Interim School Superintendent Buzz Thomas is off to a good start with his letter to the community. Thomas has hit the right note by clearly indicating he’s cognizant of every stakeholder involved in the school system, which extends beyond teachers, students, and parents. Buzz Thomas even mentioned the taxpayers, a group Jim McIntyre seemed never to consider. After all, anything done for students and teachers, comes directly from the taxpayers, most of whom are parents and/or grandparents. There are also a goodly number of taxpayers who are childless, yet support the school system by paying taxes. Aside from Mike McMillan, one almost never hears the word “taxpayers” uttered by any member of the Board of Education and even less frequently by the McIntyre administration.
Thomas has been direct and to the point about those things the school system hasn’t done well: transportation, transparency, public relations, continuing the reading program to ensure students are reading at grade level, and lack of preparation for those students intending to go on to college. The Focus has been critical of Jim McIntyre and his administration for many of these same reasons, which have been stated in my editorials. You never read a single word that any of these things needed to be improved in the pages of the daily paper. You never heard the local TV news anchors ever ask Jim McIntyre about any of these things, much less ask a difficult question. Yet Buzz Thomas had the courage to just come right out and say exactly what the school system needed to do better, something most of the local media either didn’t have the intelligence or fortitude to question during McIntyre’s reign.
Yet Buzz Thomas went about it in the proper way, stating the facts without being critical of his predecessor, although the inference is clear. McIntyre was an imperial superintendent, dictatorial, supremely confident that he was always right. Thomas’s insistence we invest in making certain our students can read at grade level is a necessity and anyone with the slightest common sense will admit it; yet it is in clear contrast to the ephemeral goals of McIntyre. He was here for eight years and could have invested in the reading program, which would not have existed in any school had it not been for the insistence of Mayor Tim Burchett, who had to find the money to pay for it. Rather than investing in the reading program, Jim McIntyre spent a year chasing approval for a balanced calendar, which he estimated to cost somewhere between $2 and $20 million. McIntyre nudged the Board to spend almost $1 million on the Parthenon study, a study so useless even his rubber stamp Board members couldn’t deny it. And McIntyre grew the bureaucracy.
Buzz Thomas has already proven to be as practical as Jim McIntyre was flighty. For eight years, McIntyre seemed to think each year he could coax or demand more money from Mayor Burchett and the County Commission simply because he wanted it. Outside of the daily paper, the business elite and a rubber stamp Board of Education (until it was wiped out in the last election), nobody bothered to pretend they were impressed with McIntyre’s pursuit of the next big thing and ignored the fact he hadn’t even finished the last thing before pursuing another thing. McIntyre managed to spend $30 million outside of the regular budget in two years, yet seemed to believe Burchett and the Commission would simply continue to provide unlimited taxpayer dollars at his whim.
The local media and the Chamber types never seemed to realize that people in Knoxville and Knox County just didn’t connect with McIntyre. With a colorless personality, a smug attitude that he was always the smartest person in the room, and dictatorial style made him a figure impossible to sympathize with, much less like. Buzz Thomas is, to put it bluntly, the anti-McIntyre; extraordinarily likeable, always willing to listen, and interested in working with everyone.
The attitude taken by Buzz Thomas is worth mentioning because it is refreshing and I believe it helps set the table for the permanent superintendent once the new Board of Education has gone through the process of hiring one; Knox County needs a respite from what clearly did NOT work and needs a superintendent who can work with everyone, listens, and isn’t beholden to any special interest, which includes the teachers as well as the Chamber types. A superintendent who has the confidence of the majority of the PEOPLE will be successful. Jim McIntyre proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.