Jennifer Owen, school board member, sits outside South-Doyle High School after being asked to leave by state Rep. Eddie Smith. (File photo)

The day before Halloween, District 2 school board member Jennifer Owen made an open records request to the University of Tennessee for financial information about UT’s Leadership Academy and Center for Educational Leadership, now headed by former Knox County Schools Superintendent James McIntyre.

The source of McIntyre’s $180,000 annual salary (which is paid by unknown benefactors) is of particular interest to Owen, although her curiosity is not confined to that topic. She also wants to know where all the academy’s funding is coming from – who’s contributing and who’s controlling it, as well as the number of new principals the academy has produced, their attrition rates and performance reviews.

By law, UT had seven days to let Owen know how long she’d have to wait, but as each deadline loomed, she said the open records coordinator kept creating new ones.

A week after Owen’s request, the board appeared poised to terminate KCS’s $900,000-per-year participation in the academy, which McIntyre founded in 2010 to train principals. But longtime McIntyre supporter Lynne Fugate stymied the vote by invoking personal privilege, which tabled it until December, shortly before the Leadership Academy’s nebulous agreement with Knox County Schools will automatically self-renew.

(Owen and county lawyers have been searching for documentation of a school board vote on the KCS-UT joint project and have found none.)

By Thanksgiving, Owen was out of patience.

“I was told that the redaction would take a very long time and he would get back to me in another week,” she said in a Nov. 27 Facebook post.

“I explained that Knox County Schools has a partnership with UT which should allow (board of education) members to see that data without redaction … blah, blah … and he didn’t bother to even respond.

“(In the meantime, I requested that the KCS administration ask for the information from UT. Nada.) … This is asinine. There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for this lack of information. … If you hear someone out there, claiming that the Leadership Academy is anything more than a giant scam, you should seriously question their motives, their ethics, and their wallets.”

Later that day, UT did a classic document dump and sent Owen a massive file of information, which she said she is working through.

Chief Deputy Law Director David Buuck said Owen is justified in her dogged search for truth.

“It’s just a screwy situation and Jennifer wants some answers,” Buuck said.

“They’re slow-walking it over there. Who is funding it, and who’s getting funded? We don’t know who is behind it. And Bonny Jim McIntyre walking out of (the superintendent’s job) with a sweetheart deal (a lump sum payment of more than $227,000) that we never approved, then walking into an $180,000 a year job at UT for teaching one class? Teaching principals when he’s never been a principal? Somebody was funding it and Jennifer’s entitled to get that information.

“We have one of the finest colleges of education in the country, and they already have a master’s level program for training administrators. You can’t be a principal unless you have it. A tenured professor with 20 years teaching experience may get $105,000 a year.

“McIntyre walks in, has never taught and he’s going to get $180 grand a year? If I’m sitting there teaching several classes a week and worrying about publishing and research, I’m thinking, ‘My God, what is this?’”

Not everyone opposes the Leadership Academy, though. J. Laurens Tullock, who heads the soon-to-be-defunct Cornerstone Foundation, has been lobbying for the contract renewal, as has former interim superintendent/Great Schools Partnership president Buzz Thomas, who has been contacting prominent African Americans to warn them that terminating the Leadership Academy will be bad for minority educators, students and communities.

Learn more about the Leadership Academy here.

 

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Written by Betty Bean