THE IMPORTANCE OF AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL BOARD

“A man of principles,” Jesse said.

“People say that about themselves when really they only want to make you unhappy.”
Ron Hansen, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

“Emmeline seemed to lie the way all narcissists do. Whatever they say, regardless of its absurdity, becomes the truth.”
James Lee Burke, Robicheaux

This past week I was reading Zack Barnes’s Tip Sheet. He was sharing the Tweets that went back and forth between MNPS School Board members Will Pinkston and Amy Frogge. The last was from Pinkston and said,

Pinkston: My project speaks for itself and it’s rooted in fact. Your current campaign against Nashville’s school superintendent has nothing to do with Race to the Botton and ultimately will be decided by the school board, with input from the mayor and the council. I still respect you

The comment struck me as extremely odd, not because of the offering of respect but rather the assertion that the mayor and the council would have such a weighted say in the tenure of the school superintendent. Why? Why do they get more of a say then the families who send their kids to MNPS? Why do they get more of a say then the teachers who work in those schools every day? Why is the decision not solely on the elected board of education as intended?

The next day I read a piece by JC Bowman that got my mind spinning even more. In it, Bowman talks about the Mayor interceding into school board issues and forming advisory groups made up of unelected officials. In the wake of Mayor Briley forming a kitchen cabinet to tackle priority schools, Bowman asks,

If the Mayor of Nashville feels that the trained professionals at the Metro Nashville Public Schools and the elected School Board cannot address the issues of the lowest-performing schools in the district, why does he think the unelected “Kitchen Cabinet” he selected can do a better job?  What can these nonprofit leaders and community advocates accomplish that professional educators in the MNPS system are not already doing?  And why are those “leaders and advocates” not already doing it?   Honestly, I think it is insulting.

I can’t say I disagree and I think it needs to go further. Why is the Mayor even weighing in on Priority SchoolS? What will he do with his findings? The Mayor is no more in charge of MNPS then I am. If we adhere to the design of the city’s charter, he should have no more say in whether Shawn Joseph stays or goes then any other citizen of Nashville.

Imagine if Sharon Gentry, as head of the school board, were to announce that she was putting together a committee made up of councilmen, members of the Mayor’s staff, police officers, school personnel, and parents, to study juvenile crime. How do you think Mayor Briley would receive her suggestions?

Probably about the same way that Dr. Joseph will receive Mayor Briley’s Kitchen Cabinets suggestions; lots of smiles, heaps of praise, and then off to the dust bin. The point is, we have separate elected bodies for a reason. A look at the history of Nashville’s School System and the involvement levels of past mayors illustrates Nashvillian’s desire to have a separation between the two governing bodies hasn’t always been honored. Let’s take a brief look at some of the history of MNPS.

Per a blog post by the Nashville Library we find out that even though Nashville had some schools and academies in existence by 1850, it was still deemed necessary for Nashville to have a public school system to help educate more than just the children of wealthier families. The first steps for the town of Nashville to have this sort of system occurred successfully on February 20th, 1852, when the Nashville Board of Alderman passed an act “to Raise Revenue for a Public School.” And soon after that, on October 14th, 1853, the City Council elected the first school board, which consisted of:

  • Francis B. Fogg (elected as President)
  • W.K. Bowling
  • R.J. Meigs
  • Allen A. Hall
  • John A. McEwen (elected as Secretary)
  • Alfred Hume (passed away on Oct. 29th, 1853 – succeeded by W.F. Bang on Nov. 26th, 1853)

Even though this was essentially a board appointed by the city council, I have a feeling they probably found themselves in trouble with the Mayor almost immediately. Joshua F. Pearl was selected as the first Superintendent of Schools. The first woman on the school board was Mrs. John Hill Eakin.

(The following links are courtesy of the Tennessee Electronic Library. When accessing, if you just hit the red listing of Tenn Elec Library on upper right it will take you to the main page. Hit Tennessean until 2002 and you’ll be able to access links. You should only have to do it with the first link, after that you’ll be signed in. It’s a little work, but worth it.)

