Starting with this week’s post, I’m going to make some changes to how I distribute these posts. Previously I have posted links in various neighborhood groups across the city. While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, as of late I have heard some grumblings about the perceived politics of my writing and some questions as to whether those neighborhood boards are the proper place to post. Out of respect for all, I’m going to refrain from posting in those locations going forth. While I appreciate all the groups for allowing me a vehicle to spread the word, I want my writing to inform not alienate. Besides, by now I figure y’all know where to find me.
Last Tuesday’s board meetings seems to have served as a catalyst for a more honest relationship between the MNPS school board and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and his leadership team. In the past, board members loathed to offer public criticism. That changed on Tuesday as Chair Anna Shepherd, Vice-Chair Jill Speering, and board member Amy Frogge all raised questions about this year’s budget process along with a recently imposed district budget freeze. Those repercussions are still rippling outward.
Questions didn’t stop after the board meeting. Shepherd and Speering both cited concerns in a letter to Metro auditor Mark Swan asking him to look into the MNPS budget. Some concerns were alleviated Friday when it appeared that the budget freeze had been at least partially lifted, as principals started getting budget exception requests back marked as accepted. District leadership tried to explain things off as a misunderstanding, a claim that rang a little hollow based upon the reading of communications from central office.
Over the weekend, in a Facebook post, Speering expressed concerns about Joseph’s playing fast and loose with the truth over recent weeks. In response, on Sunday afternoon, Joseph went on WQQK with his number 2 guy Sito Narcisse and the board’s budget finance committee chair Tyese Hunter in tow to defend his proposed budget. During the 40-minute interview, Joseph evoked both the mythical home of the Black Panther, Wakanda, and compared himself to former President Obama while declaring that he and his administration were merely dragging a reluctant district towards equity. What I found most interesting is that in taking to the air to defend his budget, he continued his loose association with the truth.
For example, when discussing the changes to the distribution formula for Title I funding, Joseph states, “People are all for equity except when they perceive that they are losing something.” He goes on to say that he is not taking anything away from anybody in order to give more to somebody else. Hunter reiterates this position during her talking points, and then through a reference to Wakanda, Joseph accuses, I’m assuming parents and school administrators, of taking a “We’ve got ours, don’t worry about anybody else” mentality.
I find this whole exchange a little insulting and an attempt to draw needless battle lines between different schools and communities. His argument breaks down around several tenets. First off, the claim that the redistribution of Title I funds is not taking money from one school and giving it to another defies basic mathematical principles. If there is a pot of, say, 32 million dollars, and I have 10 million and you have 22 million, how do you propose to get more money from that pot without taking money from me? Now if Sam comes along and gives us each a couple hundred thousand dollars, that is a separate discussion, but when it comes to the set pot of money, in order for you to increase your share, you will have to decrease mine. There is no other way. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
Secondly, in Dr. Joseph’s narrative, the impression is given that all the poor brown-skinned kids go to one set of schools and all the wealthier white kids go to a second, much smaller, set of schools. And that’s just not an accurate picture of Nashville’s schools. Admittedly, there are some schools at either end of the spectrum. For example, Percy Priest ES has 2.62% of students who receive direct services (DS)(students whose families receive DS is how Title I eligibility is calculated). While on the other end of the spectrum, Buena Vista ES has 100% poverty. All told, we have 29 schools at 100% and an additional 36 schools at 75% to 99%, which equal a total of 65 schools. In the interview, Dr. Narcisse stated that over half of our schools were at a 75% and above poverty level.
We have 7 schools with under 25% receiving DS. The rest fall somewhere between 25% and 75%. 28 schools fall between 50% and 75%. It’s been my experience that Nashville as a city cares a great deal about ALL of its kids and is made up of many extremely generous people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents in the wealthier parts of town reach into their own pockets to help our poorer families. To try to paint them as trying to grab on to their resources at the expense of others is, again, disingenuous.
The reality is that parents are looking at the budget and seeing fewer resources to serve kids who attend schools that are not 75% and above DS. Kids at schools between 50% and 75% DS, who are losing Title I funds, are just as needy and just as deserving of additional resources as those in higher poverty schools. The numbers in the current individual school’s budgets raise questions about whether or not they will receive the resources they need. How does equity translate into taking away extra support if you don’t go to school exclusively with economically disadvantaged kids? Furthermore, I would ask, why are we pitting schools against each other in an argument over whose kids are the most needy? How does that create a culture of collaboration, let alone equity?
The argument put forth by the district is that those schools at 100% DS are our lowest performing and therefore require extra resources, but I look over the at-risk list and I see several high poverty schools that are not in the bottom 10% performance-wise. Schools like Una Elementary, Haywood Elementary, and Taylor Stratton Elementary all have poverty levels over 75%, yet manage not to fall into the bottom 10%. Glenview ES has a poverty level of 100%, yet has failed to fall onto the priority list. So perhaps, while money is important, it’s not the only thing. I would ask has anyone really looked at what these schools are doing and attempted to replicate it? Why hire outside consultants when we have people right here in the district making progress?
