By Sally Absher

The Knox County School Board met at Café 4 on Market Square this past Friday evening and Saturday for their annual “extended work session” retreat.  Dawn Ford of Consumer Awareness Management served as facilitator for the retreat.

The nine member board, including four new members, was joined by Dr. McIntyre, and several administrators from Central Office. County Law director Bud Armstrong also was present.

The underlying theme of the retreat seemed to be “can’t we all just get along?” If the retreat was any indication of how the new BOE is going to function, it will be one of the most civil, respectful governing bodies in Knox County, yet may get very little accomplished. Which isn’t necessarily bad.

Friday evening, Charles (Chuck) Cagle of Lewis Thomason Law Firm in Nashville spoke on the “Responsibilities of a Governing Board.” Mr. Cagle is also a registered lobbyist, with lobbying clients including school superintendents, school employee professional organizations, school boards, private schools and universities, and an education services corporation.

Mr. Cagle gave a broad overview of the laws, cases, and policies governing how BOE’s operate in Tennessee and in Knox County.  He covered the duties and powers of the local school board (TCA 49-2-203) and the duties and powers of the Director of Schools (TCA 49-2-301) in detail.

In his final remarks, Cagle took up the issue of the working agreement drawn up between Dr. McIntyre and the former Board (2008, revised in 2010). He said he would distill it down to “who is going to do what.”

He said “It is true that the working agreements are not carried over from board to board, but I would consider something like this…it is in complete compliance with statutes.”

County Law Director Bud Armstrong has already weighed in on the “Side Agreement.” In his August 27 opinion, Armstrong stated that the document is not a legal and enforceable contract.

He stated, “Additionally, Tenn. Code Ann. Title 49 does not grant authority to the BOE and the Superintendent to enter into any such agreement governing the conduct of members of the BOE.”

Armstrong said that “Even if the document met the technical legal requirements of a contract, it would be unenforceable. The contract attempts to delimit the duties and powers of the BOE as set out in statute. It is elementary law that no agreement can constrain the statutory duties and obligation of a BOE member.”

The Board took up the Side Agreement again on Saturday. Ms. Ford was determined to bring the BOE to consensus, and titled two flip charts “Plus” (things to keep) and “Delta” (things to change ) in the Agreement. She asked Karen Carson, the only current BOE member who was part of the board in 2008, to provide some background.

Carson said the document was written following the infamous County Commission “Black Wednesday” and following a very contentious high school rezoning. Dr. McIntyre had also recently been appointed Superintendent. She said they wanted some ground rules for expectations and how they would work together.

Mike McMillan brought up the Law Director’s opinion that the document was not a legally binding document and that it was unenforceable, and asked for further explanation on how it came about.

Dr. McIntyre explained it was the boards attempt to define “how do we want to interact with each other, and how do we want to interact with the Superintendent.” He said it was an attempt to put norms in place. He said it wasn’t contractual agreements, just agreements.

Patti Bounds brought up Mr. Cagle’s closing statement on the Agreement on Friday, and suggested that to do a “plus” and “delta” could be seen as consent to having a document of this sort.

McMillan agreed, adding that a lot of this is just common sense, but said that it was presented to the new board in Oct. 2010, and then in 2012 it was scheduled for review but it never came up. He asked, “If it was so all-fired important, why did it not come up until now?”

There was quite a bit of discussion over whether the document should be written, or just a verbal agreement documented in the board minutes. Carson said, “I don’t’ want anything in writing. You can’t explain it enough.” Gloria Deathridge said, “While we ought to know how to act, we don’t,” and said she felt it was better to have a written document, whatever it is called.

John Fugate pointed out that Roberts Rules of Order is the operating standard for how the BOE conducts itself.

Ms. Ford kept pressing, and eventually got some suggestions on both her “plus” and “delta” charts.

Terry Hill asked Armstrong for guidance on the public notice (sunshine) requirements. He explained that if two or more members meet to discuss board business, they need to give the public 48 hours’ notice, and meeting minutes need to be recorded and filed. He said two members who happen to attend the same church, or other “chance meetings” do not need to be publicly noticed.

The BOE decided that the name of the document, which may or may not be written, should be changed from “Agreement” to “Guidance.” KCS Executive Assistant Terri Coatney was charged with revising the current document to reflect the retreat discussion. The side agreement may receive further discussion during the September 29 Work Session meeting.