By Sally Absher

When the news broke two weeks ago that Director of Schools Jim McIntyre was resigning, there were mixed reactions. Of course, those connected to the (Haslam) establishment bemoaned the loss of their “star quarterback,” citing gains in student achievement and graduation rates.

One only has to look at a recent email sent to Knoxville’s elite the day after McIntyre announced his resignation by Laurens Tullock, president of the non-profit Cornerstone Foundation, to see how worried they are. “Crisis Regarding School Board – Request Your Attention,” the subject line reads.

He urges his cronies to support Nathan Rowell, challenger to Bud Armstrong in the upcoming election. (A law director who insists on following the County Charter and TCA statutes is just such an inconvenience).

Tullock points out that “Each individual can contribute up to $1,500, which means $3,000 per couple, per election.” He also endorsed District 2 School Board candidate Grant Standefer and District 5 candidate Buddy Pelot.

But did Tullock go too far? He sent this email out via his 501(c)(3) email account. And 501(c)(3)’s can’t endorse candidates. As an attorney, Tullock should know that.

Many others, however, felt a sense of relief.  We are tired of reading about Central Office department heads being investigated (Accounts Payable Supervisor, Director of Nutrition, Chief of Security), administrative assistants on paid leave for two years, mismanagement of grant funds and unauthorized Broad Academy hires, faulty school security equipment, and the list goes on.

And then there was the tragic bus wreck that killed two children and a teacher’s aide, after numerous complaints had been filed with KCS about the bus driver texting while driving. Pending lawsuits allege that Knox County was negligent in supervising and monitoring bus operations and failed to ensure bus drivers were eligible to operate buses. President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” McIntyre said, too many times, “It’s not my fault.”

On the day of his resignation, one local TV station ran an online poll asking, “Do you think Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre should be resigning?” The poll, which was taken down sometime that evening, consistently showed 74 – 76% of respondents answered “yes.”

But it was announced last week that McIntyre’s resignation is contingent on the Board of Education accepting a contract buyout equivalent to one year’s salary, benefits, and any unused vacation. Which is interesting, because that hotly contested contract renewal/extension has absolutely no mention of buying out the contract, or any portion thereof, if the superintendent resigns.

In fact, the contract specifically states, “The Superintendent may unilaterally terminate this Contract with ninety (90) days notice to KCBOE. In the event of such termination by the Superintendent, he shall be entitled only to the salary and benefits accrued but unpaid as of the date of termination.”

The “Contract Settlement Agreement,” (available here) was negotiated between Mayor Tim Burchett, Board of Education Doug Harris, and McIntyre. The Board (or at least 5 of the 9 – which is all but guaranteed to happen) must approve the settlement.

Under terms and conditions, the contract states, “In return for KCBOE’s acceptance of the terms of this Agreement including, but not limited to, the payment of compensation as described herein and upon KCBOE’s full compliance with all of the terms of this Agreement, Dr. McIntyre shall voluntarily tender his resignation from his position as the Superintendent of Knox County Schools effective at 5:00 p.m., EDST, on July 8, 2016.”

Which doesn’t sound like the resignation was McIntyre’s idea. If you are resigning, you resign. You don’t “negotiate a settlement,” unless you are asked to leave. And then you either don’t comment, or you admit that you were asked to leave. You don’t lie about it.

To McIntyre’s credit, he is only asking for a one year contract buyout, and not the full four year buyout – over $1M. But many hard-working tax-payers are asking, “Why is there a buyout at all?”

The one year salary amounts to $227,256 to be paid in a lump sum on or before February 15, 2016. This reflects the raise that was inserted into the contract renewal/extension the BOE rushed through at the end of November.

In addition, the settlement allows McIntyre and his family to receive health insurance coverage for 18 months following his resignation. McIntyre clarified in a January 13 memo to the BOE that the post-employment health insurance is via COBRA, which means that he, not KCS, is responsible for paying the entire premium.

And McIntyre will also be paid for any unused vacation days. He clarified that the vacation days will be paid out as of June 30, rather than July 8 as stated in settlement document. He currently has 44 unused vacation days, which at a payout rate of $891.20 per day, means he will be paid an additional $39,212.80 in unused vacation days. More than most starting teachers earn per year.

A quarter of a million dollars is a lot of money for a school system that runs out of basic supplies like copy paper and textbooks. KCS could hire five teachers or ten teacher’s aides for that amount.

While there is no doubt that being able to hire a superintendent with actual classroom and school-level administrative experience will increase morale and benefit students and teachers alike, many people can’t understand how giving someone who is “voluntarily resigning” a quarter of a million dollar buy-out can possibly contribute to excellence for every child.