Reading between the lines on school security issue…

More and more people are reading about the failed security systems at Powell Middle School and Hardin Valley Academy, largely thanks to some great reporting by Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Most every member of the Board of Education, except for Mike McMillan, has rushed to try and cast a wide net in assessing blame.  The point being Superintendent James McIntyre bore little or no responsibility for failing to adequately inform the Board of the serious nature of the lapse in security.  Few Board members, again save for McMillan, have even bothered to express dismay at losing a significant amount of taxpayer money, although one could consider it infinitesimal considering the schools spend over half a billion of taxpayer dollars every year.

McIntyre has admitted he didn’t provide a copy of the full audit report that detailed the serious problems with the security systems at Powell Middle School and Hardin Valley Academy; McIntyre’s “report” to the Board consisted of little more than a sentence August 1, 2011 saying there were “deficiencies” at both schools.  By that time, the Board and the County Commission had already voted to move to another security firm, but it is interesting to consider Superintendent McIntyre was then currently in the midst of being evaluated by the Board of Education.

The “deficiencies” included missing motion detectors and security cameras that didn’t work properly or at all.  McIntyre never elaborated on the deficiencies to Board members, most of whom admitted they knew nothing about them until the stories appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

That might explain why he chose not to better inform the Board, as any sort of “black eye” might have caused some Board members to be less generous in their assessments of his leadership.

Board members were to have their evaluations written and submitted to the Board chairman later that week; the Board chair was to have all the evaluations ready by August 20 and the Board was summoned into special session on August 29 to consider extending McIntyre’s contract.

Clearly detailing an instance where the ball had been dropped would not have added to McIntyre’s luster, especially after he had been warned about school security chief Steve Griffin’s interest in the failed security company, as well as the fact Griffin’s son-in-law worked for the company.

Members of the Board have been falling all over themselves to blame just about everybody but McIntyre.  Perhaps the most hysterical and curious example was former Board Chairman Thomas Deakins going on the “Bob and Ed” radio show on WNOX and claiming he himself was responsible for any failure, as he didn’t ask any questions.  Deakins didn’t bother to explain just how he reasoned he should have asked questions when the Superintendent had carefully filtered information to the Board.  He didn’t bother to explain, because he couldn’t.

All of this comes at perhaps the worst possible time for McIntyre; his heavily promoted State-of-the-Schools address was an excellent presentation, yet his declaration about installing an armed officer at every school rang a bit hollow considering his having diverted information from the Board about a serious lapse in school security.  The fact Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J” Jones had already issued a similar clarion call also lessened whatever impact McIntyre thought it might have.

The safety conference sponsored by McIntyre along with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department and the Knoxville Police Department will likely also have that hanging over it, making it less the spectacle the Superintendent hoped for.  Lastly, this scandal comes just before the school system sends over its budget to Mayor Tim Burchett and the Knox County Commission.

McIntyre has never been particularly successful in getting more money out of the County Commission, a fact most of the Board of Education has been slow to recognize.  Nor have they been very bright in considering their own credibility has been damaged with both the Commission and the public by their blind allegiance to McIntyre.

Last year McIntyre coordinated an all out assault on the county treasury, calling for a large tax increase.  McIntyre has piously claimed he has nothing to do with taxes (aside from spending the lion’s share of the county’s budget); he merely asks for what he needs from the County Commission, which is the funding body.  It is yet again another of McIntyre’s disingenuous explanations which skirts the truth of the matter.

Despite having the full support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Knoxville News-Sentinel, as well as a paid  advertising campaign funded by a few millionaire Chamber members, McIntyre’s budget didn’t get a single vote from the members of the County Commission.  It was a stinging rebuke, although McIntyre tried to take credit for the extra money allocated by Mayor Burchett and the Commission.

In his evaluation of Superintendent McIntyre last year, Mike McMillan pointed out the filtering of information, the slow delivery of information requested by Board members, and McIntyre’s desire to personally sign off on any information given to Board members.  McMillan also flatly said in his evaluation of McIntyre that it was clear the Superintendent could take no credit for the extra money given the school system as it would have been granted regardless of who had been Superintendent.

James McIntyre has proven not to be the icon some have thought him to be, nor has he demonstrated an exceptional ability in running our school system.  For a public official who is paid more than the Vice President of the United States, McIntyre has shown far less vision than a propensity for attempting to micromanage and filter information to show himself in the best possible light.

Neither he nor the Board of Education look especially good in the light of day at the moment.

By Steve Hunley

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