Interestingly enough, in the interview, Dr. Joseph implores parents to look at the budgets online and then ask questions of their principals. But that’s exactly what Anna Shepherd, Jill Speering, and Amy Frogge did. They spent time with their principals, and after having the school budgets explained, realized there were issues. When they brought these issues forth, they were dismissed. Does Dr. Joseph believe that if parents replicate the process they’ll get different results? Or is it just another example of saying something you think sounds good to people and praying nobody checks you?
As a parent, I’ve tried to do what he suggests, but some of the numbers just don’t make sense. Look at John F. Kennedy Middle School, which is in the bottom 10% but is only at 63.49% DS, so they are losing $268,632 in Title I funding in next year’s budget. They are expected to gain 19 students next year, so their student-based budget for 2019 is expected to grow by $489,992 or… $25,789 per student? Yet next year they will average $6,148 per student, which is only an extra $131 per student. So either something is wrong with my math or the district’s figures, or we are giving someone a helping hand to the priority list.
Charlotte Park ES has 72.7% of students receiving DS and is in the bottom 8%. They are losing $193,848 in Title I money. They are expected to lose 83 kids, and therefore they will lose $347,664 from their 2019 student-based budget allocation. For some reason those kids are only worth $4,188 a kid. Their per pupil allocation next year is projected at $7,757. Up a whopping $216 or 2.9%. What about equity now?
I know some may disagree, but you can’t just say whatever sounds good, and then when questioned just write it off as noise. I’m sure Joseph, and some others, took exception to Speering’s Facebook post. But when you shut down all other channels of communication and you fail to publicly correct what are clearly untruths, what do you expect? When you put more emphasis on “managing the noise” than ensuring you are providing factual information, what do you expect? When you release such a mountain of information that it is clear your intent is to obfuscate as opposed to elucidate, what do you expect?
Is the budget project more disorganized this year than it has been in previous years? I don’t know. It feels more chaotic. We still don’t have numbers for the central office portion of the budget. Last year the full budget was presented to the board on the 14th of March, so we are a little behind. That budget presented to Metro on the 14th was then approved on April 11th. So that’s not yet out of reach for this year.
Dr. Joseph has publicly stated that he plans to release the complete budget on March 28th at his State of Schools address. That would keep us on track in comparison to last year. Unfortunately I can’t shake the feeling that he’s using the budget release at the State of Schools as a means to deflect from a lack of tangible evidence available indicating that the district is making real academic progress.
During his radio interview, Dr. Joseph cited the doubling of kids taking advanced academics, more kids reading on grade level – despite basically flat MAP scores – and a greater parental understanding of where their kids are performing academically. Again, all that sounds good, but I’m going to have to throw the Dr. J Flag and ask for some supporting evidence.
What is clear is that parents are more confused over this year’s budget process than in previous years, and confused parents make for unhappy parents. There is still time to get this right, but the devil is in the details, and right now leadership ain’t paying enough attention to the details. They also shouldn’t confuse parent’s growing passion for noise; that mistake can only make things harder.
Speaking of details, MNPS missed another chance to get it right today. Monday started off with everybody knowing it might be a short day. Meteorologists had been warning for the previous 24 hours that dangerous storms were a possibility and the predicted arrival time was right as kids would be heading home from school. With that kind of warning, you probably thought MNPS had a sound plan in place with a clear line of command. Wrong again.
With nary a thought about lunch schedules, after care, parents getting home before kids, or a number of other potential issues, MNPS sent kids home 3.5 hours after they arrived. Tusculum ES was just starting lunch when the word came down from central office. They scrambled into action and fed lunch to 780 students in under an hour, answered or made over 350 phone calls, and got every child home by 12:40pm. Yeah, I’m bragging, but the point is if it had been left to the district, at least half of those kids would have gone home unfed with perhaps no meal until tomorrow and many parents would have been uninformed. I’m sure many other schools rose to the challenge as well, but that shouldn’t let the district off the hook.
Who was in charge today, you might ask? Dr. Joseph was on a plane to Washington, DC. Dr. Narcisse was out sick, though he sounded fine on the radio yesterday. Dr. Felder’s scheduled trip to Houston was canceled, but she wasn’t in the building pre-cancellation. Chris Henson was also out. Hmmm… this might be the reason things were so chaotic. Who could have known… oh yeah. My friend and fellow blogger Mary Holden, as always, does a better job of drawing the picture of what happened.
Rumor on the street is that Antioch HS principal Keiva Wiley has been told not to report back to school. She will reportedly be finishing out her tenure working from another location on a special project. Probably the same project Mo Carrasco was working on. While I’m very happy for the staff and family of Antioch HS about this development, I take no pleasure in it. All of this could have been avoided if somebody… anybody… would have exhibited even a modicum of leadership. Instead this ended tragically for everyone.
Speaking of “didn’t have to end this way and just a modicum of leadership”… Executive Director of Facilities Dennis Neal resigned on Friday after being placed on administrative leave. Culture, I tell you, it’s the culture.
The Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) is out with a new study on what happens to students after high school. In the words of President and CEO Shannon Hunt:
This report weaves together a great deal of data to tell the most complete story about what happens to our students after high school. Our hope is that it will spur a larger community conversation about what we need to do to improve the chances our high schoolers go on to and complete college. In the world we live in today, success of our public schools cannot be high school graduation alone; but rather, our measuring stick should be college completion. And certainly, our public school graduates should have the same chance for college success as their peers nationwide.
There is a lot of good information in the report. However, I remain a little dubious of the effort. Where does tracking of individuals after high school stop? Four years after college? A decade? Also, people quit college for all kinds of reasons. Obviously some more reasons are more prevalent than others, but some are highly personal, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with all of them getting swept up in a data dump. But that’s just my take. Read the report and decide for yourself.
By the way, while we are speaking about NPEF, nominations are now open for the Hall of Fame. If anybody feels inclined to nominate me, I’ll polish up my acceptance speech.
Speaking of data, there was new action this weekend in the MNPS vs. the State battle over the sharing of student data. Hmmm… so sharing data with charter schools is bad, but sharing data with NPEF is good… But I digress. In January, a judge ruled against MNPS and said they had 30 days to turn over the data. That 30-day clock to turn over information to charter schools started on March 8. The district could still appeal the decision.
My favorite quote in the Tennessean article comes from State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a House Education Committee and supported the legislation last spring. In September, he voiced his concerns about the law opening up school districts to recruit each other’s students. I love this recruitment argument because it completely ignores what takes place every year and is sanctioned by MNPS, the Choice Festival. As I’ve said many a time, enrolling your child in Croft MS when you’re zoned for McMurray MS has exactly the same impact as enrolling your child in Valor Academy instead of McMurray MS.
Speaking of Valor… Plans are on track for them to open their high school in the fall. They plan to start with one class at a time. The inaugural class will have 225 freshmen students. In looking at the floor plans, I can’t help but be irritated. Initially, the old Lowe’s building on Nolensville Pike was to be a temporary building to house Tusculum ES while the new school was being built, and then once Tusculum’s new building was completed, the building would become a new zoned elementary school. However, some elected officials failed to see the potential there and helped quash the plan. I must say, Valor’s floor plans impress me, and I think it will be a beautiful school.
In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, MNPS board member Will Pinkston saw the potential of this repurposed property way before anyone. Unfortunately, MNPS wasn’t able to capitalize on it. Perhaps the next time a big box retail property comes available we’ll be a little more visionary. That one falls at the feet of the previous administration, and not Dr. Joseph.
Response to the polls seems to be on an upswing. I’m flattered by your taking the time to respond. Let’s look at those responses.
Question 1 asked for your opinion on this year’s budget process. While this question didn’t garner as many responses as the other questions due to technical issues, I think it’s safe to say that DGW readers are not impressed by this year’s process. 75% of you declared it a train wreck. 14% of you responded that you couldn’t figure out what are this year’s issues and what are next year’s issues. Only 3 of you expressed any kind of optimism. I think that this is one of those issues that any way you slice it, it comes up the same: leadership has to do a better job.
Here are the write-ins:
|What are we hiding? Where is budget for Central Office?||1|
|The real crime is in underfunding Restorative Practice that harm children||1|
|Anything to protect that Tahoe.||1|
|How much more money will they misuse? This is a joke||1|
|2018-19 is most exclusionary budget in years||1|
|Look at the extra pay for Maritza Gonzalez|
Question 2 asked for your opinion on Anna Shepherd and Jill Speering’s call for an audit by Metro Council. 92% of you indicated that you felt such a move was necessary, and nobody thought that it wasn’t. Let’s make that one clear: out of 157 responses, not one person called the audit unnecessary. Here are the write-ins:
|Bout damn time. Let’s see if board has guts to hold Joseph accountable?||1|
|Doesn’t matter. Nothing sticks to the Teflon Joseph||1|
|If Central Office can’t do math, how can our kids?||1|
|I doubt that anything will change.||1|
|It’s about time! How many more C & I salaries will they add?||1|
|Make sure interviews are conducted because $ can be hid …||1|
|Even if it shows misuse by the administrators – so what? nothing will happen.|
Question 3 asked for your opinion on the recent student walkouts over gun violence in schools. 32% of you wished adults would stay out of it, and after that, responses were evenly split between whether it made a difference or not. This one had a lot of write-in votes. Here they are:
|Respectfully done and student organized at Overton||1|
|Just wait until these kids are old enough to vote. Democracy at its finest.||1|
|Hated that 1 parent out of 632 at my school had to complain and sign her children||1|
|Students should lead it with adult mentors it’s a powerful learning opportunity||1|
|Very proud of the students and faculty and staff across the city.||1|
|Proud of our kids.||1|
|Not enough of them||1|
|Ineffective b/c majority of students did not understand the issues.||1|
|We had a 17 min. fire drill *eye roll*||1|
|One was a train wreck, others seemed great.||1|
|Love the intent but not appropriate at school||1|
|I am okay with them as long as students knew why they were walking out.||1|
|Ridiculous that mnps encouraged it.|
There ya go. Another one in the bag. 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.
I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.