The Daily Pulse:

School Board Candidate Outtakes: All the Funny, Juicy, and Totally Irrelevant Stuff We Didn't Have Room For

As lengthy as our two overviews of the Knox County Schools Board of Education races might seem, there actually wasn't enough room to fit everything in. So, in no particular order other than by district, here are some outtakes we had to leave on the cutting room floor. We doubt any of them will sway your mind towards or away from one candidate or another. Still, as our sworn duty is to create an informed public, we thought this information was worth sharing -- or at least kind of interesting.

1st District

A) Yes, Gloria Deathridge does read the paper. Despite rumors to the contrary, Deathridge insists she does indeed read the News Sentinel. It's true, she says, that she doesn't have a home subscription, but that's because she gets the paper at work. (We're not sure what this means in regards to the Sunday paper, though.)

B) Remember last summer when the New York Times celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and they interviewed a guy from Knoxville who ran security for Martin Luther King, Jr.? Yeah, that's the same Robert Boyd now running for school board. He's got some really interesting stories about those days.

C) Remember back in 2007 when Betty Bean wrote a story about the SEC's first black All-American, UT football player Jackie Walker? Who may or may not have been kept out of various halls of fame because he was gay and came out to his team in the '70s? Yep, Marshall Walker is his brother. And he's still fighting to get Jackie inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. It could finally happen later this spring. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

D) Deathridge gave a pretty vague answer when we asked her about charter schools on our questionnaire, so during our interview, we asked her specifically what she thought about the proposed Emerald Academy, based on what she knew about it thus far. We also asked if she had had time yet to look at the application. 

"We do not have access to the full application before the meeting," Deathridge responded. 

This interview was on April 13, by the way. Emerald submitted its application to KCS on April 1. The application, in full, has been on our website since April 1. We have written about it. The News Sentinel has written about it. Other news organizations have written about it.

We pointed this out to Deathridge. She replied, "Well, we leave that to the [KCS Charter School Review] committee anyway. They review it and bring us the recommendation." 

4th District

A) In Scott Clark's questionnaire responses, he mentions a handout Superintendent Jim McIntyre passed out shortly after he was hired. Here it is.

Note: All the markings are Clark's, not ours. But "non-sense"? We don't know about that, McIntyre.

B) Clark is a huge fan of kickball, and used to play with his students every day when he taught.

C) Lynne Fugate says she doesn't read the comments on the News Sentinel, KnoxViews, or any other local website. 

D) Despite rumors (in the comment sections of websites Fugate avoids), Sally Absher does believe the earth is billions of years old. (She's a geologist, you guys.) She laughed out loud when asked about it. 

E) Critics of Absher have brought up her speeches in opposition to Agenda 21, like this one from 2011 in Rutherford County:

Absher also wrote this letter to the state GOP about Agenda 21, in which she says:

What you need to know is that this is the end plan, unless we stop this now. As with most incremental plans, this won't happen all at once ... All people will live inside the black dots on the map, in "stack 'em and pack 'em" high rise apartments. No lake houses. No mountain cabins. No suburbs.

Since MPC and Commission, not the Board of Education, determine zoning ordinances and planning regulations, this is hardly the most pressing issue in the race. However, when asked about Agenda 21 and that specific letter, Absher replied, "I would say that my views have moderated on that too. I do believe in personal property rights, but who's to say that my property rights are more important that my neighbor's? ... I've kind of stepped back a little bit."

F) At some point in the past year and a half, Absher gave this speech comparing Common Core to Obamacare. An except reads:

There is more to both Obamacare and Common Core than meets the eye. I have been amused lately to hear people shocked - shocked, I say, that they are losing their individual health plans; that the prices are sky-rocketing, that the president lied when he said that if you liked your healthcare plan you could keep it, etc. It was never a secret that the end goal for Obamacare is to destroy private healthcare insurance and force us into a European socialist single provider system. Over half of the country just refused - or was so dumbed down by public education that they were unable - to connect the dots. Not that this was a new idea - many of you are familiar with Ronald Reagan's famous speech in 1961 warning of the evils of socialized medicine. Like Obamacare, there is a deeper, underlying end goal to Common Core. In 1934, the Carnegie Corporation said we are going to use the schools to change the US from a free market system to a planned economy. In a planned economy, as in Communist countries, the administration chooses at an early age what your child will do all throughout their lives.

Another excerpt reads:

They also support charter schools which are tax funded public schools WITH NO ELECTED BOARDS. ... This is Taxation without representation! There won't be any elected boards to complain to about sex, drug, and death education in the schools, or the politically correct "green" nonsense. A free society elects its representation. A tyrannical society consists of unelected boards/councils (did you know the term for an unelected council is "soviet"?)

