Do you remember a number of years ago when the American West was besieged by fires? They burned out of control for weeks on end, destroying everything in their path. Fire fighters tried everything to get them under control, but nothing seemed to work. It would appear, for a moment or two, that the crisis was becoming controllable, and then the flames would flare up in another area just as fierce. Firefighters were finally able to extinguish the flames, but only after several months and after the fires had caused catastrophic amounts of damage. That’s what this year’s MNPS budget process reminds me of – a never-ending series of uncontrollable conflagrations consuming everything in their path.
It seems like we’ve been talking about next year’s budget all year. The first fire broke out when it was revealed that the district had miscalculated its enrollment predictions, and as a result, they would lose $7.5 million in state funding. Shortly thereafter, principals were told that they would be losing Title I money next year through a change in the reallocation formula, and as a result, their individual school budgets would be lower. In response to the heat generated by this announcement, the district produced handouts with individual school’s numbers showing increased site-based budgeting numbers – handouts that were quickly shown by parents and school board members to be rife with errors. It’s hard to have an honest conversation when you don’t have verifiable numbers.
Several public hearings were held. These hearings drew substantially more participants than in any other previous years, and as a result, things got a little hot at times. Fires sparked further when Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph announced the cutting of the literacy program Reading Recovery from the budget. A move that smacked of political retribution. I expected things to die down after the MNPS school board approved the budget, albeit by a vote of 7-2. Alas, the presentation of the budget to the mayor only added fuel to the simmering embers.
I understand not all of you are from around here, and I had to learn this lesson the hard way, but if you thought Mayor Briley went easy on Joseph, then you are mistaken. What the Mayor did was hold Joseph’s feet to the fire in a very forceful but very Southern manner. It wasn’t quite a “Bless his heart,” but Briley let Joseph know in a very polite, but no less certain, manner that he wasn’t buying everything Joseph was selling. Don’t believe me? Look at Chris Henson’s face throughout the second half of the presentation. It speaks volumes.
This week, Mayor Briley released the city’s budget, and those fires leaped to life again. The budget only awarded MNPS an additional $5 million of the $45 million requested. That money isn’t even enough to cover additional money owed to charter schools due to their increased growth or pension payments. In short, cuts are coming.
The fingers of blame have quickly been pointed, as it has become apparent that Nashville is not as flush with cash as an “It City” should be. Blame has been directed to the office of Property Assessment because so many challenges to new property assessments came back in favor of property owners. Others have cited Budget Line item 7777 and the tax breaks given to corporations as a culprit. MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge has pointed out the fact that district leadership has not done right with the money that they have been allocated and raised a red flag that, in fact, how leadership spends money needs closer examination. I believe it’s all of this and more.
The big losers in all of this, besides the children of Nashville, are MNPS teachers. The sad reality is that raises for this year are pretty much off the table. Teachers are not the only deserving public servants looking for more money; police officers and firefighters are as well. The budget makes no allocation for raises for any of the aforementioned, which is extremely unfortunate.
Last year, we had an opportunity to address the chronic shortfall of teacher salaries. We had a new mayor with a popularity rating over 70% and a new Director of Schools with a rating approaching that. Instead of taking care of our people, Shawn Joseph chose to fund programs over personnel. Fast forward a year to now: that mayor is gone and the Director of Schools appears to be close on her heels. An opportunity was squandered.
I would also argue that last year, money was spent without a proper inventory of existing resources. Former STEAM Director Kris Elliot is now in Oregon overseeing the creation of a state outdoor education program that is proving to be incredibly successful. Is it beyond the realm of reason to believe that he could have begun the transformation of middle schools to a STEAM curriculum at a lower cost than the current outside consultants Discovery Ed? Former SEL Director Nicole Cobb is now with Vanderbilt’s Peabody College doing exemplary work – work she could have been doing with the district. Former MNPS Executive Director of School Choice Aimee Wyatt is now working with the Southern Regional Education Board to transform Memphis high schools – work she could have been doing for MNPS.
Those are just three examples, but it is safe to say that opportunity has been squandered at every level. You don’t start a home improvement project by leaping into the car and heading to Home Depot with credit card in hand. You form a plan, you inventory what you have on hand, and you make a list of what you still need to purchase. Only then do you head to Home Depot. After all, all projects have a budget and you don’t want to blow that budget on needless expenditures. Why should improving a school district be any different?
The release of the budget has earned Mayor Briley the ire of a lot of folks, undeservedly so, in my opinion. He is only doing the best he can with what he has been given. It can be argued that he had a front row seat for the decisions that have led to this predicament and failed to speak out. Maybe, but he was just a supporting character at the time and not the lead.
We must not lose sight, though, that right now he is not just “Mayor” Briley, but also “Candidate” Briley. We need to be really careful that our ire does not spill over into the polls. For all of his perceived faults, it’s still clear to me that Mayor Briley is our best leadership option for the next 18 months. I find it refreshing that he chose to put Nashville above himself and not play politics with the budget. It would have been very easy for him to use the budget as a vehicle to fuel an election win. One that would come at the risk of a long-term loss for the city. In surveying the list of candidates for the mayor’s office, I can safely say there is not another person I would feel better about being in charge during this transition period than Briley.
On this coming Tuesday at the board meeting, Dr. Joseph is scheduled to present his revised budget. One that is anticipated to arrive with large cuts. I’ve heard of numerous areas in which those cuts are going to come, but at this time, it all remains speculation. Since I prefer not to deal in speculation – unless it’s in regards to a certain popular South Nashville principal’s future – I’ll refrain from making my own speculations and instead wait for Tuesday’s presentation. Whatever happens Tuesday, I think it is safe to say that the budget fires are far from being extinguished.
