Aug 29 2014
04:32 pm

Saying the document "seems to be aimed at protecting the school district and superintendent at the price of free speech," the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists released a statement denouncing the so-called agreement between Knox Co. Schools Superintendent and the Board of Education regarding dealings with the media, among other things. Full statement after the break...

East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists disappointed in BOE-superintendent document

ETSPJ board members were surprised and disappointed after learning about the document "Agreements between the BOE and Superintendent" given to newly elected board members.

That school district document seems to be aimed at protecting the school district and superintendent at the price of free speech. We strongly oppose the suggestion by the so-called agreement that board members refrain from public discussions, especially to the media, if they vote in the minority of any particular issue.

We will be sending a letter to Superintendent Jim McIntyre and school board members. Now more than ever, we will be asking our journalist members, and the public, to seek comments from board members when they vote in the minority of any particular issue. We plan to be ask the superintendent and board members to speak publicly on this issue and request a resolution encouraging the board have an open and transparent working relationship with the media without any limitations on their speech.

We applaud Amber Roundtree's effort to seek the legality of the document from the county’s law department, and we support David Buuck's conclusions. We agree the document is unenforceable and that items in it “limit Board Members' freedom of speech, as well as their responsibility to speak openly and freely on all school issues.”

About the chapter: The East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has more than 50 members in Knoxville. The executive board consists of journalists, journalism educators and supporters representing the print, radio, TV and online platforms. Executive board members include President Mike Martinez, UT journalism professor and 26-year journalist and Vice President Dan Andrews, a photojournalist with the Knoxville Focus. Other members include Treasurer Jean Ash, Secretary Elenora Edwards, Norman Hammitt, Frank Murphy, Mark Harmon, Anthony Cespedes, Kristi L. Nelson, Georgiana Vines and Tony Hernandez

Full disclosure: Vines, an ex-officio member and past national president, and Nelson and Hernandez report for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Hernandez also belongs to SPJ's national board of directors.

R. Neal's picture

It would appear Amber

It would appear Amber Rountree is stirring the pot and making a difference and she hasn't even been sworn in yet.

Brian Hornback's picture

Only 50 members?

That seems awful low with the number of news agencies in East TN active & retired.

newshound's picture

Finally, the local journalism

Finally, the local journalism organization is doing something worthwhile...standing up for good journalism and the First Amendment.

Average Guy's picture

Here's your sign

Wade Payne's photo of the mission statement says a lot. (link...)

How could a body govern and advocate without asking questions?

Only the recipient of a question could be stumped.

And that's not the Board's problem.

Roscoe Persimmon's picture

They're looking for good theater no serious debate

wouldn't want anybody to have to seriously do their job as a school board member now would we.

reform4's picture

Let's opine and give the Supe benefit of the doubt for a second.

A person I know and trust stopped me the other day, we had a discussion where this person felt McIntyre was misunderstood, was just really bad at PR, and had the best for the schools in his heart. I promised I would take every opportunity to give him benefit of the doubt, so here's my attempt to step back and look at what's happened lately in that light:

1. The agreement. When you look at 90% of it, it's pretty normal- it's a statement where the Board agrees they don't try to micromanage the principals and teachers, and run everything through the chain of command. OK, if I were JM doing that job, I'd feel the same way. The problem comes in three or four clauses that are the Super micromanaging the Board and their freedom of speech. It's at the very end after you become accustomed to all of the normal, reasonable stuff, which I don't think is by accident. I can see why some BOE members who don't think deeply about their roles wouldn't have raised red flags internally about this. A

OK, if this is the case, there's an opportunity for JM to step back and say, "you're right, this was over the line. I don't know what I was thinking." Has there been any such response from JM? If there is, I haven't seen it.

nd I don't think Amber is out of line to raise the alarm. Did she bring it to the other BOE members first and try to resolve quietly... oh wait, this was going to be voted on in a meeting, so she couldn't, due to Sunshine laws. So don't pillory her for taking it to the media to get sunlight on this bad agreement.