We first came across the speech on the Floridians Against Common Core Education website, and we asked Absher about it when we interviewed her. She said the speech was written as an anti-voucher speech for her conservative friends in West Knoxville who send their kids to private schools.

"You can do horizontal marketing, where you have the same message for everybody, or you can do vertical marketing, where you kind of tailor your response to your individual audience," Absher said. She added that her issue with vouchers is that they'll take away some of the freedoms private schools currently enjoy. We asked Absher when she had delivered the speech, and she said she couldn't remember exactly but thought it was "probably early 2012." 

Shortly after the interview, we realized that the issue of "the president l[ying] when he said that if you liked your healthcare plan you could keep it" didn't really come up until last fall. So we did a little more research and found the same speech quoted on the CharterTruth website as a "Presentation by Sally Absher, at a conference in Nashville,TN  Nov 2, 2013." We also found the speech uploaded on the Tennessee Against Common Core website with the file name "nov._2_common_core_speech_final.pdf."

We called Absher to ask about the discrepancy. She took a minute and said she was looking at her calendar and then told us she had delivered the speech on Nov. 2, but in 2012, not 2013, and in Greene County, not in Nashville. "Other people have been using that speech, and it still gets attributed to me," Absher said.

However, further research shows Absher was scheduled to speak on Common Core at a tea party-affiliated Tennesseans for Liberty & Freedom event in Cocke County on Nov. 2, 1013. (She also gave a Common Core speech to the same group in Morristown last June.) 

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 8.32.36 PM.png
None of this to say that Absher isn't sincere in her renunciation of party politics, but she doesn't appear to have been telling the full truth about her timeline in leaving them.

6th District

A) Terry Hill might support creationism in the classroom, but she's still to the left of the Knox County legislative delegation -- she absolutely does not support vouchers for private schools. Hill pointed out that it's easy for parents to transfer their children out of failing schools in the district, and those are the same involved parents who would be the most likely to take advantage of vouchers. "It isn't like these kids have no way out," Hill said.

B) When we asked Brad Buchanan how he'd have time to juggle a board position with his full-time IT job and family responsibilities -- four young kids don't take care of themselves -- he said he's already (partially) doing it. "I lie in bed and read the agenda packets on my iPad," Buchanan says. (We're sure his wife loves that.)

C) We asked Tamara Shepherd to address criticisms that she views anyone even tangentially connected to the "education reform" movement as part of a broader "conspiracy" to privatize public education, and she blew up. (For the record, we used the specific word "conspiracy" because we'd heard it tossed around by her critics. Also for the record, it was not the first nor the last time she blew up during our interview.) 

"The conspiracy is evident!" Shepherd said. "Anyone who doesn't understand that the conspiracy exists hasn't done their research." 

Later, Shepherd would comment about this on KnoxViews and suggest we "stick your endorsement process and whatever conclusion it may lead you to ... in your ear." She would also suggest that no one in town who hasn't read certain documents be allowed to endorse candidates. (Which is to say, basically no one in town.)

D) In the News Sentinel recently, Sandra Rowcliffe publicized the fact that a Facebook group dedicating to improving education and teaching conditions in Knox County wouldn't let her join. Here's the actual full correspondence mentioned in the KNS story:

Dear Ms. Rowcliffe:

Thank you for your interest in SPEAK; we believe this means that public figures such as yourself are increasing their awareness of community concerns. The postings in the SPEAK Facebook group are open for public viewing, and we hope you will take the time to read through articles and information provided to become more informed about issues of importance to the community. However, we regret the difficult conclusion to refuse your request for posting privileges on the page.

SPEAK is dedicated to empowering parents, teachers, and students who are working for positive change in public education. We believe that discouraging PTA parents from publicly sharing their views and claiming that concerned teachers have a "lynching mission," does not align with these goals. We hope you can understand our concerns and our decision to prioritize the expression and empowerment of the community that has, until now, not felt empowered to SPEAK for education in Knox County. If you would like a more official dialogue with SPEAK representatives, we would welcome that opportunity.



Ms. Nagel:

While I certainly must respect your decision as an admin of the SPEAK facebook group, I do feel compelled to disagree with your assessment of me. I have never nor would ever discourage PTA parents from sharing their personal views. In fact, if I recall correctly, when a reporter called me to discuss security issues at Northwest Middle and fundraising efforts by the PTA there to address them, I put her in touch with you directly knowing you'd possibly have a difference of opinion than me. I can only assume this allegation towards me is in reference to the email I, as President of KCC PTA, sent to local unit leaders regarding the endorsement of a candidate or political party. These rules are, in fact IRS regulations taken directly from their website, not PTA rules, not my own. And, further, I sent that email reminder at the request of Ms. Terri Hill, one of my opponents as she was concerned that she had not been invited to an Amherst Elementary event and felt it unfair when other candidates had been invited. 

