“Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always will be the last resort of the boob and the bigot.”
“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read two separate articles that have resonated with me – Steven Cavendish’s R.I.P “It” City and Margaret Renki’s Let’s Hear It For The Average Child. Cavendish’s piece talks about how Nashville’s relentless pursuit of growth has fundamentally changed the fabric of the city. Renki’s talks about how the relentless pursuit of educational excellence has led us to lose sight of important elements of a students educational experience. At first blush, the two might appear to be very disparate articles, but I believe both expose an overarching theme that we ignore at our own peril.
The underlying theme of American history is one of constant growth. For Americans there is little worth doing that is not worth overdoing. As a society, we are never satisfied unless we are the biggest, fastest, boldest, or prettiest. We are in a state of perpetual expansion. That constant drive to grow is a large component of the high quality of life that most Americans enjoy. But does bigger always equate to better?
In 1989 when I moved to Nashville I found a city that had most of the opportunities of a large city but a sense of community like a much smaller town. Stars mingled among the masses unbothered. It was a common occurrence to run into Patty Loveless at the Target or Phil Everly shopping at Kroger’s while eating a popsicle. Harlan Howard held court every happy hour at the Longhorn with other legendary songwriters, you were welcome to plop down next to them. You might go to a back yard guitar pull where Guy Clark took his turn just like anybody else. If you were so moved you could drop into the Modern Era whose stage Hendrick’s once tread or you could get your hair cut at Oprah Winfrey’s father’s barbershop.
Our politicians were of the brilliant but quirky sort. Fred Thompson and John Jay Hooker come to mind. It didn’t take 45 minutes to travel 9 miles and while there weren’t as many dining options, odds were you could get a table at most with a reasonable wait. Nashville truly was a unique city grounded in a unique community.
Growth was inevitable. From the moment I got here, I could feel a desire in the air to compete with the New York’s and LA’s of the world. In reflection, I’m not sure if that drive came from Nashville natives or from the transplants – attracted by the low cost of living, weather, the pace of life, and opportunity – who after arriving, sought to replace things they’d left behind.
In an effort to get bigger, professional sports franchises, convention centers, corporations, and tourists were pursued with a single-mindedness bordering on obsession. Each conquest only led to a further raising of the bar.
Look at the recently completed NFL draft hosted by Nashville. The event wasn’t even over for 24 hours before talk had already turned to a pursuit of bigger events like the Super Bowl or World Cup. Like the drunks that used to populate Lower Broad, Nashville seems to now have an unquenchable thirst to fill an unfillable hole. When will the city reach a point where we say, enough is enough? When do we slow our roll and make sure we can support what we’ve obtained? Or is that not even a consideration?
All the growth has certainly brought benefits, but it hasn’t come without cost. Our heightened recruitment efforts have diverted money away from residents in an effort to make the city more attractive to sports franchises, corporations, and tourists. Every new effort brings promises of dollars flowing into the city, but somehow those dollars never flow to the people that should benefit the most, the ones who call Nashville home.
Schools remain underfunded. The city lacks a mass transit system. Too many neighborhoods still do not have enough sidewalks. Traffic continues to worsen while maintenance at city parks seem to slip a little every day. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Nashville continues to grow unabated. When I first moved here I used to tell people back home that I could live on 40K like I lived on 80k in the Northeast, those days are long gone.
The rise in the cost of living has hit those that keep Nashville running especially hard; police, fireman, teachers, and others in the service professions. None of those professions can afford to live in Nashville at their current salary levels. We’ve got police jockeying for overtime while teachers are working second jobs to make ends meet. How much can you enjoy all the new amenities the city has to offer if life is a constant struggle to make ends meet?
Obviously, the present growth levels are unsustainable if we don’t address the inequities, but how we do that is equally important. Currently, teachers have been pushing for a salary increase of 10%. The number may seem high but the reality is, they’ve gone so long without regular salary increases that the 10% only represents about half of what they need to just get caught up. The pay discrepancy has reached a tipping point this year causing a large number of teachers to either seek employment outside of the district or leave the profession altogether. Leaving MNPS unable to fully staff our schools.
In response, the labor unions – MNEA and SIEU – have banded together to support a plan put forth by Council Member Bob Mendes that would call for a small property tax increase. The plan would increase the city’s combined property tax rate by 16.6%, meaning the rate would rise from $3.155 to $3.68 per $100 of assessed value in the Urban Services District and $2.755 to $3.28 in the General Services District. If you own a home worth 250K that would translate to an extra $328 a year.