2. While on the topic of Amber- the leave policy. It was suggested that this was not political, but an issue of insurance- if AR is on medical leave, sets foot on school grounds, slips, has a miscarriage, then insurance would not cover, and school would suffer a lawsuit. People on medical leave can't come to the schools, it was explained to me. (a) is this true, a teacher is prohibited from dropping by the school to pick up paperwork if she's taking a sick day? (b) How does her medical status as a teacher affect her as a BOE member? I would think they are two completely separate things, but it was suggested to me that they are linked. I don't know if I believe that, but I don't know the law. I would think that your employment as a teacher and your 'job' as a BOE member or member of any elected body would be apples and oranges. But that's the argument being made, and I'd like someone with more knowledge to explain if this is a realistic HR policy, or a convenient interpretation.

On its surface, trying to bar a BOE member from training SEEMS awfully political. Where is the training held, out of curiosity?

3. The firing/layoff of experienced teachers with tenure with no basis, or basis in bulls**t evaluations. There's more than just the one that won their day in court. I've heard of many, many more. THAT isn't a PR problem. That seems to be the result of a bean-counter that got promoted to a leadership job, doesn't seem to be able to lead, so he falls back on what he knows. If we were Detroit and had tax revenues falling 60%, then Jim McIntyre would definitely be the guy I'd want running the ship. But that's not where we are. We need economic growth, not cost cutting, and retaining good qualified teachers is important to long-term economic growth. Turning our schools into Teach-For-America Wal-Marts isn't a long-term play.

4. The 'administrative leave' employee- I'm just going to leave that one to the Law Department, BOE, and Commission to sort out. None of us have much in the way of relevant facts, only innuendo. Still, if I could give JM some PR advice, it would be not to publicize snarky emails to a County Mayor with a sky-high approval rating. Don't awaken the sleeping dragon.

5. The calls to "recall BOE members" and "fire Jim or buy him out." Although I've been guilty of the latter, the reality is, none of these are realistic. I realize now such language isn't constructive, but I think it's because people here are genuinely frustrated at the lack of the Super and the Board to reasonably respond to any criticism. If we 'turn down the temperature,' does that mean we will start to see some response? I think most people feel the answer is "no" (since there was no response when the temperature was lower), so there's a reluctance from critics to turn down the heat. If the board or JM would yield an inch on these topics, like agreeing that some of the clauses in the agreement were dumb, it would go a long way to turning down the temperature.

A lot of JM's critics are here, and we're a community that is accustomed to receiving new facts and changing our minds based on better information. That's one of the reasons KnoxViews is a daily read for me. If McIntyre has primarily a PR problem, I'd like to see him or more BOE members explain things we might have wrong. I know it can be difficult with the anonymous posters (Randy- can you open a single thread that only allows registered people to post/reply? That might help.... I can understand the reluctance with so many anonymous attack posts on this subject....)

Mike Knapp's picture

A lot there that's fair

WRT to the thoughtful points made above by yourself and your friend IMV #1 seems to be an internal MO document that attempts to streamline the decision-making process in at times clear, and others not so clear but nonbinding ways. I'm glad it made it to the light of day. That AR brought it up to the law director is incredibly reasonable and logical. The freedom of speech and non-stumping language is curious. But in the end unless someone can show otherwise (e.g. go back, look and show how that nonbinding document has harmed teachers, board members, kids etc), what K Carson had to say about it seems to me also a reasonable representation of the issue. It is a board mess, they can clean it up perhaps with input from new board members and their constituents if need be, at a board retreat.