As for your reference to concerned teachers on a "lynching mission", in my remarks to the BOE in which that term was used, I cited the behavior of a few unprofessional people, in my opinion, who resorted to name-calling and bullying and distribution of an inappropriate cut/paste utube video. If students had exhibited these behaviors in school, there would have been action taken by administration, therefore, I felt and still feel it was a "lynching mission". That behavior was absolutely not out of concern for anyone, nor was it professional. Although I don't believe that behavior has totally ceased, I have not seen any on the SPEAK group thus the reason for my request. In fact, I'm not even certain the SPEAK group was in existence at the time of those remarks.

With all this said, however, I will continue to read and gain awareness re: education concerns throughout our community as you suggested. As I have repeatedly stated, any discussion about education is a great discussion to be having. Have a wonderful day! And remember, Our Kids Are Capable!

In case you've forgotten -- because who on earth can keep up with all this? -- Rowcliffe sent an email in January to all PTA members telling them to not get political. That's what the SPEAK email is referring to. Rowcliffe, of course, is the president of the countywide PTA. 

9th District

A) Amber Rountree admitted the rigors of campaigning took her by surprise. "I had no idea what I was getting into," Rountree said, laughing.

B) Pam Trainor also admitted the intensity of the current campaign had surprised her. When asked why she wanted to continue serving on the board, given the recent animosity directed towards her and her fellow members, Trainor laughed. "Sometimes I ask myself that same question," she chuckled.

C) That SPEAK Facebook group Rowcliffe got upset about? Trainor did too. She refused to answer the group's questionnaire:

In light of recent dialogue concerning your group ~ SPEAK, and who is granted or denied access to said group, my wish is to not take up any undue time of yours or mine by answering the questions below. They are well thought out questions and hold considerable merit. However, in my opinion, any group centered around advocacy, that chooses it's members in such a discriminating manner as yours, gives me great pause. To deny the president of a local chapter of the oldest parent, teacher, student, advocacy group in the country, if not the world, is beyond reproach. I have been a proud member of PTA for over 15 years now. 

I chartered 3 new Knox County chapters in my time as county president, and have witnessed immeasurable benefits that these organizations have brought to, not only our local Knox County schools, but to schools across our entire country. It is sadly concerning that teachers and parents joined in this SPEAK group, many of whom I know and have worked with personally, who have benefited greatly from PTA organizations in some facet or another, would now shun it and disregard it as relevant.

Pam Trainor

The back story on that, however, is that Trainor's friend, active PTA member and newspaper destroyer, Kristi Kristy, was also denied posting rights on SPEAK. She got so upset about it that she sent several emails to the entire school board (sans Mike McMillan), along with McIntyre, KCS cief of staff Russ Oaks, KCEA representative Tanya Coats, Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles, and a couple of reporters. We won't paste the entire correspondence -- because why on earth would you want to read that all? -- but here's a sample:

Dear Speak,

Can you please provide an address in which a person can send a certified letter to your group, as well as the names of your current board members and all current and previous administrators on your Facebook group along with the addresses in which I can send these individuals certified mail as well should the need arise.

I find it extremely disturbing that an open Facebook group of 1300 people would send a rejection email to my PERSONAL email address which is not listed on Facebook (as opposed to a Facebook message) denying my request to join the group). 

I find your claim that my 'subsequently characterizing the speech of teachers in the public forum as "gross misconduct and unprofessionalism" and denigrating the use of social media by teachers' equally disturbing since I never stated it was 'gross misconduct or unprofessionalism' for a teacher or anyone else for that matter to speak at a public forum or use social media!!!!! I would like to know very SPECIFICALLY what you are basing these accusations on as well as the very specific incident that prompted me to allegedly say these things.    Should these claims being sent to me via a rather anonymous email be personal 'assumptions' on the part of your board I would like to remind you that making and spreading such assumptions is a very clear case of defamation of character.   Perhaps I should  'assume' that this is what all 1300 members on your Facebook group are saying about me since you prefer to hide behind the group name. If your entire group (again without a signature one must assume it is the position of every single member) is basing these claims on an email that was shared by 8th district BOE member Mike McMillan then I would suggest that you go back and read that email VERY carefully.  

I appreciate your cooperation in providing the requested information as soon as possible.  Since the McMillan email I am referring  to voiced specific safety concerns surrounding my children which I am sure you will understand my need to copy the BOE as well as Mr. Oaks in this communication.

Kristi Kristy 

The End

That's it. That's all we've got. If that's not enough for you, well, then you need to go into reporting yourself. Or send us more tips. Either one works. 

Now go read our endorsements. And then GO VOTE.

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Metro Pulse staff members instantaneously commit their innermost thoughts to the Internet for your information and/or amusement.