9th District School Board Race Pits Experience Against Change

NUMBER NINE: Pam Trainor is challenging incumbent school board member Robert Bratton.

NUMBER NINE: Pam Trainor is challenging incumbent school board member Robert Bratton.

Robert Bratton is a two-term incumbent candidate for the 9th District of the school board.

Robert Bratton is a two-term incumbent candidate for the 9th District of the school board.

School board candidates Robert Bratton and Pam Trainor agree, more or less, on the choices their election campaigns present to the voters of South Knoxville and South Knox County. But not surprisingly, they put the emphasis in different places.

Bratton, the two-term incumbent for the 9th District, sees it as a simple matter of experience versus inexperience. With veteran board members like Sam Anderson in the 1st District and Dan Murphy in the 4th stepping down this year, he says it is important to retain as much institutional knowledge as possible.

“We need to have people on the board that understand the history,” says Bratton, 47, who served two terms on County Commission before running for school board. “A lot of people will tell you they’ve been in the trenches, and they have, but most of them get there after the trenches have been built. I built the trenches.”

Trainor, also 47, claims a fair amount of experience herself. She has been active in South Knoxville PTO and PTA groups since her children started school, and she is the sitting president of the Knox County Council PTA. But she also lumps Bratton in with what she sees as a moldering political establishment.

“Nice guy, he really is,” she says. “But effective in representation, not so much. When you’re a school board member or a commissioner or a councilmember or whatever, your job is to bring your community together, as a voice. And that has not been done.”

Building a sense of community in the 9th District is no easy thing. It rambles from industrial urban neighborhoods just south of the river out to rolling farmland and tucked-away hollows near the Blount and Sevier County lines. The consolidation that happened after Knox County absorbed the old city school system eroded long-standing local loyalties—to South-Young High, where Trainor went to school, and Doyle High, Bratton’s alma mater—creating in their place the single sprawling zone of South-Doyle. The high school, far out on Tipton Station Road, is remote from much of the population it serves. Trainor, who lives in the South Haven neighborhood, notes that it takes less time for her to get to Austin-East, Fulton, or West high schools than to her own children’s school.

To counteract all that, she proposes to host regular town hall meetings throughout the district, bringing administrators from the middle and high schools into neighborhood elementary schools so that parents across South Knoxville can feel more connected to each other and the school system.

“That’s never happened,” she says. “I think that would ease a lot of tension.”

Bratton, for his part, talks about bigger-picture goals. “We need to continue working on getting all our children on grade level by third grade,” he says. “Math, spelling, all the subject matter. That’s the single biggest indicator whether a child’s going to be successful. I was an early supporter of the pre-K program, which a lot of people aren’t for.”

He boasts a grasp of the budget process and the complicated relationship between Commission and the school board that he believes will be valuable through what look to be continuing tight budget years.

Bratton was not a supporter of hiring Superintendent Jim McIntyre in 2008—he preferred Assistant Superintendent Bob Thomas for the job—and has remained something of a McIntyre skeptic. Trainor, on the other hand, sees a lot to like in the current administration, including its outreach to parents. “This guy came into a world of mess,” she says of McIntyre. “He seems to have a stick-to-it-ness.”

Trainor finished first in a field of four candidates in the May primary, taking 33 percent of the vote to Bratton’s 29 percent. Combined with the 24 percent who voted for Tammy Sommers, a businesswoman and former teacher, that would suggest a sizable anti-incumbent sentiment in the district. But Sommers has not endorsed either candidate, and Bratton says he has three times before finished second in a primary and then won in the general election.

One possible factor, barely mentioned by either candidate, is a sexual harassment case against Bratton that the school system paid $21,000 to settle in 2008. (Bratton paid $3,000 of his own money.) A maintenance worker at South-Doyle Middle School complained that Bratton had grabbed her and made sexual advances. Bratton declines to discuss the case on the record, but he has always denied that any sexual harassment took place. Trainor says people raise the issue while she’s out campaigning—“It’s still a very hot topic in the community”—but says, “I try to stay away from that.”

She thinks the race will come down to dissatisfaction with incumbents of all kinds this year. “The old guard, we’re sick of it all over the county,” she says. “I think it’s across the board.”

Bratton, meanwhile, says he thinks voters understand his commitment to schools and to students. “Everybody campaigns for education,” he says. “I think my record shows I have supported education my whole life, with my votes.”