Under Mendes’s plan, which he is calling a Better Budget for Nashville, MNPS would receive $55 million in funding instead of Mayor Briley’s current proposal of $28 million. MNPS proposed budget for 2019, including a 10% raise for teachers, calls for an additional $76.7 million in funding over last year.
Before we go any further, let me make it clear, I am not an economist nor do I play one on TV, but I do want to make some observations.
First of all, a property tax increase asks for another sacrifice from people that have already been sacrificing for Nashville’s growth over the last decade. In a city that is pricing long term residents out at an alarming rate, I’m not overly comfortable with potentially adding more financial burden to those already struggling.
It’s often pointed out that Nashville’s growth has benefited property owners by increasing the value of their property, and that’s true to a certain extent. But just because your property is valued for a certain amount does not mean that it’s money in the bank. Or that a property owner can even freely draw upon it.
Records show that my family owns a $300k house. Rest assured that if I tried to sell the house today, nobody would show up with $300k. Carpeting would need replacing, walls painting, front porch fixing, some of the plumbing would have to be addressed, walls with holes punched in by my kids would need patching, and a back yard destroyed by a dog would need addressing as well. I’m pretty confident that our situation is not unique among families raising kids in Nashville. Accessing the value of our home would take a substantial investment, one a family like ours don’t have.
Pulling home equity out is contingent on credit scores, and if you are already struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living, it is likely that your score is not as high as you would like, or need, it to be.
Proponents of Mendes’s plan will dismiss my concerns by saying that the proposed increase is a minimal amount, not high enough to price people out of the city. They kind of scoff at the idea of the increase having a negative impact on people’s financial situation. I would disagree.
People don’t get priced out because the cost of milk goes up 50 cents. They don’t get priced out because gas goes up 60 cents or utilities increase by 5%. They don’t get priced out because bus fares go up by 20 cents. It’s not one element acting independently that determines people’s economic footing but rather a collective effort involving a number of variables.
Over the years I’ve come to recognize it’s not the big expenditures that kill my household budget, but the $10 here or the $8 there. It’s the death by 1000 cuts that end up doing me in. I’m confident the same holds true for others. An increase in property tax would represent just one more expense increasing.
Union members have made reference to the need to pass a “moral budget”. This is not a morality issue where those who disagree should be considered immoral. People know what they can afford and not afford, for anyone to make qualitative judgments about what they choose to spend their money on is an exercise in privilege.
I strongly believe in a strong education system that can only be created by paying a competitive wage to high-quality teachers. You may disagree with me, but that doesn’t make you immoral. It puts the impetus on me to make the argument on why my assumption is the correct one. Something I continually try to do and why I believe this conversation should have been had 9 months ago instead of now with an impending budget deadline looming.
Meanwhile, the city is still chasing corporations, soccer stadiums, and tourists with impunity. Revenues from these initiatives should be flowing to residents in an effort to improve their quality of life, but for multiple reasons, that’s just not happening. When pushed for explanation city leaders use a lot of acronyms and point to the state for enacting legislation that hampers city funding. A defense that makes me scratch my head while my eyes glaze over.
So the argument appears to be that state officials are smart enough to devise a means to deprive Nashville of earned revenue, but Nashville leaders are not smart enough to devise a means to circumvent the state’s machinations? Having sat and listened to state legislative sessions, I find that hard to believe. Nashville has some of the smartest minds in the country, surely they can devise a plan other than the go-to property tax increase script.
The other shortfall of Mendes’s plan is that it doesn’t create enough increased revenue. If all of that proposed $55 million is used for MNPS salary increases it translates to roughly a 6% increase, if I remember MNPS Chief financial officer Chris Henson’s recent budget presentation correctly. That still doesn’t leave money for supports like trauma centers, textbooks, or SEL. I’m not sure that’s a risk/reward equation that plays in MNPS’s favor in this case. If you are going to increase taxes you need to meet as many needs as possible because you won’t be welcome back at the well anytime soon.
That said, I’ve almost resigned myself to a property tax increase this year. But it’s not something to celebrate or embrace. The city of Nashville has to do better. This is an election year and with it comes an opportunity to do better. To elect better leaders.
