By Sally Absher

Although the Board of Education’s Second District comprises only a little over 11% of Knox County in terms of population, the special election to replace Indya Kincannon on the BOE is perhaps the most closely watched – and feared – election this November.

Knox County, like many communities with an appointed Broad Academy school superintendent, is growing weary of an upside down chain of command. For too long we have seen the school board working for the superintendent, and the taxpayers are expected to shut up and pay for it.

In reality, the superintendent works for the school board, and the BOE works for the taxpayers.

The BOE election this August brought some needed relief. Terry Hill, Patti Bounds, and Amber Rountree were elected after running on campaign promises to do their due diligence research and represent the teachers, students, parents, and taxpayers in their district.

Hill, Bounds, and Rountree join Mike McMillan, long the odd-man-out as the lone dissenter on what many called the “rubber stamp” school board. And the recent appointment of former educator and businessman John Fugate brings the minority of one to a majority of five.

Which is not something the McIntyre supporters are happy about.

Seconds after the appointment of Fugate by the County Commission last month, Sam McKenzie blamed the appointment on the workings of a “puppet master,” and Amy Broyles had a teary meltdown and accused the commissioners of committing Black Wednesday 2.0

Several days later, Mr. Fugate, wearing his signature straw hat, was on his way to the A.J. Building to fill out his paperwork. He was approached by another gentleman wearing a straw hat. As Fugate prepared to greet him and compliment him on his hat, the gentleman spoke, addressing him by name.

“Mr. Fugate, if you are coming down here to cause a problem on this school board or with Dr. McIntyre, I hope that the business community runs you out of town.” Fugate replied, “Well sir, I am my own man.”

Fugate learned the straw hatted stranger was none other than McIntyre supporter and Cornerstone Foundation president J. Laurens Tullock.

John Fugate is an independent thinker. He does  not need the approval of the business community, or anyone else. He was appointed to do a job, and he intends to do that job without anyone pulling his strings.

It’s all about counting to five. McIntyre supporters seem resigned to the fact that they will be in the minority for now, but there is always the election in November.

Tracie Sanger, former special education teacher, received Kincannon’s official endorsement before she left the country. She filed her campaign petition on September 8.

In what seems like déjà vu of Sandra Rowcliffe sending out campaign emails using the county PTA email system, last month Shannondale PTO Board Member at Large Dennise Howard sent a campaign fund raising email on behalf of Sanger.

Howard wrote, “I believe in her, and she has my full support. The current PTO president, Jessica Hurley, is also a supporter.” She adds, “We are asking for campaign donations to help Tracie achieve her goal of being a voice for our community. A suggested amount of $10, $25, $50, $100. This money will be used to help purchase signs and campaign literature… so any amount would greatly help.”

Since when did the PTA and PTO become political fundraising machines? If the Knox County PTA or Shannondale PTO are tax-exempt organizations under 501(c)(3), they are prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for elective office, including candidate endorsements.”

It didn’t help Rowcliffe, and it may not help Sanger either.

Long-time community leader and volunteer Jamie Rowe, who filed her petition on September 2, has been distributing signs and campaign literature for weeks. She has a campaign host committee of more than 130 people, and last Tuesday a robust and diverse crown of around 150 supporters attended her campaign kick-off.

Rowe is known for her independent research on issues, and she makes the following pledges: “I will use 20% of my salary from the school board to purchase books for 1st and 2nd graders in my district to keep and take home with them; I will host monthly meetings in the 2nd district, so parents and teachers can voice concerns about issues; and I will dedicate a phone line ONLY for school issues.”

The Focus learned Wednesday morning that Charlotte Dorsey, a retired Knox County Schools Administrator (who applied for the interim appointment awarded to John Fugate) also filed a petition, as did former music teacher Jennifer Owens. Ms. Owens fell short of the 25 necessary signatures, however, with only 22 valid signees.

Could the Chamber, seeing Sanger as a weak candidate, be hedging their bets by encouraging Dorsey to run against Rowe? While Dorsey said she “probably would not” have voted to extend Dr. McIntyre’s contract, she describes him as an “honest, capable man.” She also said she felt it was her responsibility to support the (2020 Strategic Plan) once it was voted in. She doesn’t think public schools risk losing funds to Charter schools. Rubber stamp?

The decision is ultimately up to the Second District. It’s going to be an interesting campaign season.