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Comments » 14

concernedkcmom writes:

After listening to both of them speak, I think Bratton is a much better fit for the office. He seemed to be spot on with answers without having to "think" about the best things to say. Ms. Trainor liked to keep saying (over and over again) about her PTA roles and her current President position. One has to wonder if the PTA affiliation is just a stepping stone for future goals??

tianda writes:

Let's see Mrs. Trainor has been involved with pta/pto for over 13 years. I'd hardly say this is a stepping stone for her, more like the next best step. Mr. Bratton on the other hand has been on the county taxpayers role for 16yrs (17 if you include the years salery that was paid towards settling the harassment case). As a career politician I'm sure he has a upper hand at anwsering quistions on the cuff. It's the follow thru I'm concerned about.

eml writes:

I'd be more impressed with Bratton's grasp of the budget process if he paid off the other $18,000 he cost the school system with that sexual harassment settlement. ;)

skctnusa writes:

Both running in the 9th are not the best choices. Both are Democrats pushing the Obama agenda of govermental control over education. Race To The Top to be specific. I wish we had a conservative choice but out of the two running in the 9th, Bratton is more qualified, smarter,and experienced.

kd writes:

Pam Trainor is clearly the choice for the 9th district. Just ask parents and teachers in South Knoxville. Bratton is always going to get back to you with an answer and never does.
I have witnessed Trainor get things done.

skctnusa writes:


Can you be specific on what Trainor has accomplished? Other than running before for the same seat in the 9th(and losing)? I don't mean to be disrespectful, but come on..... being in the PTA is not my idea of a huge accomplishment.

sknzj65 writes:

Mrs. Trainor has never run for school board before. She ran for county commissioner.

sknoxteacher writes:

"Nice guy..." That is too generous a description of Bratton. There are many teachers who are afraid of him and his tendency to retaliate against anyone who opposes him. Some are afraid that if they show support for another candidate, he will obstruct their careers. If you ask around in South Knoxville you will hear stories about Bratton lashing out against rivals for political office and coaching jobs. He is a confident speaker, but it is a mask of arrogance. A smarter candidate? He was banned from entering the South Doyle Middle School for two years during his most recent term. See the article link below for more information on the sexual harassment incident which cost our schools $18,000 to cover up his "smart" behavior. We absolutely need a new person in this office.


concernedkcmom writes:

I don't think an unproven event towards Mr. Bratton should be used against him. It seems like Ms. Trainor has unleashed her "troops" in the PTA to bad mouth Mr. Bratton. At least he carries the office with authorty and confidence, much unlike Trainor would. She is just too timid and dare I say.....a little "thick"?

sonofsphere writes:

As a 9th district constituent, taxpayer, and concerned parent of a child enrolled in Knox County schools, I expect representation on the school board that is ethical and honest. I also expect that school board members conduct themselves in a professional manner that would be required of any public employee in the Knox County school system. Mr. Bratton's past actions have not demonstrated a commitment to a code of ethics and behavior that should be mandatory for anyone in public education. In response to skeptics who don't seem to understand the severity of his sexual harassment case that occurred at the South-Doyle Middle School, please read a PDF copy of the victim's statement:


It is shameful that Mr. Bratton was not dismissed from his position on the school board for this incident. If a teacher, principal, or other school employee had been accused of similar behavior, they would likely be unemployed as a consequence. As voters, we should hold our elected public officials to an equally high standard. It is time for a change in South Knoxville.

tianda writes:

Well from what I have seen and heard Mrs. Trainor has neither spoke of or printed and information regarding the above mentioned incident. So lets throw that out the window. Amoung many things Ms. Bratton voted against the increase in academic standards (no need to better ourselves). Thought banning class room books was better than amending them and the mere fact that a elected official would threaten individuals for not seeing things his way is so appalling. I'm speechless at the thought of individuals defending his actions. Possible these defenders would feel differently after working after hours.

jimbo writes:

I personally know Robert Bratton and I don't appreciate all of these slandering comments. NOTHING was ever proven about the so called harassmant issue. Innocent until proven guilty? Or doees that only apply to people you are in the tank with? Trainor needs to come out and denounce these remarks, unless she is behind them. What a sad state of affairs if she is. I agree with the thick minded comment above if this is true.

jimbo writes:

By the way, I read the "victim's" statement from the link above and it is a joke. It looks like it was written by a child. Looks like someone was after some settlement money if you ask me.

sknoxteacher writes:

I also read the statement, and it looks like someone picked a victim with less privilege, power, and education than himself.

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