(WBIR - Downtown Knoxville) Tuesday made a massive upheaval of Knox County's school board official as new Board of Education members were sworn into office. Between this year's elections and the recent resignation of a board member, there are now four new faces on the Board of Education.
Some of the new board members ran campaigns that were very critical of the superintendent they will now be working with. That includes new board member Amber Rountree, who was highly critical of Superintendent Jim McIntyre's management of the school system during her campaign to represent the district in South Knoxville.
As for how the board of education works with the superintendent, it turns out the protocol is already plainly stated in black and white. WBIR 10News investigative reporter Mike Donila first broke the story last week of a written agreement of conduct between the Board of Education and superintendent. Some say the agreements stifle speech while others consider them good governance.
The agreements are not new. They were developed in 2008 and revised in 2010 by previous school boards. However, they only recently gained public attention when they were scrutinized by newly-elected board members.
"I just had some concerns about the agreement coming in as a new board member," said Rountree.
Rountree said the agreement has several quirky provisions that could have a chilling effect on open communication. One such agreement says during BOE meetings, "Board members will refrain from any questions or statements intended solely to embarrass or stump staff or the superintendent."
"The provision about stumping the superintendent or staff. A board member may not be necessarily trying to stump the superintendent and be leery of asking a question," said Rountree.
The agreement also says all members will support the majority vote of the board. If journalists ask a member of the board who cast a minority vote for comment, they are given four options. None of the options include openly expressing their own opinions.
The agreement says members in the minority of a vote, "if asked for a comment by media, may: a) decline to comment, b) note that they will support the vote of the Board, c) note that they will support the vote of the Board and articulate the rationale for the approved vote; or d) refer media to the Board Chair for comment."
Knox County's law director, Bud Armstrong, reviewed the document and called it a "side agreement" that is "unenforceable and not binding on the Board of Education and its Members."
"First of all, it's not a side agreement," said Superintendent Jim McIntyre on Tuesday. "I do not get a vote on it. I don't sign it. It's not a document that I'm necessarily a party to."
McIntyre says previous school boards came up with the agreement, those board members voted on it, and it was never a secret. "It's something that was developed at a school board retreat which was a publicly noticed meeting. And it's really about how the board wants to interact with each other and how they want to interact with me as their employee. I think in a lot of ways it's just good governance."
McIntyre said the topic will come up again when the agreement is discussed at the BOE's scheduled retreat on September 19. He also reiterated that he will have no problems working with those who have been critical of his performance.
"I'm excited to work with the new school board members. This is a great day for Knox County and a great day for our democracy," said McIntyre. "Anyone who is there for the right reasons, because they want to improve the education of our children, I'm looking forward to working with them."
BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETINGS BEGIN IMMEDIATELY
The Knox County School Board gets up and running immediately with its first voting meeting Wednesday evening when members are expected to pick a new chairperson and talk about the 5-year strategic plan.
Officials initially approved the plan last month with a so-called "emergency" vote, but new board members – there are four – want a chance to discuss it.