McGriff asks Tea Party to think of children first

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By Damon Lawrence

Director of Schools Toni McGriff was the guest speaker at last week’s Roane County Tea Party meeting in Kingston.

“I’m not a politician,” she said. “I would never make it as a politician.”

She has made it as the director of schools for going on six years now.

A recent contract extension will keep her in the position for another year.

McGriff gave the Tea Party an overview of the school system.

She also spoke about the pressure educators are facing today and her philosophy on money and education.

McGriff said the system has lost about 200 students in recent years.

“Nobody can tell us
why we’ve lost them,” she said. “We don’t know if it’s a low birth rate or if people have moved out of the area.”

McGriff said enrollment now stands at about 7,150 students.

Educating them isn’t cheap.

“Our operational budget is about $62 million a year,” McGriff said. “Of that, approximately 80 percent goes to salaries and benefits.

“The remainder is used for instruction, capital needs, technology, transportation, etc.”

Money is essential for operations, McGriff said, but it’s not a cure-all.

“No amount of money will change this county’s general attitude toward education,” McGriff said. “It is not very well respected in Roane County by a large number of people.”

She also pointed out that money for the school system can’t make a mother care enough to help their child do homework.

“If I could fix it, make it the way I think it should be, I would have nothing but the absolute most dedicated, most intelligent teachers that I could find,” she said.

“It’s fine to be really, really smart, and I want really, really smart people working with my kids, but you’ve got to care about those kids,” McGriff added.

“If you don’t care about them, you need to go work for Walmart.”

Politicians in Tennessee are seeking to reform education by changing the laws on teacher tenure and abolish the rights of teachers unions to collective bargain.

McGriff didn’t address those issues, but she did say educators in America are under tremendous pressure by business interests to run education like a corporation.  

“Frankly, I don’t know how you all feel about business, but it seems to me like that kind of tripped up a year or two ago,” she said.

“But there is a lot of pressure from those outside education to determine how it ought to be when they don’t know very much about education.”

Jim Ryans, a member of the audience, didn’t ask about funding or what’s being done to improve education.

His interest was use of school facilities by politicians.

“We do not use our facilities for any political purpose,” McGriff said. “I don’t think anybody’s asked to use it since I’ve been here for any political purpose that I can think of.”

“(State Sen.) Ken Yager asked this past year, and he was told that we couldn’t,” Ryans said.

“That’s right,” McGriff replied. “Because it is a political fundraiser, and we have board policy that says we cannot use the schools for any political purpose.”

“Was this done recently, because I know in years past it has been done,” Ryans said.

“It’s been that way ever since I’ve been here,” Mc-
Griff responded.