If the current crop in incapable, or unwilling, to find a way to secure more of the city generated revenue for residents, let’s find and elect people who can and will. Imagine if the same urgency and creativity was brought to the issue of funding schools that was brought to the challenge of securing the NFL draft for Nashville. I don’t believe for one second that we are incapable, it’s just that for too long we’ve been unwilling.
Both of the aforementioned articles demonstrate the risks involved in focusing solely on growth or achievement. You lose sight of all the other important elements that go into humanity and livability. We need to take time to ensure that while growing we are preserving the intangibles that make Nashville such a great place to live. That demands as much of a concentrated effort as growth requires but for too long its something that has been undervalued.
Regular readers of Dad Gone Wild know that for a while now I’ve been very critical of Executive Director Schools of Innovation Lisa Coons. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Late Friday it was announced that Coons contract with MNPS would not be renewed for next year. No reason’s for the move was given.
I have been hearing chatter, with little detail, that the state is being more heavy-handed than in the past when it comes to oversight of priority schools. They have set required experience levels for priority school principals which have led to at least one principal being moved. Stay tuned for more details.
One of the things that I appreciate about Dad Gone Wild readers is that they are willing to contact me when I get things wrong. In listing principal openings, I have twice listed Hermitage as being open when I meant Hickman. Hopefully, Hermitage principal Dr. Matthew Owensby will accept my sincere apology for the mistake.
Also at least one of those principal openings has been filled. Roddrick Webb will be the principal at Joelton Middle Prep next year. Congratulations to him.
Principals are meeting with district leaders in conclave this week. I’m expecting quite a few changes to emerge from that gathering. So stay tuned.
Last week MNPS Superintendent Dr. Battle conducted the last of a series of listen and learns. Percy Priest Elementary School Teacher Tina Atkinson captured the feedback received through her art. Pretty incredible.
Last Friday I sat down for a delightful conversation with Dr. Battle. Among the nuggets I discovered, she was born at Baptist Hospital, giving her true Nashville bonafides. She’s wanted to be a teacher ever since third grade. While she went out-of-state to college, she always knew she was coming home. So much so that she talked Missouri State University, where she was attending, into letting her do her student teaching in MNPS despite being nine hours away. Look for more when the interview is published in the next couple of weeks. I think you’ll enjoy learning more about Dr. Battle.
The first question asked in last week’s poll was, has your opinion on charter schools changed since 2016. 2016 was the year of the contentious school board election. The number one answer, with 43% of the vote, was that it was about the same. The number two vote at 27%, was that you had grown weary of talking about them. Here are the write-in votes.
|Never was for them.||1|
|Not fair when they get to choose who they educate. Creates more have and havents||1|
|No. Abominations then, abominations now.||1|
|Shell game is all!!!||1|
|They cherry pick students and boot out those who need more support. Dump on zone||1|
|Robbing the public||1|
|No, I still do not support them.||1|
|After teaching in one I’m more convinced than ever that they’re awful||1|
|Where’s the OVERSIGHT??||1|
|I look at the individual charter. Tired of lumping everyone as “pro” or “anti”||1|
|More anti than ever before||1|
|Charters & Vouchers..same different name||1|
|My hate has intensified.||1|
|I still hate them||1|
The second question asked who you were supporting in this year’s mayoral election. John Ray Clemmons with 46% of the vote was the overall favorite. Interestingly enough, while she’s not running, garnered enough votes to come in second with 17% of the vote. Only 3 people indicated that Briley was their selection. Here are the write-ins.
|Just get the little dweeb out (briley)||1|
|Anyone but Briley. He’s such a little weasel. 90k for an edu advisor who does 0?||1|
|TBD, but not Briley||1|
|I don’t know yet.||1|
|No idea yet||1|
|Cooper or Clemmons|
The last question asked whether Nashville should ban scooters. While not necessarily an education issue, it is a pressing one for Nashville. %0% of you think they should be banned, while 26% think there should be tighter restrictions put in place. Here are the write-in votes:
|Nashville should ban Will Pinkston and his tiny hands||1|
|MNPS needs to follow the law and place their budget impacted tenured teachers.||1|
|Nope! Natural selection at its best!||1|
|Need to review existing regulations to make safe|
That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight, send it on and I’ll do the best I can. Send things to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out.