#2 really seems to be a pat insurance/medical leave issue. One curiosity is the reference he made in his initial email ("... fielded a few questions … about your status, which I answered tactfully.") to AR about people saying things about Amber being pregnant but still doing work which he seems to have considered the impetus for even saying anything at all. I just can't hardly imagine any super, any head of any decision-making body (or anything) save the standard dipsh_t outliers, being morally, ethically, philosophically, politically bone-headed enough to basically tell a pregnant woman that she can't do a training because she is pregnant. It'd be grounds for dismissal in the same manner that it would for me as a teacher to tell a student that they can't go on a field trip because they're pregnant. She is yet to be on the board, he needs her vote to move policy, under what plausible rationale would he really do that? Because he wants to bully a pregnant woman BEFORE she comes onto the board as a potential vote? I'm not buying it. However if it can be shown that indeed that is the case then by all means...

Skipping to #4 - I agree totally up to a point. This is like Galen saying the liver moves blood. No one knows what the hell is going on because no one, save lawyers, have access to anything. As far as PR, that's a two way street with sidewalks, bike lanes and U-bahns. As far as Burchett I like him to a degree personally, just like I do Beth Harwell or any other folks with whom I vehemently have disagreed in the past and the present. I have MAJOR concerns about whatever game he is playing. When we tried to pass legislation protecting people from aerial spraying he did nothing to help us even as an urban senator on the ag committee. Where does the county mayor stand on collective bargaining, tenure law, class size and comparative teacher pay? Maybe he just missed those meetings... Whatever, I'm sure that'll get the non-verifieds out in force. But if you're a teacher and you think you've got an ally in Burchett, please prove it beyond saying he doesn't like JMac. The low hanging fruit is already on the ground rotting.

#'s 3 touches the surface of the vastly more important, less spinnable issues. In a better, more ideal situation, this would be an issue upon which well organized unions and community groups would coalesce. Teacher tenure (which some may know is simply requiring a "just cause" rationale) is a significant front in the war, the other issues brought forth verge on palace intrigue BS which distract frontliners and their allies from the important battles in the war. Frankly they approach celle holes or diversionary feints. Because whoever, whatever it is we are engaging, the last thing they need or want is a well focused group that doesn't get distracted. Which brings me to #5.

The calls to "recall BOE members" and "fire Jim or buy him out." Although I've been guilty of the latter, the reality is, none of these are realistic. I realize now such language isn't constructive, but I think it's because people here are genuinely frustrated at the lack of the Super and the Board to reasonably respond to any criticism.

Organizing is EXTREMELY HARD. Whenever we try to do this work we must always test it against any number of important, revealing questions. One is - given our strategies and tactics (which IMV have yet to be democratically decided in any meaningful way wrt pub-ed reform) - is the goal winnable, and does it pass the "limited time and resources" test? At least in my experience, having done it and having slept in a Holiday Inn last night, I can say that it is very hard to build anything which will questionably result in an improvement. Strategically, affected people assembling some solid changes, knowing where those can be made (e.g. local versus state versus federal) and testing those proposals against the aforementioned organizing questions above would be a good starting point.

My own feeling is that those of us who are trying to engage on pub-ed reform do our best to construct power, policy positions and supporting networks - financial, political etc, - to advance our cause. One main concern is defining exactly what that cause is. What it is not is gripping about a nonbinding side agreement and personalities. What it is about is whether one of the last vestiges of the American public sector will exist in 10 years before it is privatized and its unions atomized.

Average Guy's picture

But in the end unless someone

But in the end unless someone can show otherwise (e.g. go back, look and show how that nonbinding document has harmed teachers, board members, kids etc), what K Carson had to say about it seems to me also a reasonable representation of the issue


When Parthenon showed up with their suggestions for cuts, the Board's reaction was either surprise or a belief the "timing wasn't right".

Parthenon's suggestions would hurt teachers and kids IMO.

There were no questions of; "who is Parthenon?", "why are they here?", "what do they do?" and "where have they done it before?"

Maybe those kind of questions would have "stumped" the super.

TNchickadee's picture

Those questions about

Those questions about Parthenon would not have stumped the super. Since he worked with them in Boston, he knows exactly who and what they are about.However, I suspect those are questions he wouldn't want to have to answer, publicly anyway.

