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From the News Sentinel
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mitch Steenrod is chairman of the Knoxville Chamber Board of Directors.

Mitch Steenrod: Knox schools budget proposal driven by accountability

The 2012-13 Knox County Schools budget request increase of $47 million over the current fiscal-year amount is a bold request. But a bold request is what is needed in order to drastically improve the current student performance of Knox County Schools.

Only 19 percent of students in the Class of 2011 hit all four ACT benchmarks (English, math, reading and science). That translates into 2,906 out of 3,588 students exiting Knox County Schools being unprepared to enter college or the work force.

Our area community colleges affirm this level of unpreparedness. More than 60 percent of Knox County students who enter those facilities need to take remedial courses. Students are then less likely to graduate and fulfill whatever dreams they may have had for a professional future because of the frustrations associated with extended time lines to college completion and the need to relearn how they learn to be successful in upper-level education. Thus, we have fewer prepared workers we can hire to work in area businesses. It is as simple as that. If these statistics don't require bold action, then I don't know what does.

If we don't support the school system's plan, we are accepting these outcomes and the consequences that will arise as a result. Our schools may be showing small gains and, in fact, are outperforming all other urban school districts in Tennessee. But at the current marginal pace, we may have to wait for an entire generation to pass before we see the level of outcomes we need now. We don't have the luxury of waiting.

The Knoxville Chamber Board of Directors has unanimously approved a resolution in support of this bold request. The need for better student outcomes leads to more skilled and educated people for the work force. The Chamber is convinced that there is a clear plan behind the investment and a commitment to measure its success with defined outcomes.

The Chamber has had the privilege of working with Knox County Schools for five years to assist in framing the budget and accountability metrics. In 2007 the Knoxville Chamber formed a new Education and Workforce task force to partner with Knox County Schools to identify areas where business-related concepts could help strengthen management of the schools.

The task force saw budget development and cost analysis of Knox County Schools as a priority. We made it clear from day one that if they could show us where the dollars were being spent and where there was room for an improved return on investment, we would stand with them in support of a carefully considered plan to drastically improve student performance.

Our partnership began with the development of a data warehouse known as the Education Management Information System. EMIS was developed with the same framework as a data management system that successful businesses have been using for the past decade. Student performance can be paired with the costs of instruction or programs in determining the return on tax-dollar investment.

Fast-forward to January 2012. Leadership from Knox County Schools, Knox County financial staff and business community representatives, including myself, began the work of constructing Knox County Schools' budget for fiscal year 2012-13. I can say with confidence that no other school system in the United States has subjected itself to such transparency, potential criticism and business-minded accountability. Superintendent Jim McIntyre, fortunately, is accountability oriented. He saw the value of the partnership and leaned on the varied expertise to help develop and articulate a call to action for our community to invest for results.

This budget request is bold in that many of the plan's concepts are derived from business concepts that Knoxville Chamber members have been utilizing for years. It focuses on investing in elevating student performance and achievement; on investments that elevate teacher performance and accountability; on investments that elevate student engagement; and on efforts to build student skills necessary to function in a changing environment through the use of technology. Finally, it carries a commitment to educate our area's youth in order to provide the necessary talent pool that existing and future businesses will require for success and attraction to the Innovation Valley.

 


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