AN OPENING IN PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY
Continuing with the theme of fires, Prince George’s County Public Schools has certainly seen their fair share over the last two years. You’ll remember that PGCPS is the point of origin for current MNPS leadership. This week, steps were taken to start putting out some of those fires. School CEO – I hate when schools emulate business in their choice of titles – Kevin Maxwell announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year.
In case you are not familiar with the way things work in PGCPS, they have a board that is made up of both appointed and elected officials. The majority being appointed. The CEO of Schools is hired by the County Executive, currently Rushern L. Baker III. Baker is currently running for Governor of Maryland, and regardless of that outcome, he will be termed out come November. Baker has been a staunch supporter of Maxwell, so Maxwell probably saw the writing on the wall.
I know what you are thinking right now, and my answer is, I don’t know. Baker will have the opportunity to hire the new CEO, and he is a friend of Joseph’s. Earlier in the year, Joseph provided Baker an opportunity to address principals at the weekly principal’s meeting. Last year, I spoke with PGCPS School Board Member Edward Burroughs, who has spearheaded the call for change these last several years, and he referred to Dr. Joseph as one of the good guys and also expressed admiration of MNPS Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder. The lure home is always appealing, but Dr. Joseph has professed that Nashville is his new home. I would be surprised, though, if at the very least, Nashville’s Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse’s resume wasn’t sitting squarely on Baker’s desk.
A MISSED DATE AND YET ANOTHER MISSED OPPORTUNITY
I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m not a fan of the “Teacher of the Year” awards, nor the award ceremonies that accompany them. The job of teacher is too complex and hinges too much on collaboration to single out individuals for recognition. That’s not to take away anything from the winners; they, like all teachers, have certainly earned their accolades. I’m pretty confident that most of the winners would be quick to acknowledge the role of their colleagues in their success as well. So I shouldn’t be treading on hallowed ground in raising my objections.
However, if you ARE going to have an award ceremony and you ARE going to take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of your teachers, then I think the Number One and Number Two people in the district better damn well show up. Yet neither Shawn Joseph nor Sito Narcisse deemed the event important enough for them to make an appearance. Again, an opportunity to curry favor with the rank and file is squandered and an alternative message is sent. Leadership is not about saying the right things; it’s about doing the right things. Surely that is written somewhere in Joseph’s endorsed leadership book, Leadership and Self-Deception.
In my opinion, the conversation on state standardized testing has jumped the shark when you start debating the amount of impact a dump truck had on the execution of the test administration.
In interesting news, despite a need to make budget cuts, MNPS recently announced two new administrator hires. Heading up the STEAM initiative, an initiative that has been without leadership for the majority of the year, will be Dr. Jennifer Berry. Berry is an 18-year veteran of MNPS. Filling the position of Executive Officer of Organizational Development, recently vacated by Maryland transplant Mo Carrasco, will be another MNPS veteran, Dr. Sonia Stewart. Stewart has done exceptional work over the years at Pearl Cohn HS. She’ll be heading up a division that, under Carrasco, accounted for close to half a million dollars in salaries yet no real budget. To the department’s credit, though, the groundwork on a principal pipeline was laid and holds promise.
Saturday, June 9 is the date for the annual Fatherhood Festival to celebrate MNPS fathers and father figures. Learn more and register for the event here: http://bit.ly/2Emyvcb
As mentioned earlier, there is another election on the way. The Nashville mayoral election is scheduled for May 24, which happens to be the last day of school. Many of our schools serve as polling sites. This means an influx of unaccounted-for individuals in the building. Many MNPS parents have voiced concerns about this influx, and Dr. Joseph has taken their concerns to State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen. Unfortunately, McQueen has replied that rectifying the situation is beyond her scope of authority. If schools decide to close, a make up day will have to be scheduled.
There is a MNPS School Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. On the agenda is certification of a 10-day suspension of Carlton Battle. In reading the accompanying documentation, I’m not sure 10 days is a sufficient punishment for Battle. Just to be clear, you curse at students, you assault a parent repeatedly, you leave after the assault without properly reporting the incident, you keep $1,600 of fundraising proceeds in your possession for two months and upon finally turning it in, it’s $50 short, yet all you receive is 10-day suspension? What do you have to do to receive a dismissal? I guess it helps to have a sibling who is a Community Superintendent.
Linda Darling-Hammond offers some insight into the teacher walkouts that are sweeping the nation. I urge you to read the whole piece. Here’s an excerpt:
“A nation that under-educates its children in the 21st century cannot long survive as a world power. Prisons — which now absorb more of our tax resources than public higher education did in the 1980s — are filled with high school dropouts and those with low levels of literacy. We pay three times more for each prisoner than we invest in each child’s education annually. With an aging population and only three workers for every person on Social Security, the United States especially needs all young people to be well-educated enough to gain good work in the complex and rapidly changing economy they are entering. Without their ability to pay the taxes that support the rest of society, the social contract will dissolve.“Inadequate education funding has created the conditions that make teaching the daily struggle that has finally drawn teachers and families to the picket lines: unmanageable class sizes, inadequate resources and facilities, cuts to essential medical and mental-health school services and more. As child poverty, food insecurity and homelessness have climbed to among the highest levels in the industrialized world (more than one in five live in poverty and in 2014 one in 30 were homeless), schools have been left with fewer resources to address these needs and support student learning.”
That wraps up this week. Don’t forget the poll questions. 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 events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all 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. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. 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. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.