Fast forward to 1963. Nashville consolidated with Davidson County and became a Metropolitan government ruled by a city charter that was adopted that year. A charter that clearly outlines the responsibilities of the Nashville School Board,

The board is authorized to do all things necessary or proper for the establishment, operation and maintenance of an efficient and accredited consolidated school system for the metropolitan government, not inconsistent with this Charter or with general law, including but not limited to the following actions, all to be taken after receiving the recommendations thereon of the director of schools: The employment and fixing of the compensation of all persons necessary for the proper conduct of the public schools; the maintenance and preservation of school property, the management and safeguarding of school funds; the acquisition of school sites; the erection, maintenance and improvement of school buildings and additions thereto; the purchase of school equipment, furniture, apparatus, supplies and the like; the provision of group insurance of not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00) each on its employees and teachers; and the promulgation of plans, rules and regulations for the administration, operation and maintenance of a public school system.

Current mayor David Briley’s grandfather Beverly Briley as Mayor oversaw the consolidation of Nashville’s government and the formation of a new school board. Ironically, when Briley ran against former mayor Ben West, the then-director of schools, Dr. John Harris, was a central issue. Both of Briley’s foes indicated that if they were elected Harris would be dismissed. Briley, in contrast, defended Harris by stating,

I know how he feels for I have been smutted and smeared. That’s all right for me for I am in politics and I have come to expect it even though it is unfair and untrue. But it is going to far to make a dedicated educator the victim of such a vile campaign.”

Throughout the election, while his opponents attacked the school system and made claims that an independent school board was impossible, Briley stuck to his beliefs and vowed that as long as he was mayor the school board would operate as an independent entity from the mayors’ office. It’s safe to say that since Briley won that election, and served with distinction for many years, school board autonomy should be considered a cornerstone of Nashville’s city charter.

In November of 1980 an amendment to make the school board an elected entity appeared on the ballot. Then-mayor Richard Fulton opposed the idea because he feared that it would lead to under-representation of women and minorities. One look at today’s board shows those fears as being unfounded. Lucky for us the amendment passed.

In 1990, then-Mayor Bill Boner tried to get the school board some more cash – the hunt for cash is a prevalent theme throughout Nashville’s public school history – with a proposed sales tax increase. The MNPS school board, however, said, “no thank you”, voting 8-1 to reject the mayor’s proposal. Imagine today’s board taking such an action. In an unprecedented move that year, Boner also attempted to tell the school board how to spend their budget allotment from the city budget. It should be noted that Boner had to cut the school budget in 1991 and in 1992 teachers came demanding a 4% raise. The more things change the more they stay the same.

In 1997, then-mayor Phil Bredesen began pushing the boundaries of mayoral influence by demanding that the school board implement a curriculum of his choosing. Due to the fact that he was tying funding to adoption, there was much concern at the time that the independence of the school board was under attack and that Bredesen was ignoring the mandate of voters in 1980 who voted to replace an appointed board with a democratically elected one. In the end, Bredesen got his curriculum, but the victory was short-lived as the said curriculum was phased out upon the arrival of Pedro Garcia as School Superintendent in 2001.

2001 saw MNPS looking for a new leader and at the time everyone was excited about the possibilities. In a series of events that now seem eerily familiar, Carol Johnson, the first choice of the selection committee decided to remain in Minneapolis as superintendent after 4 days of weighing her options. The board turned to its number 2 choice as the new director, Pedro Garcia. Current Mayor Briley was a councilman at the time and he’s quoted by the Tennessean praising the hiring of Garcia,

“I think in retrospect we’ll look back on this as one of the first indications that he is the kind of person we need to transform the schools into the kind of system everybody wants.”

That should have been our first warning. The Mayor at the time was Bill Purcell who had come into office promising to visit all MNPS schools as Mayor and in his first term, he made over 200 school visits. This move didn’t sit well with the school board because Purcell tended to use these visits to address maintenance problems. Again there were questions of a mayor overstepping their boundaries.

