox County Charter and Knox County Ordinance.”

The MOU further stipulates that, “The bid requests will be for high-quality, modern school buildings and construction techniques in accordance with state standards and with every effort made to meet local design standards,” and “The construction of each school shall be tracked by separate organization codes, with all expenditures being charged correctly.”

The goal is to reduce the cost over-runs and questionable accounting practices seen in recent school construction projects contracted to private builders. The County has proven success with the proposed process in the construction of Carter Elementary School.

Once the funds are allocated to the schools, the County has no control over how the money is spent. Presumably, putting these stipulations in writing in a MOU will prevent McIntyre from spending the funds instead on some shiny new initiative, another Parthenon-like study, or more Broad Residents.

The MOU also addresses the sale of the Andrew Johnson Building and subsequent move of KCS operations to another facility, and lays out roles and responsibilities of the County government and Board of Education in ensuring fiscal responsibility and adhering to this MOU. Make no mistake. Mayor Burchett was negotiating from a position of strength.

During the press conference, McIntyre said, “I look forward to seeing some great Tim and Jim work together for the benefit of our community stories coming up here in the future…” to which Burchett replied, “Don’t push it.”


A Call for Testing Transparency in Tennessee.

Frustrated by the continuing miscommunication and secrecy surrounding the high-stakes TCAP assessments, more than a dozen grassroots public school advocacy groups are petitioning Governor Bill Haslam, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, and the Tennessee State House and Senate for testing transparency.

The petition begins, “As parents, voters, and citizens of Tennessee, we believe these principles should guide Tennessee testing policy going forward:

1.            The process for determining cut scores should be clear and cut scores should be set and released before tests are administered.

2.            Tests must be transparent. Questions and answers should be available within a reasonable time after test administration.

3.            Standardized test scores should bot be counted as a portion of a student’s final grade.

4.            Standardized test scores should not be used in teacher evaluation.

(These are many of the same views voiced in the KCS “Assessing the Assessments” public insight meeting held on June 2)

The petition continues, “We believe these principles are fair and represent what parents want: Fair tests used to assess student learning relative to standards. By adopting these principles and the policies they would necessitate, we can return testing to its rightful place as one of many tools used to improve education, instead of the ultimate measure of student and teacher performance.”

Groups participating in this network include:

TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence)

Strong Schools (Sumner County)

Williamson Strong (Williamson County)

SPEAK (Knox County)

SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)

Momma Bears (Statewide)

Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)

Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)

The Dyslexia Spot (Statewide)

Parents of Wilson County, TN (Wilson County)

Schools Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools) TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)

Gideon’s Army, Grassroots Army for Children (Nashville)

East Nashville United (Nashville)

Tennessee Against Common Core (Statewide)

To sign the petition, go to and search for “A Call for Testing Transparency in Tennessee.”