"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Knoxville Native Offers Firsthand Account of Life Under Broad's Most Vanilla Corporate Boss

Broad Foundation stooge, Jim McIntyre, is in the news again, at least in the alternative news, since the corporate media of Knoxville has never printed a story that could reflect badly on the Haslam/Chamber of Commerce's pick for school superintendent.  The Metro Pulse says in a solid piece of reporting that McIntyre is having another go at privatizing KCS's janitorial services, an effort that failed last spring.

Could this be a precursor to privatizing the teacher corps of Knoxville--or the entire state?  Don't think I'm joking, for an effort is underway by Michigan's fascist governor, Rick Snyder,  to do just that.  This development puts McIntyre's refusal to acknowledge KCEA as a bargaining collaborating unit until the State makes clear its legislative intent into a whole new light.  Perhaps the Broadies know what is on the planning board for Tennessee parents and teachers if the Oligarchs have their way.

Meanwhile, Knox County parents led by Kari Hancock are challenging the local policy of using student TCAP scores to determine grades and student placements.  The grades part follows on a state law passed by the right-wing TN Legislature, but the student placement business reflects McIntyre's own tilt toward using racist and classist tests to sort children. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

It should be an interesting year for McIntyre, whose new contract continues to pay him over $222,000 per year, more than the Vice-President of the United States makes.  Especially interesting if the cowed teachers of Knoxville begin to speak out, as this lifelong Knoxville native and veteran teacher did an email to me:
. . . . In my own experience, every special education staff person was required to attend a mandatory meeting in which we were told by the SPED director that it was the superintendent's expectation that all KCS staff were to demonstrate "alignment" with his "vision" and policies (although any "vision" or "policy" had yet to be stated) , that we were to make no statements to friends, neighbors, or community members which expressed any doubt regarding or disagreement with his as-yet unstated policies and "vision", and that Knox County was moving in a "new direction" and we could either "get into alignment ("alignment" is one of his favorite buzzwords) or be "left behind" (there was no doubt that this meant "fired").

Our spineless Central Office bureaucrats at the AJ [Andrew Johnson] building downtown scrambled to be the first to kiss the ring of our newly anointed corporate-backed leader so as to protect their own positions as well of their personal fiefdoms which they had established for their friends, relatives, and cronies over the years.  Front-line staff became expendable cannon fodder in show-trial disciplinary actions as Central Office supervisors sacrificed veteran and novice teachers alike to demonstrate their "alignment" with the new regime.

Of course, staff morale plummeted and continued to do so as McIntyre kicked his PR machine into overdrive and ingratiated himself with the local media who were all to eager to serve as his personal echo chamber, hosting him repeatedly on local news programs to field banal, soft-pitch questions from starry-eyed "reporters" whom he regaled with buzzwords and platitudes in his carefully-cultivated and obnoxiously obsequious public persona.  All the while, front-line staff were reminded by their supervisors to remain quiet and "in alignment" as questionable actions were taken to keep themselves and their departments below the new superintendent's radar.  Heaven and earth was moved - regardless of  preexisting KCS policy or even existing state and federal law - to avoid unhappy parents, any threat of  lawsuits, or any negative public discourse for fear it would reflect badly upon the bureaucracy and run counter to McIntyre's PR policy.  Incidents of violence or illegal activities occurring in individual schools were hushed up and glossed over by administrators lest word get out that such things were occurring under McIntyre's leadership.

Meaningful, individualized, and appropriate  programming for SPED students fell by the wayside in favor of a "please all parents at all costs" phony feel-good policy of "inclusion for all" as a beginning move toward reducing the amount of veteran SPED teachers on the payroll   Staff members who dared speak out found themselves facing professional disciplinary action on random "allegations" of wrongdoing with their pending disciplinary action often reported to the press by McIntyre's PR people before the employee was even aware of it - only to be followed by placement on unpaid leave for the duration of an endless "investigation" in hopes of simply starving the offending staff person into exiting the system.   Dog and pony shows were hastily arranged by principals as McIntyre's office, in his much-touted promise to "visit every school" called individual schools to inform them of his intent to "visit"  that day with his entourage of HR staffers and the occasional school board member with the local press corps obediently in tow.