Mike Knapp's picture

Time and resources

Time and resources
AG - You're damn right the Parthenon approach is bad news for teachers and students e.g., 32 kids in my honors bio class is 12 too many in my book. It is more neoliberal pigschlop. And as you've noted elsewhere in these pages we also recognize that we know a lot about that outfit thanks to the relentless, mole-like digging by our own Tamara Shephard who did more reporting on that sector of the reform web (along with JC Grim, Stick and others) than many. The record shows that there were not many of those types of questions which you referenced above. We don't know if they weren't asked because of the non-binding agreement or other reasons. In my experience those questions gets asked on committee and other places when a well organized group has allies on the elected body and in the media who have been persuaded by the merits of the well organized groups's argument and feel justified to probe and ask questions. It also helps when folks are ahead of the curve on the issues.
If folks are organizing then the digging done by TS and JGrimm gets democratically analyzed, discussed incorporated and boiled down to be put in the seriously time constrained yet trusting hands of teachers and parents who can then lobby their respective board members and media to push back on the Parthenon/Neolibagenda perhaps moving forward a progressive education platform which IMO includes smaller class sizes, shorter class periods and longer plan periods and apple pie everyday for starters. This, versus spending time and energy on conjecturing and speculating about the awful non-binding anti-stump agreement.
Time and resources - where are they spent.

Bad Paper's picture

another great source

I learned a lot of new information here: (link...)

Bad Paper's picture

oust not recall

"5. The calls to "recall BOE members" and "fire Jim or buy him out." Although I've been guilty of the latter, the reality is, none of these are realistic."

I don't think recall is the answer. I think ouster is. Board members have defined duties by both the county charter and T.C.A.. They violated those duties by voting for and accepting the McIntyre side agreement. It is a complete dereliction of duty. Scott Moore was ousted for less.

Let me illustrate a reason why these BOE members should be ousted: (link...)

"The conviction carries a penalty range of eight to 12 years, but Morgan, who has no criminal history, qualifies for probation and perhaps judicial diversion. Diversion would keep the conviction off his record if he stays on the straight and narrow during a probationary period.

Defense attorney Jeff Daniel said a request for diversion “could be a possibility.”

Currently, with the exception of Scott Moore and Cynthia Finch, are there consequences for breaking the law in Knox County? Chad Tindell and John Duncan III got diversion. Cynthia Finch got probation. Apologize, pay the money back, and move on. Everybody does it.

Is the law just a suggestion in Knox County? Those BOE members disenfranchised the people in their District. Not a single person ever voted for Dr. Jim McIntyre. Yet he had authority over the BOE. This may even be a civil rights violation.

This is much more than a Superintendent who has "bad optics" with PR.

KC's picture

Is the law just a suggestion

Is the law just a suggestion in Knox County? Those BOE members disenfranchised the people in their District. Not a single person ever voted for Dr. Jim McIntyre. Yet he had authority over the BOE. This may even be a civil rights violation

Why McIntyre is still holding on is beyond me. He has no shame and needs to go now. He's either smart, and will take the easy way, or not smart, and will take the hard way.

If he's thinking Haslam will come to his rescue, he needs to think again. Haslam will cut him loose as soon as McIntyre becomes a political liability, and he's quickly getting to that point.

Murray K's picture

Minority opinions need more support

So they don't want to hear the opinions of minority? This country, our whole constituion and government was set up to respect the opinion of the minority as equal to the opinion of the majority. The majority doesnt need government support because the majority already has the upper hand. It's the minority opinion that needs the support of government so that the basic rights of all citizens, not just the majority, are protected.

Cece's picture

I like this

The BOE.


Bad Paper's picture

Karen Carson

Unplugged. Unhinged. Unbelievable. Last night was a record for Carson.

Michael Martinez represents the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists and politely and calmly explains to the BOE that their side agreement is a violation of free speech: (link...)

Karen Carson goes off in rebuttal: (link...)

Not done, Carson opines on why she won't take advice from the Law Director saying he is not the King or Pope: (link...)

Alrighty then.

KC's picture

Carson=power mad.

Carson=power mad.

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