By Sally Absher

After attending the July 2 BOE meeting during which Dr. McIntyre’s appeal of KCS teacher Richard Suttles’ tenure reinstatement was unanimously rejected by the Board, Commissioner Tony Norman placed a discussion item on the Agenda for the July 28 County Commission meeting.

Norman said “This saga began three years ago…this has been a colossal waste of time and money.” (See also Mike Steely’s article in this week’s Focus)

Norman told the Commission, “I wanted you to hear this. And I want the superintendent and BOE to account for all the direct and indirect costs of this effort over the past three years.”

According to a memo from Norman addressed to Dr. McIntyre, the minimal direct costs would include “all attorney’s fees and expenses charged by Mr. Owings and Mr. Reams, the cost of Mr. Suttles’ classroom replacement, and his retroactive salary agreed on by the BOE.” Norman added during the meeting that the direct costs would also include the stenographer’s fee for over 700 pages of transcripts during the hearing.

Indirect costs include a “calculation of all staff time involved times their salaries and benefits.” Mr. Norman also asked for an estimate of the time the BOE has spent on Mr. Suttles’ case, and staff time and, given that the case may not be over, expenses since the rebuttal by the BOE at the July meeting.

Commissioners McKenzie and Briggs tried to suggest that the teacher appeal process worked. But if cost was the spark behind Norman’s wish to discuss the appeal process, it lit a fire in Commissioner Mike Brown.

Brown said the “process” was costing taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuits and having to replace literally hundreds of highly qualified teachers who are leaving the system of their own accord.

While there are statutory requirements for teacher evaluations, Knox County has consistently had more requirements for the TEAM evaluation process than mandated by the state. In fact, many districts have requested waivers to devise their own evaluation process that meets the statutory requirements but gives teachers autonomy and flexibility.

This, Norman said, “creates a totally different environment which teachers experience in other systems. It is the climate, the culture that makes it so difficult in Knox County, in my opinion.”

In public forum, Lynn Schneider, overcome with emotion, said that leaving the teaching profession after 14 years was not an easy decision for her, adding, “It would have been a lot easier to jump through the hoops and play the games, and if I had to focus on myself, that is exactly what I would have done. But my focus is not on me, and I knew then as I know now that this path of so-called education reform is not about the children.”

She said she has been “extremely disheartened” by the attempt of several members of the board of education not only to dismiss, but to cast a negative light on the teachers and parents who have spoken out.

Mark Taylor, middle school science teacher, said Knox County’s teacher evaluation system is hurting students and putting teacher’s careers at risk.  “The real issue is what the evaluation system is doing to our children, cheating them out of a meaningful education, and turning them into someone else’s pawns.”

He said he has been told, ‘It is no longer about what is best for your students. When being observed, do what is best for your score, and not best for your student’s learning. Put yourself first.’  He said, “I won’t do that.”

Taylor gave many more examples of how the punitive evaluation system hurts kids, and added, “Other districts are making changes to the evaluation system, or using different evaluation systems altogether, yet Knox County plugs ahead with the same flawed system at our student’s expense.”

He thanked the Commission for the work they have done to protect free speech without retribution, adding, “I find it ironic that at the same time you are protecting that right, the KCS BOE is fighting to take it away. Please continue that fight, to keep the rights of all citizens to speak in KCS BOE meetings.”

Jennifer Nagel, the parent of a dyslexic child, voiced concerns with the lack of teacher training in dyslexia. She said, “Because the schools do not use the term dyslexia, it will not ever be a topic of discussion on one of the school boards agendas.”

She concluded, “I know you can’t do anything about dyslexia training but I am worried that my ability to take my needs to the school board is being threatened. They have said we have to go through the proper channels and document that before we can speak. There are no “proper channels for parents; this is a policy issue, and they set policy. Please protect my right to speak freely before the BOE as I have before you today.”

Commissioner Brown asked Nagel, “Have you asked to speak before the school board and been turned down?” She replied, “Not personally. This is a new policy that they are trying to enforce, so I have not been turned down as of yet.” Brown said, “If you do, and you are turned down, please contact us. Because that dog don’t hunt.”

Commissioner Dave Wright pointed out that two BOE members-elect were present at the meeting. He said, “We, individually, need to attend more BOE meetings.”

Commissioner Norman said “This is a welcome place for you to come and speak… I am looking forward to the change in the Board of Education. Please come and inform us more.”