Not surprisingly, our own KCEA stood mute in McIntyre's first years here even as their rank-and-file members felt the full force of his top-down, unilateral, anti-teacher,  pro-business policies - responding only with platitude-filled newsletters advising teachers to eat healthy and get plenty of sleep to help manage work-related stress and, more often than not, failing to mount any meaningful defense for front-line members who found themselves "out of alignment" with McIntyre's policies.

McIntyre's first year bled into his second and third as our star-struck elected school board continued to eat out of his Broad-trained hand while the local media continued to report each press release from his office spokesperson as factual "news"  to a public caught up in a teacher-bashing frenzy while our educators stood silent out of fear for their  jobs.   He received one glowing review after another from the school board, citing "widespread support" for his policies and leadership style among teachers and parents while praising the public "visibility" afforded him by his cadre of professional PR people and spokespersons.  His contract was extended before it even neared the point of expiration much to the surprise and disgust of the very same people the school board, in their endless naivete', credited with being among his staunchest supporters.

Even as teacher layoffs were deemed an inevitable result of budgeting realities during the recession, funding was found within the budget  for the establishment of a "Leadership Academy" for corporate-minded aspiring principals within the system.  As school budgets for basic necessities such as paper and toner were slashed to the bone, and as programs of all types were downsized, reduced, and eliminated altogether, money was found to open new facilities owned by politically-connected businessmen and investors hungry for a slice of public money - such as an alternative school opened in a failed shopping mall and a STEM school opened in a turn-of-the-century train station, privately owned  previously underutilized as office and banquet space.  Race To The Top funds "awarded" to the county as a result of McIntyre's policies were used to create an entirely new level of bureaucracy consisting of dozens of new "consultants", "liaisons", "coaches" and "coordinators" who contribute nothing to student achievement.

Even as McIntyre continued to use the current economic situation as political capital and to exploit the national trend of teacher-bashing to sway public opinion to his ends with his push toward laying off teachers, outsourcing services to corporations, and attempting to erode the rights of  established (AKA higher-paid) teachers to due process and fairness in the workplace,  he added two more Broad-trained corporate hacks to his already bloated Central Office management team, creating new positions with meaningless titles out of thin air.

When finally queried during a budget meeting by an astute county commissioner on how such a large central office staff could be considered justifiable in light of the current fiscal reality, McIntyre produced a document outlining the results from a study conducted in 2001 (long before his tenure here), which described the Central Office staffing as numbering 85 positions and as being "adequately staffed".  What McIntyre did NOT divulge, however, was that Central Office staff at the time of that budget meeting was that his Central Office staff  had grown by 400 positions since the 2001 study!  Of course, the KCS organizational chart was quickly reorganized after this false presentation in order to appear "in alignment" with McIntyre's lie.

McIntyre overplayed his hand last year, however, with his attempt to use the pretense of  an "emergency budget crisis" to unilaterally cancel the contractually-obligated annual step-raises of certified staff during a meeting of the school board.  When a lone school board member questioned the appropriateness of this action in light of the intentions not being made public as well as the unilateral nature of his proposal, McIntyre pushed the remaining members to override her in an "emergency" ruling. 

Ultimately, he did not get his way as the school board allowed a referendum to be held by KCEA members regarding this proposal prior to it's adoption into the budget.  Despite McIntyre's PR machine using the local media as a bullhorn to trumpet threats of widespread teacher layoffs if the measure was not passed, the measure found no support amid the rank and file who saw it for the shameless  power play it was.  With McIntyre's hand being slapped away from the cookie jar for the first time, he again took to the press and tapped into the national anti-teacher sentiment to paint the educators whe refused to support his proposal as "not willing to do what is right for students.".

Ultimately, ZERO layoffs occurred, with the only casualty of this fiasco being the revocation of  downtown parking fee reimbursement for McIntyre's central staff  at the insistence of  the County Commission.  And this event is EXACTLY why McIntyre is leveraging the current political and legislative climate in TN to marginalize and render impotent the KCEA.

And today the local media is already reporting glowing reviews from the School Board on his annual evaluation, with yet another early extension of his contract all but certain at the conclusion of tonight's meeting.

I'm sure Eli is proud.

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