By 2005 Purcell had enough of Garcia and showed his displeasure by giving the school district half of the additional money it had requested. The rest, Purcell said, would have to come from a proposed half-cent sales tax increase, decided by voters, 80 percent of which would be dedicated to schools.

“We all know that the promises and expectations established by the school system and school director three years ago have not been met,” Purcell said pointedly. “This public referendum and the year ahead will give the school board and our director of schools the opportunity to prove to us all that they can and will deliver for our children.”

The vote on the referendum failed.

In 2008, a mere 27 years after voters had made the school board an elected body, school board chair David Fox asked then-Mayor Karl Dean to turn it back into a body appointed by the mayor. A move that would require approval from former mayor Phil Bredesen, who was now Governor of Tennessee. Rumor has it that Bredesen was ready to grant that power, but Dean blinked and the MNPS school board remained an elected body hypothetically independent of the mayor’s office.

I could fill a whole post with notes on how Dean tried to exert his influence over the school board. He hosted recruitment dinners for Teach for America, personally recruited charter schools, leaned on the board to implement desired personnel selections, increased itemization on school budgets and basically did everything he could to influence school policy without actually taking the district over. Was it a good thing? I’ll let you judge. I wasn’t a fan.

When Megan Barry took office MNPS was in the midst of a search for a new director of schools. Barry and the mayor’s office played a significant role in securing the services of current Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Since Barry never finished her first term as mayor, we’ll never know just how extensive her involvement would have become.

So what’s all this look back at history mean? What’s the point? I think the point is that Nashville citizens have always wanted an independent board, but that concept has always been under attack from the people who held the cities highest office. The lines have always been continually blurred, and seldom to the benefit of the city. I believe now, more than ever we need to adhere to the vision of those who crafted the city charter and protect the construct of an independent school board.

Who serves as the director of MNPS is the decision of the school board. How we handle priority schools is the charge of the director of schools. Not an unelected body created by the mayor. Justifying the funding needed to run the district schools is the charge of the school board, it’s not up to the mayor’s office or metro council to procure extra revenue. How schools implement SEL is up to the director as laid out by the school board, not the chamber of commerce. Obviously, support and collaboration from these other entities are welcome, but they must not exert undue influence over the school board.

For its part, the school board has not always exhibited the best behaviors. At times it has been highly contentious with both its own members and members of the community. At times it has found itself at cross purposes with those who run the city. Still, the fact remains, Nashville residents have long expressed a desire to have the school system run by an elected independent board and until that changes, they have a job to do. The mayor and metro council have their own jobs to do. The MNPS school board needs to do its.

QUICK HITS

As I mentioned on Friday, Metro Nashville’s Auditors office released an Audit of complaints received by the department in relation to Dr. Joseph’s financial stewardship. Over the weekend, News 5’s Phil Williams took to Twitter to raise a lengthy list of questions over the audit. Audit committee chair CM Bob Mendes also released two articles that examined the process of generating an audit and outlining some of the potential weaknesses of the process.

In his analysis, Mendes observes that “There is also some evidence that the audit function has typically shied away from controversy.” I think I can agree with that.

On Friday I raised the question about an increase in violent crimes involving juveniles in Nashville. Per a report a report over the weekend from Fox News 17,

According to the Davidson County Juvenile Court, last year, 200 kids were charged with gun possession, a 12% increase from the year before.

The number of kids charged with murder was up 30%, and juvenile vehicle thefts went up from 184 in 2017 to 200 in 2018.

Interpret those number how you wish, but to me, they shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

Thomas A. Edison Elementary school hosted its first annual school-wide S.T.E.A.M. night on Thursday, January 31st. The evening developed out of a movie theme and began with a student performance entitled Full Steam Ahead. The performance included a play written and produced by 4th-grade students and teachers. Following the play, families were invited to attend two “showings” that included hands-on activities to address science, technology, engineering arts, and music skills. Almost 200 families were present.

