A Word On The School Board Election
By Joe Webb Guest Commentator

I generally would not presume to suggest how another person should vote. Doing so seems rude and just terribly forward. I won't do so here, but it occurred to me that some might not have the benefit of my experience over the past 18 months, and that my insight into the Loudon County Board of Education might be useful in the coming election.

To that end:

A couple of years ago, I began to look into how Loudon County Schools did business. I wasn't on a witch hunt. I just observed things - mostly in IT, and Facilities Management -  that didn't seem to make sense. The central office seemed to be bleeding money like a stuck pig, while the schools (the places where the education happens) starved for resources. That effort resulted in discovering rampant waste in IT, and of course, everyone is probably aware of the facilities management issues - especially life safety compliance which led to presentation to the grand jury and allegation of reckless endangerment of the occupants of badly neglected facilities.

Throughout this process, I was constantly struck by the role of the Board of Education in the failure to supervise the Headlee administration - especially Hemelright in facilities management. Under Tennessee law, the Board of Education has responsibility to hire and basically supervise the Director of Schools. That vital supervisory role has not been successful here in Loudon County because the Board of Education has been stacked with what I call "Headlee enablers", and they held a slight majority over those who were trying to get it right. It seemed appropriate to let you know who they were, and what were their roles.

Bill Marcus, Seat 1A: Not a Headlee enabler. He did have the courage to raise the issue of buying out Headlee's contract and eliminating Hemelright's position and he deserves credit for that.

Scotty Newman, Seat 1B: Good guy who has not been afraid to question Headlee's administration and voted to buy out Headlee's contract and eliminate Hemelright's position.

Larry Bass, Seat 3: Major Headlee enabler - voted to keep and praise Headlee and Hemelright while his school (Greenback) quite literally crumbled around children and in some cases, endangered them. His opponent, Lisa Russell did the hard work of gathering public records on the issues of maintenance neglect. She was brave and worked hard to get the problem solved, refusing to be satisfied with banal platitudes from Headlee's flunkies - including Bass.

Freddie Gene Walker, Seat 5A: The quintessential hell-raiser - the bravest, best member of the Loudon County Board of Education! He spent a good part of his time challenging Headlee's incompetent administration and never failed to look out for the taxpayer as well as the kids. I don't know who his opponents are, but I do know that Headlee's flunkies have been looking for sufficiently malleable candidates to remove the Walker thorn from their side. Freddie is a treasure and his loss on the board would be significant to the future of the schools.

June Clinestiver, Seat 5B: Major Headlee enabler. I saw no real evidence that she ever considered critical examination of anything Headlee said or wanted. Her opponent, Van Shaver is a former commissioner with a reputation for rocking the boat in order to protect the people's interests, and a willingness to do the math in order to get to the bottom of things.

Nancy Paule, Seat 7: Major Headlee enabler. Again, no evidence of critical analysis of anything the Headlee administration said or wanted. I once spoke with her about enormous waste in the IT department. She treated me like I owed her money, and went on to praise the IT manager (Jill Pierce), who resigned after my findings had become public. I don't know her opponent, Craig Simon, but its difficult to imagine that he could be as useless as Paule.

I don't know what you can do with the information, but there it is. Please don't take my word for it. Talk to people - check the record.

However you vote, please keep in mind that Headlee didn't get Loudon County Schools in this sorry state all by himself. He has been aided and enabled over the years by a negligent board that failed in its responsibility to ask the hard questions and make the tough decisions. Your choice this election won't do much about Headlee because he's retiring soon. But, you do have a chance to make certain that we don't ever have to pay for this real estate again. Without strong, tough-minded, independent, critical-thinking board members, we are destined to repeat a disappointing, terribly expensive past.