By Mike Steely
The two items that had the potential for the most debate passed without a whimper at Knox County Commission’s meeting last Monday. One dealt with a county employee’s
rights to free speech and the other regarded the anti-annexation bill before the state legislature; both passed on first reading.
The freedom of speech ordinance, introduced by Commissioner Amy Broyles, had been debated a bit in a workshop recently but passed unanimously without debate in Monday’s regular meeting. This ordinance was borne from the current teacher insurrection against teaching standards, the central office, and Superintendent James McIntyre. Many county teachers had publically and privately feared for their jobs because of taking part in public forums at the school board and commission meetings. The wording of the commission ordinance covers all county employees, including teachers. The ordinance will face a second reading this month. Annexation by cities of adjoining county neighborhoods is currently under a moratorium by Governor Haslam and a couple of bills in the state house and senate are aimed at forbidding any future annexation without a vote by those being absorbed into a city. Commissioner R. Larry
Smith introduced a resolution of support of House Bill 2371 and Senate Bill 2464.
D. H. (Andy) Andrew took public forum to speak in favor of the resolution.
“I have one question: How can any legislative body fail to support the right to vote?”
Andrew asked. Andrew said he was reminding the commission of its “obligation to
the Constitution of the United States, Tennessee, and the Charter of Knox County.”
He said the state anti-annexation by ordinance law would “enlarge the power of
our county government.”
Both Commissioners Sam McKenzie and Amy Broyles opposed the resolution, with McKenzie proclaiming that “as a citizen of Knoxville we are fully residents of Knox
County.” He said the council created a process for annexation with the planning commission and Broyles said she saw no need for the resolution.
The anti-annexation resolution passed with only Broyles and McKenzie voting
Commissioner Tony Norman told Commission of the public meeting he had with Commissioner Mike Brown to fill Brown in on what he had missed at the Commission-Board of Education Retreat . Brown was not able to attend of
the Retreat due to health reasons and Norman had called a meeting that was,
as Norman put it, “Surprisingly well attended.”
Brown asked who had set the Retreat’s agenda. Chairman Brad Anders answered that he and Board of Education Chair Lynn Fugate did.
Brown then gave his opinion of what he’d been told of the Retreat, saying, the Retreat should have “looked at more current problems” than it did and said “We can’t tell the schools how to do it (spend their budget) but we can’t go along with blinders on.”
“They are dumbing down our teachers…they are teaching to a test and worrying
about an evaluation,” Brown said, adding “We are responsible for how this money is spent.” The commission approves or disapproves of budget proposals from the BOE
and both the commission and the school system are working on their budget for
next year. “We pour more money in across the street,” he said, referring to the school
administration offices in the Andrew Johnson Building, “and we don’t get the job
done.” McKenzie, one of the commission members of the Joint Education Committee,
said that the group would be meeting for the last time with an outside moderator
this month. He said he hopes the Joint Committee will continue to meet. “I’m in favor of evaluations, but let’s tweak it,” he said. Commissioner Richard Briggs said the teacher
evaluations may need to be “re-evaluated” but said “We can’t go back to where we
were.” “The evaluation of our teachers is grossly unfair,” said Commissioner Tony
Norman, adding that higher standards are not a problem for the teachers. He said the
lack of morale is a problem. “We can’t allow that to continue.” Superintendent James
McIntyre was present and was asked by McKenzie if the teacher situation is a problem in other counties.
Briggs asked what the school system is doing is different than the state guidelines.
McIntyre said there are certain state regulations and that one-half of a teacher’s
evaluation is based on student outcome in testing. “We continue to try to listen and be responsive,” McIntyre said. “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,’ Norman responded to McIntyre. “This is a difficult and punitive system.” Norman described the teacher evaluations as “fundamentally unsound and unfair.” McIntyre disagreed, saying that the evaluations were not punitive but developmental. “Teachers are not afraid of
higher standards or evaluations. The kinks need to be addressed and addressed
quickly,” Commissioner Broyles said. “I think that strategic compensation sucks.”