School board will ‘buy local’

Scott Frith
Government/Politics columnist

The Knox County Board of Education is picking a new superintendent, and some are surprised that both finalists are from East Tennessee.

Don’t be.

Political trends swing like a pendulum. When looking for new leadership, folks often go in the opposite direction. Not convinced? The best local example may be in the county mayor’s office.

Remember those feuds between Dwight Kessel and Victor Ashe? By 1994, voters grew tired of the bickering and elected Tommy Schumpert on the promise of peace.

For the most part, Schumpert succeeded. Yet, as he finished a second term, some viewed his “getting along” and calm demeanor as not aggressive enough in promoting economic development. They looked to then-County Commissioner Mike Ragsdale, who possessed enough charisma and sound bites to fill the entire City County Building.

Ragsdale was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

But then, voters elected Tim Burchett, who couldn’t be more different. Think Lexus sedan vs. beat-up Jeep Cherokee; tailored suits vs. a brown Carhartt jacket. You get the idea.

The same pattern emerges with the superintendent of schools.

State law changed in 1992 to require school board appointment of superintendents. In 1999, our board picked Charles Q. Lindsay, a Mississippi native best remembered for relocating principals and getting directly involved in the messy politics of school board campaigns. Lindsay left in 2007.

The next year, the board hired Jim McIntyre, an education technocrat, whose roots in Boston (and lack of political skill) couldn’t have been more different from Lindsay’s southern drawl and political brawling. McIntyre left last year. And now the school board appears to be buying local.

Finalists are Bob Thomas (assistant superintendent since 1990) and Dale Lynch (superintendent of Hamblen County Schools since 2001). Thomas is the favorite to win.

Do not be surprised. Both are the opposite of McIntyre.

Scott Frith is a local attorney.
You can visit his website at

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