A legend tells of a French monastery known throughout Europe for the extraordinary leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks began a pilgrimage to visit Brother Leo to learn from him. Almost immediately, they began to bicker about who should do various chores.
On the third day they met another monk going to the monastery, and he joined them. This monk never complained or shirked a duty, and whenever the others would fight over a chore, he would gracefully volunteer and do it himself. By the last day, the others were following his example, and from then on they worked together smoothly.
When they reached the monastery and asked to see Brother Leo, the man who greeted them laughed.
‘But our brother is among you!’ And he pointed to the fellow who had joined them.
The just-related story should be one of special relevance to the current leadership of Metro Nashville Public Schools. I’d be willing to bet that Brother Leo would not announce a districtwide budget freeze to principals and then hop on an airplane to Seattle to moderate a panel on building a talent pool like MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph did. I hope the irony is not lost on you because it certainly isn’t lost on me. I’d love to see an explanation of how this trip aligns with the district’s strategic framework.
The district memo released this week informed principals that “This freeze will include all school purchases that fall into the budget category of non-staff expenses (software, supplies, transportation, field trips, IT purchases, equipment, etc.).” Several principals have confirmed that their requests for expenditures have been already been denied despite the district saying they could apply for exemptions. Some of those requested expenditures included things like paper and basic schools supplies… you know, the necessities.
The reasoning behind this drastic move is purportedly the loss of $7.5 million in state funding. Which to me, feels a whole lot like cutting off your leg because you stubbed your toe. The reaction is just not proportionate to the loss, unless there is something else at play.
The move comes in the midst of the budgeting process for next year. A process that has already produced its fair share of drama. Some speculate that the freeze is an attempt to drive parents and community members towards city council members with the narrative of underfunded schools. The desired outcome would be to paint a picture of a district so woefully underfunded that the loss of a mere $7.5 million is enough to throw the whole school district into a catastrophic tailspin.
That’s a feasible assumption, save for a few caveats. The first being, and I don’t know how else to say this but bluntly, I have yet to see evidence that district leadership is capable of executing day-to-day activities in a competent manner, so to ascribe to them the ability to develop a hidden agenda is a bit of a stretch for me.
Secondly, surely Joseph and company do not believe that our city council members are gullible enough to fall for such a parlor trick. I know that he has spent woefully little time in developing relationships with any city leaders other than ex-mayor Megan Barry, but I can assure Joseph that there are some astute financial minds amid that body. They are not just going to write a check without asking some hard questions. Councilman Freddie O’Connell and Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher are already tuning up the band. That shouldn’t be seen as a lack of support, but rather one of ensuring the district gets it right. If resources are not utilized wisely, kids suffer.
Lastly, I find it hard to believe that a professional educator would knowingly keep resources out of the hands of children just to drive an agenda. Maybe I’m being gullible, but I still feel most of us put the needs of children first, and therefore want to extend the benefit of doubt to Joseph and his team.
Whatever the reasoning behind the freeze, I think it’s safe to say that principals ain’t happy. Especially because things are equally tumultuous in regards to next year’s budget. The proposed redistribution of Title I funds is resulting in several schools facing severe budget cuts.
Dr. Joseph argues that he is making the change due to equity concerns, even going as far to tweet out a graphic illustrating his vision of equity. Interesting opinion of Nashville he’s depicting here.
But let’s look at some numbers, and you tell me where the equity is.
Charlotte Park ES has 403 students and 183 receive direct services. Dupont ES has 361 with 188 receiving DS. In the new budget, Dupont will receive $244,412. Charlotte Park will receive nothing. However, if the formula from 2 years ago was still applied, Charlotte Park would receive $80,154, while Dupont would get $93,624.
Now you may be saying, “Yeah, but by giving one school the more substantial amount, we can make more of a difference.” Okay, how about I come to you and say, “Look we both have $10, so all we can get is a hamburger. Give me your $10, though, and I can get a steak. Somebody’ll come along and feed you.” Are you going to leap at that proposal?
Let’s compare two middle schools. Isaac Litton MS has 498 kids with 206 receiving direct services. East MS has 433 and 218 receive direct services. East is slated to get $283,388 in Title I funds in 2019, while Isaac Litton gets a big zero. Under the formula from 2 years ago, East would get $105,948, and Isaac Litton would receive $81,576.
Let’s look at a high school. Overton has 2,029 students with 883 of them receiving direct services. Stratford has 1,105 with 768 students getting direct services. Stratford, under the new formula, will receive $897,260, and Overton will receive nothing. In fact, Overton will lose $721,764. Under the formula from 2 years ago, Overton would get $370,860, and Stratford would get $460,800. It feels like to me that in regards to equity, much like academic performance, we are moving in the wrong direction.
Maybe the argument is that by giving the schools with a higher percentage of Title I funds more money, you can make those schools more attractive to higher income families. That’s a little bit of social engineering whose outcomes can’t be guaranteed and fails to address the needs of today’s students.
Riddle me this, what are those high-needs schools going to use the extra funding for? Is the awarding of extra resources alone enough to create equity? I’ve yet to see a plan that outlines how those extra resources will be utilized. The go-to plan for the last two years has been to designate resources, hire an executive, and then have that executive hire an outside entity to do the work under the guise of lack of capacity. That’s been the plan for home visits, procuring substitutes, training teachers, writing curriculum, literacy, and even creating budgets.
