New $44,000 TV ad to air in support of Knox Co. Schools budget

New $44,000 TV ad to air in support of Knox County Schools budget


6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Supporters of a big proposed funding increase for Knox County Schools are stepping up their efforts to sway public opinion.

Beginning Thursday, ads will air on local television stations supporting the $35 million school budget request.

The 30-second ad begins by asking, "Why support the $35 million Knox County Schools budget increase?" Then it addresses different questions raised on accountability and transparency.

The ad was created by Alex Lavidge, a volunteer for Support Our Schools, an organization lobbying in favor of the budget.

"I'm a very passionate volunteer. I'm a third generation Knoxvillian. This is my home town and after working with the volunteers at Support Our Schools, as a fiscal conservative I support this," Lavidge explained.

Lavidge produced the commercial with a friend, but the $40,000 advertising campaign is being paid for by the Partners Initiative Fund, a foundation associated with the Chamber of Commerce. 

"We thought the spot was an interesting spot that dispelled some of the myths about the budget, and there was a group of business people in the community that thought it would be good to turn into a commercial," said Garrett Wagley, the chamber's vice president of policy and public relations.

So who is putting up the money? Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes, Randy Boyd, CEO of PetSafe and Mike West, of Northshore Management, all put in $10,000 each.

Mitch Steenrod, CFO of Pilot Flying J, and Rodney Lawler, of Lawler Wood, each donated $5,000. All of them are members of the Chamber of Commerce.

But they aren't the only big business names lobbying for the school's budget.

Mike Cohen, who runs a public relations firm, was hired by a private company to drum up support as well. "I'm going around talking to commissioners, trying to convince them this is a good investment to the community," he said.

Cohen also says the company wants to remain anonymous.

However, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says he had to answer for his robo calls so others should answer for their lobbying efforts. Originally when 6 News spoke with the mayor, the Chamber had not released the names behind the ad funding.

"That shows the arrogance of this group. They think they're not accountable because of who they are," Burchett said.

Mayor Burchett also said the commission's vote on the budget will most likely be pushed back. It was originally on the agenda for May 30, but due to scheduling conflicts for a member of the commission, it could be delayed until June 4.

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