Troyer Keeps the County Books Reversing the Polarity

From lacrosse player to finance director, he'll need his toughness now Some say local Magnet schools will have to look beyond race in order to evolve

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City Beat

John Troyer became Knox County's senior director of finance in a palace coup July 12 that saw John Werner resign, effective Sept. 1, from the post he'd held throughout the administration of Mayor Mike Ragsdale.

Werner, he of the $7 Smoothie breakfast and the $2,000-plus reimbursement for county credit-card charges, isn't bothering to come around his old office.

So Troyer, a six-year county employee as comptroller in the Finance Department, can now run it as he sees fit. He sees that duty well, according to Frank Leuthold, the veteran county commissioner who came out of retirement early this year to serve as an interim member until the term-limited Commission seats are filled by election.

â“He was the logical choice,â” Leuthold says of Troyer, with whom Leuthold says he's worked in the past as the Commission's expert on budget and finance issues. â“I've also known him because we go to the same church. We've played softball with his family.â”

Leuthhold says of Troyer, â“He's not a political type. He's not going to take positions. He's going to handle the budget,â” Leuthold says. â“He's a good person, too.â”

Kathy Hamilton, who preceded Werner as county finance director and served in that job for 13 years, echoes that sentiment. Troyer is a â“good person,â” she says, whom she knew in his nine years as Blount County finance director before he left for the same job in Bartlett, Tenn. â“I hired him because I knew he was involved in [government] management, and I needed someone who could step right in when my deputy left,â” Hamilton says. â“He was a finance director from way back, and we were both active in the Tennessee Government Finance Officers Association,â” where Troyer is the current president.

Troyer, a slender, bright-eyed father of two sons who once played club lacrosse at UT, says he was happy in his job at Bartlett, the Shelby County community where he went to high school, because it is, in his words, â“a great town, great people.â” But he answered Hamilton's call back to East Tennessee because his wife is a Maryville native and missed the home turf.

A Wisconsin native and the son of a former Kimberly Clark engineer and finance specialist, Troyer moved with his family to the Memphis area when he was 13. He got his bachelor's degree in accounting at UT, went back to grad school there for his M.B.A., and is also a CPA.

When Troyer was asked what he does for fun, outside his numbers-crunching profession, he shot back, â“You mean that's not fun enough?â” Laughing off his own joke, he says his joy is coaching his sons in lacrosse competitions.

He also spends time kayaking with his elder son, a sophomore at Farragut High School, and expects the younger, a sixth grader, to take kayaking up when he's a little older. â“We live near Turkey Creek (the real creek, not the mega-mall), and kayaking Ft. Loudon Lake is a natural pastime for us.â” He also is a part-time fisherman, he says, but just â“off the dock, with worms.â”

Told that Werner had difficulty explaining county finance issues to reporters, who need full explanations, Troyer says he understands the problem because, â“Accounting is not a required course in journalism.

â“I try to explain numbers pretty well,â” he says, because of an experience he had when he started out as Blount County finance director. A county commissioner there, Richard Williams, instructed him: â“â‘Tell us, Mr. Troyer, in plain Tennessee English, what it is you want us to vote for.' Thank Commissioner Williams for an early lesson. Keep it simple,â” Troyer says.

Prior to joining Blount County government, Troyer was accounting manager for the former Bike Athletic firm in Knoxville.

Back in the private sector as chief financial officer for Double-J Creative, a Knoxville visual media company specializing in film, print and web production, Hamilton says she expects Troyer to do well as finance director.

â“I'm enjoying this [job], and I'm glad I'm not having to deal with any of this [county financial controversy] right now,â” Hamilton says.

And she says she's confident that, given Troyer's background and temperament, â“He can deal with it.â” â" Barry Henderson

There's no small irony in the fact that the recent decision to remove race as a consideration in student transfers in Knox County will have the least effect on those local schools designed with the goal of increasing racial integration in the first place.

The county's five so-called magnet schools, conceived in 1993 with the intent of mixing black and white students in special programs in formerly downtrodden inner-city institutions, stopped using black-to-white ratios as criteria in formulating student populations under the direction of former Superintendent Charles Lindsey, says school board member Indya Kincannon. Kincannon is also a member of the Magnet Task Force, a committee that is currently recommending changes in the structure of the magnet program.

â“Partly, there was a problem because some of the African-American students weren't getting a chance to participate in the magnet programs in their own communities,â” says Kincannon. â“Most of the programs have plenty of capacity anyway, so it only seemed reasonable that anyone who wanted the opportunity should be able to get into the magnet programs.â”

The magnets in Knox County include elementary schools Beaumont, Green , and Sarah Moore Greene, as well as Vine Middle Magnet Performing Arts and Sciences Academy and Austin-East Performing Arts and Sciences Magnet High School. Though viewed as successful on some levels, the program has come under fire in some quarters, especially after an evaluation by a division of the University of Tennessee College of Education found it lacking in several respects.

Among other things, the evaluation concluded that the program has failed to sufficiently raise student achievement in certain academic areas, lacks a coherent long-term vision, and has not evolved adequately since its inception in '93. By way of example, Kincannon notes that the introduction of computers into classrooms at the Sarah Moore Green Magnet Technology Academy was unique in the early 1990s, but that other schools have long ago caught up with and even surpassed such innovations.

But school officials recognized some of these issues, says magnet schools supervisor Sandy Roach, and began implementing changes even before the Magnet Task Force made its recommendations earlier this year.

â“Administrators had already begun looking at extending the magnet programs to all the students in those schools,â” says Roach, noting the magnets were originally conceived as schools-within-schools, creating disparities. â“They're looking now at extending new benefits to whole schools, not just the magnet portions. So when Green gets allocated for more time in the magnet science labs, now all of the Green students can take advantage of that, not just the magnet kids.â”

In retrospect, Kincannon says the magnet schools' plan for achieving better racial balances â“never worked out perfectly. The kids didn't always apply for the magnet schools in the patterns and ratios they were â‘supposed to.'â”

Kincannon says she's optimistic that the school system will eventually be able to shore up the perceived shortcomings in the magnet program. Optimistic, but not necessarily patient.

â“I see a greater commitment now in the school system to support the magnet schools, and I'm optimistic about the changes I see happening. But when I got to the Task Force meetings, I wasn't always optimistic about the pace of progress.

â“I think that as the conversation of ways we need to change becomes more concrete, our tasks will become easier. I'm a big believer in what the magnet schools represent. I think they can become the pinnacle of what Knox County Schools have to offer. But we're not there yet.â” â" Mike Gibson

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