The most unpalatable part of this process to me is the Hunger Games-like atmosphere that is created. I just devoted 3 paragraphs depicting the merits of one group of kids versus another group of kids. We are asking principals to argue that their kids are more deserving than other principal’s kids. We should find that nauseating. These are supposed to be all of our kids. Any proposal that suggests a vision otherwise should be soundly rejected by all of us.
Parents have begun to raise questions about what sacrifices are being made at central office. Rumors were circulating early in the week about an increase in central office expenditures by almost $8 million. District leadership said that was incorrect and blamed a clerical error as the foundation for that mistaken assumption. To date, no figures for central office have been presented. I presume they will emerge at Tuesday’s meeting, but it’s hard to speak on things that haven’t been seen.
That is part of another element that is making the process more difficult – the district’s inability to provide accurate numbers for the budget. Figures are continually shifting. I know that often happens with budgets, but the current figures should remain constant with only the projections changing. That’s not happening. Errors are routinely pointed out by principals, parents, and community members. Sheets are presented and then proclaimed outdated with no notice.
Leadership is about creating a narrative and then offering factual information to support that narrative. Here we have a process that has been ongoing for two weeks and is continually searching for a narrative to emerge. So far, the only consistent element has been that of equity. Is that enough of an element to hang a school budget on? Shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t the district be driving the narrative instead of waiting for the community to write it?
As a parent of children in a high-needs school, I welcome a conversation centered around equity. That conversation has to start with a definition, though, in order for us all to be on the same page. If Dr. Joseph aspires to lead that conversation, he needs to aspire to be more like Brother Leo. Be one among us instead of lecturing us on what we should become.
The next chance for people to chime in on the budget comes on Tuesday at the school board meeting. Things get started at 4 PM with a committee meeting and then will go on for a while from there. If you can show up, please do and wear red to offer support to our teachers who are seeking the ratification on a recently-agreed upon MOU at the same meeting.
Looking at Tuesday’s school board agenda, I spy a number of speakers from the White’s Creek HS boys basketball team. I can’t help but wonder if that’s connected to basketball coach Carlton Battle striking a parent at a recent game. It should prove interesting. And yes, he’s related to that Battle. He’s her brother.
Remember when we were telling everyone that Dr. Joseph’s transition team was made up of the best and brightest minds in the country? Well one of those stars has dimmed. This week found former Baltimore Superintendent of Schools Dallas Dance in a courthouse pleading guilty to perjury charges related to him not declaring $147K he’d received from outside consultants. Dance was facing 40 years in the yard, but will probably only serve 18 months due to his plea. His new accommodations should prove less comfortable than the ones provided at the Omni Hotel by MNPS.
I wonder why the Tennessee Achievement School District even pretends to be anything but a state-sponsored charter authorizer. This week, they released the list of candidates to become the next superintendent of the ASD. Shockingly, all 4 candidates have extensive experience with charter schools. It makes it hard to have a different conversation about charter schools when the state continues to act in such a disingenuous manner.
Remember back a couple of months ago at the school board meeting where then-Chief of Staff Jana Carlisle presented on the plan to move 5th graders back to elementary school? The board balked at the associated costs, and Ms. Carlisle asked, for clarification purposes, did this mean they did not want to proceed with the idea? The board then nixed the idea of moving forward with the idea. Apparently there wasn’t enough clarity because next year, Cane Ridge ES will be piloting 5th graders in elementary schools.
Along those same lines, I would like to take a moment to give a tip of the hat to the leaders of the Overton Cluster schools. Back in the fall, Abby Trotter and I took on the task of unofficially reactivating the Overton Cluster PAC while the district figured out their direction.
Right from the beginning, cluster leadership, as well as Southwest Quadrant Superintendent Dottie Critchlow, lent their support. At the meeting this past week, we had representation from every school in the cluster. To say I was blown away is an understatement. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the administrators of the Overton Cluster for their support and willingness to sacrifice even more of their precious time. We can only go up from here.
Reminder: Friday, March 16, will now be an instructional day. Students will attend school that day to make up for an inclement weather day used in January.
Make sure you check out Vesia Hawkins latest take on budget issues out today.
Supporters of Pre-K are collecting signatures for a petition asking for the district to fund universal Pre-K. Please sign.
Psssst… I know you don’t want people to know, but I know you are excited about a new release today from Judas Priest. Breaking the law. Breaking the law.
Here’s the latest rumor that I’ve heard that I hope is true. The EDDSI’s were scheduled to take an upcoming trip to Virginia. In light of the recently announced travel freeze, they politely declined to take the trip. Now that’s a little Brother Leo for ya.
Time for this week’s poll questions.
Obviously, the first one will be on the proposed formula for the redistribution of Title I funds. What do you think?
Secondly, let’s get a little harder with the questions this week. We spend a lot of time talking about equity, but has the district actually become more equitable? What do you think?
Lastly, if you could be tempted to leave MNPS, which surrounding county’s school system do you find the most tempting? That’s for both students and educators. I ask because there has been talk around the budget that attributes declining enrollment to people moving outside of the district. In essence, I’m trying to get a feel for where people might be going.
That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them out there.
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