By Sally Absher

Early morning commuters tuning into WOKI (98.7 FM) last week got an earful. On Tuesday Superintendent Jim McIntyre was a guest on the Hallerin Hilton Hill Show, along with BOE member Karen Carson and Chair Lynne Fugate.

The Knox County School PR department used the victim card in an attempt to answer criticism of the Superintendent levied by the mayor on WBIR’s Inside Tennessee last Sunday. Fail.

Wednesday, Mayor Burchett was a guest on the show. He laid the facts out on the table, and let them speak for themselves.

On the Inside Tennessee segment, the mayor responded to the question, did he think McIntyre “should be gone,” by saying, “Yes, I do.”  Burchett criticized the superintendent’s leadership style, suggesting that he is an “unpopular micromanager who doesn’t treat teachers and school employees with respect.”

This is what that hundreds of Knox teachers have been saying for months. A survey last December showed that over 72% of KCS teachers strongly disagreed, disagreed, or were neutral on the statement “Overall my district is a good place to work and learn.” Only 27.8% of respondents agreed or agreed strongly with that statement.

McIntyre said, “It seems that lately the mayor feels the need to pick a fight with me…and to elevate the rhetoroic. I think that is unfortunate, and it’s disappointing and disheartening.”

He added, “The reality is, I work for the school board, I don’t work for the mayor.”

McIntyre said “we are providing a “truly terrific education” to the children of our community, citing assessment scores, graduation rates, ACT scores, the number of students taking AP courses, straight “A’s” in achievement.

The Focus has already pointed out the fallacy of many of the “successes” cited above – trumped up graduation rates due to “credit recovery” and multiple opportunities retake tests; ACT scores that rose marginally from 2013 to 2014 but are the second lowest since 2005, and so on.

McIntyre said, “I look forward to continuing to lead this education effort in our community for the foreseeable future.”

McIntyre is beginning his seventh year as KCS Superintendent. His current contract runs through December of 2017, thanks to the extension the past BOE granted last December amidst great controversy.

Hill asked, “Are you mad?” McIntyre said, “No, I’m not mad. I’m disappointed. This is unnecessary. The mayor doesn’t like me, I guess? Or believes me to be a convenient political enemy? But this conversation is an extraordinary distraction.”

McIntyre admitted that the politics of the school system “may not be something I’m good at.”

He said, “My life’s work, and my mission, is educating children… that’s what I wish to do, this is where I wish to do that, and I plan to do it for the foreseeable future, unless the school board has something different to say about that.”

Hill asked Karen Carson and Lynne Fugate if they were there to defend the Superintendent. Carson said “I believe I’m here to defend myself from what I see as an attack on the board. Fugate said “We’re not necessarily here to be cheerleaders for the Superintendent.”

Fugate said she was asked to come and talk about what’s going on. She reiterated the “tremendous success Tennessee is having in public education” talking points, and added, “I’m just surprised we are at a point now where someone is calling for what is one of the most successful superintendents in the state, to leave.”

Carson said, “When I listened to Mayor Burchett’s comments, and read the news headlines, I see an attack on the Board of Ed…What I am seeing is a tremendous amount of political grandstanding.” She added that the mayor had not met with her or other Board members in the past four years.

McIntyre said he wants to continue to do this work here, in Knoxville TN. Asked about the rumblings that executive head hunters were looking at him, McIntyre replied, “I get calls all the time, Hallerin,…encouraging me to apply elsewhere…but I’d like to continue here…for the foreseeable future.”

Why do you suppose McIntyre keeps saying “For the foreseeable future?” And why did he tell Hill that he gets offers “all the time?” Does that mean if he loses control of the school board, he will leave on his own free will?

The following day, Mayor Tim Burchett took the discussion in a completely different direction. Where McIntyre seemed defensive and petulant, Burchett was well prepared and confident.

Burchett rattled of a long list of issues within the school system, including a poor and faulty security systems, and a questionable relationship between the security contractor and the head of school security, and an employee currently on paid sick leave for two years, none of which, said Burchett, would have been addressed had it not been reported in the media.

McIntyre has lost the confidence of the teachers and parents. Burchett said not a day goes by that he doesn’t get a visit from a parent. Tuesday he met with a group of parents who have been trying unsuccessfully to meet with the Superintendent to discuss their concerns about their children with Dyslexia.

Burchett said McIntyre is one of only two Superintendents in the state with virtually no classroom experience (he taught for 9 months at an alternative high school in Illinois).

The mayor soundly disputed Carson’s claim that he hadn’t met with her or other BOE members in over four years. He cited several examples, including discussions about the Carter Elementary school decision, and said he and Pam Trainor met as recently as March.

Burchett said he’s not “mad,” and he’s not trying to “pick a fight.” He said “These are the facts, and I, and the public, realize if these things had not been exposed in the media, they would not have been addressed at all. That leaves the question, what else is out there?”

Mayor Burchett said he has a real problem with school board members requiring teachers to get their supervisor’s permission and OK of questions to speak in Public Forum. “Where is the outcry from the media? That would never happen with County Commission.”

Hill said that the BOE is elected, and they appointed the Superintendent. Burchett agreed, but cited Sandra Clark (Shopper News), who said, “Amazing that 8 to 1 suddenly became 4 to 5” and folks don’t tie that to McIntyre.” “The public is waking up,” continued Burchett.

The mayor brought up the Superintendents “Side Agreement” with the BOE, saying, “This is something that happens in third world countries.” He added that people ask what business of his is the Superintendent, but pointed out that the school system budget is 62% of every dollar – over $420M – of your tax dollars.

Hill turned up the heat on Burchett, asking him if he had moved from being a mayor with an opinion, to a mayor with a plan. “Are you actively working to get him out?” Burchett said “No, I’m not working a plan of any sort.”

He added, “That’s up to the school board. I have no idea how they will attempt to address this problem, I only wish that they would.”

Burchett addressed the issue of teacher morale, saying, “When did it become popular for either party to beat up on school teachers?” He also discussed excessive assessments, and teacher evaluations tied to those assessments.

Hill referred to McIntyre as a change agent, suggesting that there is a lot of change, and that he’s just the point person for this change. As a result, it’s going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. It’s just the nature of change. (Which sounds eerily like the BOE’s mantra, “Change is Hard.”)

Burchett said “I’m not sure how to respond to that, but I think the people are responding, and that’s why you’re going from a 8-1 majority to a 4-5 minority. The people are responding.”