Horn or Pelot in District 5?

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

If the 5th District school board runoff had been held last fall, the debate would have started (and pretty much ended) with the question, “James McIntyre: for him or against him?”

The controversial former superintendent changed the conversation when he announced in December that he was stepping down from his $228K (plus perks) job. But underlying issues still remain.

Both Susan Horn and Buddy Pelot have relatives who have served in public office – state Rep. Jason Zachary is married to Horn’s cousin, and former City Council member Barbara Pelot is Buddy Pelot’s mother – but the candidates say that family ties have little to do with their reasons for running.

Horn finished first in the three-way March primary with 4,364 votes, or 44.86 percent, narrowly missing the 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff. Pelot got 2,932 votes, or 30.14 percent, nosing out third-place finisher Lori Ann Boudreaux, who had 2,431 votes for 24.99 percent.

A longtime PTA stalwart and school volunteer, Horn is doing lots of door knocking and enjoys the support of PACE, the political action committee of the Knox County Education Association, and SPEAK, an organized group of teachers and parents who banded together to oppose corporate education reform and the high-stakes testing that accompanied it.

Susan and Brad Horn have two daughters who attended Knox County schools.

She said that working in her children’s schools got her interested in running for school board.

“I’ve worked alongside teachers on the parents’ side for a long time, and I’ve seen some of the consequences of state reforms – how they’ve changed the overall atmosphere and environment in our schools over the past few years. That’s what led me to want to run.”

Pelot, an attorney whose given name is Reuben Nisbet Pelot IV, is the son of longtime West Knox dentist Reuben “Nib” Pelot (and Barbara, of course). He and his wife Judith have three daughters who have or currently are attending Knox County schools. Both have been actively involved in the PTA, and he decided to run after hearing that incumbent Karen Carson wasn’t going to seek re-election. He has gotten strong support from the city’s business elite, largely mirroring that of District 2 candidate Grant Standefer, who lost to former teacher Jennifer Owen in the primary.

Pelot said the similarity between his contributor list and Standefer’s is because they share a common consultant, Gary Drinnen of Targeted Strategies. When asked how he will turn the March numbers around in the August election, he said his campaign will look for the most efficient ways to get the word out. Drinnen is known for massive amounts of direct mail.

Pelot said he’s always had a deep interest in education (UT’s Bob Kronick, founder of Knox County Schools’ community schools movement, urged him to pursue a master’s in education rather than go to law school).

“I’m not getting into this because I’ve got an agenda. I’m just pursuing excellence in education for all our kids in Knox County,” he said, echoing a McIntyre theme. “I’m an advocate in my career, and there are no attorneys on the board, so I can add something there, rather than just being another voice on the board.”

Schools in District 5
  • A.L. Lotts Elementary
  • Blue Grass Elementary
  • Farragut Primary
  • Farragut Intermediate
  • Farragut Middle
  • West Valley Middle
  • Farragut High

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