By Sally Absher

There was a somber overtone at last Wednesday’s regular Board of Education meeting. It was just one day after the tragic collision between school buses from Chilhowee Intermediate School and Sunnyview Primary School on Ashville Highway took the lives of Zykia Burns, 6, and Seraya Glasper, 7, both students at Sunnyview Elementary. Sunnyview Teacher’s Aide Kimberly Riddle also was killed in the crash.

Chairman Mike McMillan expressed, on behalf of the entire board of education, “our deepest sadness at the tragic events last evening. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved, and especially to those families and friends who lost loved ones.” He also thanked all those who “worked so diligently yesterday, especially the first responders and the Knox County School staff who continue to work and assist others during this difficult time.”

McMillan asked Mr. Buzz Thomas, of Great Schools Partnership, to lead an extended moment of silence which was followed by a heartfelt prayer. A candle light vigil was held at Church Street United Methodist Church at 7 pm that evening. All KCS board members and a number of staffers attended.

Dr. McIntyre also made a few comments about the tragedy, again thanking the first responders, including the Knoxville Police, Sheriff’s department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Rural Metro, Knoxville Fire Department; KCS staff, teachers, school leaders, counselors, and social workers; and the community, for their support, love, and prayers during this tragedy.

Perhaps because of the solemn tone of the meeting, the remainder of the meeting clipped along with little discussion or dissent.

The Memorandum of Understanding, which took a full three years of collaborative conferencing efforts between nine representatives of the Knox County Education Association serving the Knox County Schools Professional Employees and nine management representatives of the Knox County Board of Education (yet oddly, included no board of education members), was approved unanimously.

The board approved the Bearden Middle School International Baccalaureate “Middle Years Programme” (which impacts grades 6-8 at BMS and grades 9-10 at West High School) on a 5-3-1 vote. The administration earlier revised the proposal to not include the magnet component for the coming year (2015-2016), saving an estimated $250,000 in transportation costs.

Terry Hill offered a substitute motion to remove the magnet school allocation from the budget for next year (a savings of $55,000) and to make the transition to a magnet program dependent on board approval, rather than automatic, for the following year. No one seconded the substitute motion, so she withdrew it, and voted to “pass” on the original motion.

McMillan, Patti Bounds, and Amber Rountree voted no, with Sanger unsurprisingly joining McIntyre supporters Deathridge, Harris, Fugate, and Carson to approve the IB MYP. There was no discussion of why other middle school students won’t have access to “world languages” or where KCS will find the estimated $496,720 for 2015-2016, or $781,920 in following years, but we’re sure Doug Harris will suggest a tax increase.

Following a somewhat lengthy discussion at last Monday’s work session, the board voted Wednesday to authorize the Knox County Purchasing Department to further explore, at a cost not to exceed $9,000, a contract with Ameresco for the provision of solar power services to Knox County Schools. The County has already agreed to explore a contract with Ameresco.

Ameresco originally proposed ground installations for the solar panels, but Lynne Fugate expressed concern, saying “I really think we’re gonna get a lot of neighborhood pushback with all these solar panels being on school grounds.” Hugh Holt of Knox County Purchasing and the Ameresco representative assured the board on Wednesday that roof top installations would definitely be considered in the exploratory study, if the board approved going forward.

Karen Carson stepped down from her bully pulpit on Wednesday regarding her letter to Chairman McMillan objecting motion approved at the special called meeting of the board on November 3 “To eliminate the SAT-10 testing for K-2 and any other system-wide testing for the purpose of student assessment or teacher evaluation that is not state mandated.” Carson’s complaint was that the words in bold were not included in the meeting notice, therefore she claimed the vote on the motion was improper.

But Law Director Bud Armstrong explained at Monday’s work session that as long as the motion was germane to the meeting notice, there was no problem. The meeting notice stated “Discussion and possible action on continuation of SAT-10 assessment.” Once in the special called meeting, Armstrong explained, the motion can be construed however the board member making it wished, as long as it was on the general topic of assessments.

Carson argued that the way the motion was worded, it would eliminate all assessments not mandated by the state, including BMI (body mass index) assessments, vision screenings, etc. She said she intended to bring a substitute motion that would provide clarity on Wednesday.

But reason apparently prevailed, and on Wednesday she said that she would be satisfied with the December 3 meeting minutes providing clarification that the intent of “other student assessments” meant “standardized academic assessments.”

Whew. New Board deliverable #1 survives. Well done, Amber Rountree. Go big or go home!