There are no Rs or Ds on local school board ballots. Board members are elected on a non-partisan basis, and despite some past saber rattling from the Red-to-the-Roots crowd, it doesn’t appear that Republicans are preparing to change that status. This probably makes Knox County school board chair Patti Bounds happy.
For Bounds, a conservative who was raised Republican, it’s educational philosophy, not party lines that divide the board, the majority of whom oppose much of the reform agenda favored at the state and national levels.
Twenty-four hours after her colleagues voted to hand her the gavel, Patti Bounds still sounded surprised to find herself chairing the school board – and somewhat shell-shocked that the first vote she presided over was so difficult.
The school board had one job at last week’s called meeting – to approve next year’s budget.
Members breezed through the blessing of a $453.5 million general purpose budget, but the fight over the $71.2 million capital improvement plan went the length of the bar and into the street, so to speak, although the outcome – a 5-4 vote to reroute $6.5 million that Superintendent James McIntyre and his staff had earmarked for other purposes to renovate Inskip Elementary School – was never truly in doubt.
West Knox attorney Buddy Pelot has thrown his hat into the ring for election to the school board seat now held by Karen Carson, who is stepping down after three terms. It’s District 5 and includes Farragut High and surrounding communities.
He’s a partner with Egerton McAfee, but he also has a long-held interest in public education and a master’s degree in policy development and program evaluation from Vanderbilt. He has three children, two of whom have graduated from Knox County schools. The youngest is a freshman at Bearden High School.
As expected, schools superintendent James McIntyre won his battle for job security by a 5-4 vote last week when the school board extended his employment contract for another two years. This agreement will be in place until the end of 2019 and gives him a 2 percent raise, bumping his salary up to $227,256.
The five pro-McIntyre board members (Harris, Carson, Deathridge, Sanger, Fugate) said it is well deserved, mostly based on Knox County Schools’ status as an Exemplary School District.
One of the strongest arguments for appointing school superintendents is that doing so removes them from the dirty business of politics, which is left instead to the elected school board, which hires, fires and oversees the superintendent.
That’s a tidy plan, but it won’t work if the board declines to do its statutory duty. And that’s what’s happening in Knox County, balloons and confetti cannons and Exemplary School District status notwithstanding.
The deal brokered between the county mayor and the superintendent of schools means that Tim Burchett will get to serve eight years without raising taxes, and Jim McIntyre will get to keep his job – at least until the next school board election.
By the time school board chair Mike McMillan faces re-election, he will have built two new Eighth District schools and so will County Commissioner Dave Wright, who will be term-limited out of office but may well have future political aspirations. Sixth District Commissioner Brad Anders will get to brag about delivering a middle school to Hardin Valley; ditto his district school board representative, Terry Hill.
Was the school board giving Mayor Tim Burchett the finger when it voted to build a new Gibbs Middle School and let somebody else figure out how to pay for it? The issue appears to be riding an emotional wave, and smart money says the votes are there on County Commission, which leaves Burchett squarely on the hot seat.
But no, the board wasn’t messing with Burchett by voting to build the school without having a clue how to pay for it. Most of those who voted yes support him and weren’t yet in office in 2010 when he decided to step in and build a new Carter Elementary School against the initial wishes of the board and Superintendent Jim McIntyre, for whom Burchett famously had no love (and still doesn’t).