Pressure is building for Knox County Schools to end its $800,000-per-year arrangement with UT’s Center for Educational Leadership, which is directed by former Knox County Schools Superintendent James McIntyre in return for a $180,000 annual salary good for three years.
Until Monday night’s board work session, smart money said the deal was toast. The majority of the sitting board members were not yet in office when the deal was struck in 2012, and most of them had openly opposed McIntyre while campaigning. After the second batch of unfriendly board members was elected in 2016, McIntyre announced that he’d resign at the end of the school year. A few months later he took over as director of the center, which trains principals for Knox County Schools through its Leadership Academy.
The academy fellowships last about 15 months and involve both classwork and hands-on, four-day-a-week experience with a mentoring principal, and carry an $80,000 salary (mentoring principals get $5,000 stipends).
McIntyre’s critics consider the Leadership Academy a way for him to keep promoting his Broad Academy, high stakes testing/corporate education reform methods in Knox County.
On Monday, board members Mike McMillan, Jennifer Owen, Tony Norman and Susan Horn peppered KCS Supervisor of Research and Evaluation Clint Sattler with questions. McMillan, who was one of three current board members who were in office in 2012, said the board had never signed off on the Leadership Academy and asked deputy Law Director Gary Dupler if there is a valid contract in place.
Dupler tactfully sidestepped the issue and said the one-page document (which wasn’t signed by then-UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek) is set to self-renew in December unless the board acts to terminate it, and that it needs to be rewritten.
“Even if there were no questions, it’s been a long time,” Dupler said. “Typically, we renegotiate contracts every five years.”
McMillan kept pushing: “Was the money approved by the board, specifically? I don’t believe it was.”
Owen challenged Sattler to provide proof that the program produces superior principals, then asked if he has ties to any of the Leadership Academy fellows. He said that his wife is a LA fellow.
Norman questioned the validity of Sattler’s data and said that 60 percent of the time students’ scores drop when a principal is replaced. Amber Rountree observed that the jump in salary (starting with the $80,000 pay for academy fellows) that accompanies the fellowships is probably a motivating factor in attracting candidates to the academy.
Horn said only 41 percent of new principals are LA fellows: “Is this still needed? Looks like we’re not depending on this as we were in the beginning.”
It was looking bad for the Leadership Academy until Superintendent Bob Thomas put in a plea to consider some belt-tightening instead of termination. He promised a proposal for the December board meeting. He may well have saved the day.
“I know there are some board members who are adamant about defunding the academy and doing away with it. But after last night, some may be willing to renegotiate a contract that would meet our needs and be cost effective,” said board chair Patti Bounds.
Bounds said she is now leaning toward keeping the program but favors laying down new guidelines.
“It never hurts to have a partnership with the flagship university in the state. I think we need to look at what we can do to cut the costs to Knox County Schools and the taxpayers.”
Owen remains skeptical.
“I think what we have done is increased the number of administrators in schools. We’re increasing the bureaucracy. The reason they feel they need more assistant principals is the ridiculous amount of administrative time the evaluations take up.”
Ironically, even if KCS defunded the academy, that’s no guarantee that McIntyre would lose his job. A person close to the program said it’s doubtful. Under his contract, McIntyre’s salary is funded privately and is not part of Knox County Schools’ contribution. He has expanded UT’s program to rural counties and has the national standing to secure grant funding.
Mark this one as too close to call, for now.