On Tuesday, February 26, J.E. Moss will host a Literacy Night focusing on Black History. There will be food, informational booths, and Book Clubs to help with strategies at home. The Scholastic book fair will also be open. Belmont University and Lipscomb University are both partners in this event.

Haynes Middle hosted the 2nd Annual Family Literacy Night, on Thursday, February 7, 2019. Students and parents enjoyed the plethora of activities centered on literacy. Participants also received an energizing motivational charge from Roderick Belin, AME Church Sunday School Publisher. Mr. Belin emphasized literacy and the importance of being prepared. The Haynes Wildcat band also graced the audience with several symphonic selections. The faculty and staff were all hands on to assist in any capacity to make this event an awesome success. This event was enjoyed by all who attended.

Over the next 2 months board member Christiane Buggs will be hosting meetings around District 5 to discuss the MNPS budget, answer questions on advocacy, and engage community members. Please join her from 5:30-7 during one of these meetings to let her know your concerns.

This morning finds Denver teachers out on strike. Dad Gone Wild stands with these teachers and prays for a short and successful strike.

POLL RESULTS

This weekend I discovered a bug with the polls when you access the blog through Twitter on your phone. The polls do not appear as polls but rather links to poll questions. I am working to remedy that situation. Let’s take a look at the results that did come in.

The first question asked about the level of faith that you have in the audit process. 38% of you indicated that the process was political and open to manipulation. An additional 24% of you felt the results just didn’t add up. None of you felt that the audit delivered a definitive overview. I’d say that your answers supply an indication that Metro Nashville’s audit process needs work. Here are the write-ins:

CORRUPT LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE 1
Wasted more than 1 million on PM 1
what’s w the vacillating, something for everyone? => relative useless report :/

Question 2 asked for your feeling about this years budget process. I think it’s safe to say, you ain’t enthused. 48% of you indicated that you were extremely nervous. 22% indicated they were taking a wait and see attitude. None of you felt good that the district had learned from last years mistakes. Here are the write-ins:

There is one? 1
Knot in stomach 1
We haven’t learned anything from the past 1
Cognitiive Dissonance 1
It’s going to suck!! 1
I’m expecting another dumpster fire. 1
sJoseph has to go bf I support giving this Board more $ for wasting 1
Lots of charts, graphs, & meaningless words later, watch teachers get nothing. 1
Depressed 1
Inured to it

The last question was meant as a little attempt at levity. Since the Grammy Awards were presented last night, I decided to ask who you thought Nashville’s greatest rock band ever was. The definitive answer, with 46% of the votes, was Kings of Leon. All the write-in votes came in for Webb Wilder and the Beatniks.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, February is a slow bartending month so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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2 thoughts

  1. I feel that the Kitchen Cabinet is a show pony and nothing more to show how Lord Briley cares about the Poors. The reality is that they can get nothing done and will accomplish little as the re-election is in six months and frankly if Nashville re-elects this man you get what the Chamber pays for. There are viable candidates and one who wants out of the red zone so I don’t blame him and he can’t do worse.

    I have seen this before and there were the same alarm bells ringing and then that ended that with nothing done and the Mayor being run out of town on a rail, so once again posturing and posing is not just for runways.

    The real issue is the contract at hand and the Board’s sheer divide and inability to focus. Can anyone in this town stay focused on one issue at a time it is like the shiny key town and this is why you have so many divisions from education, housing, transportation and infrastructure. Man people take one item at a time an prioritize the matters that we can agree on. And that may be the problem right there no one agrees on anything. Shiny keys they are over there. This city is a city on fire alright and its burning up.

  2. Yes. BUT. Sadly the board being independent is fairly moot when it’s chair fails to root out corruption or even allow it to be discussed. You’d think the chair would be sensitive to the need to look closer. Drs. Carrasco, Garcia, and Shrader are all gone for having raised contracting internally. Meanwhile the Metro Council can’t get straight unbiased answers to their concerns!? C’mon. This smells to the average joe.

    Worst part? Newer board members that do not to regret their choice of chair.

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