DON’T LET MONEY FOOL YOU

“Silence is argument carried out by other means.”
Ernesto “Che” Guevara

“The thing to do when one feels sure that he has said or done the right thing and is condemned is to stand still and keep quiet. If he is right, time will show it.”
Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery

 

 

Back in college, I decided that I should pledge a fraternity. I wanted to show that I was capable of committing to something and following it through to the finish. My pledge process lasted 16 weeks and it was…challenging. Remember this was back in the ’80s when things were a little more permissive.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that brothers, for the most part, fell into one of two camps. Those who understood that the pledge process bordered on ridiculous and vowed to treat pledges better than they were treated and those who decided that since they had been abused it was now their right to abuse others. I’ve always been someone that fell in the former camp.

Throughout my life, I’ve used bad environments as an opportunity to learn. When I’ve been placed in positions were leaders exhibited bad behavior, I didn’t see it as a necessary part of the culture it but rather something to be changed. I remembered how those leaders made me feel and made sure that I was vigilant in not falling into that trap when I became a leader. Too often we act as if having survived a bad situation empowers us to recreate that situation with others.

As we continue to get further removed from the reign of Dr. Shawn Joseph, it becomes more and more apparent how much of a trainwreck his tenure was. It’s apparent by the speed in which we’ve removed his fingerprints from the district. His people are gone. The contracts and programs he implemented are gone. The governance style he implemented is gone. But what I hope remains is the feelings that people experienced under his leadership.

The lack of trust. The lack of respect. The lack of value. The lack of voice. Those feelings and more must be held on to, and never forgotten if the district is ever to reach its full potential. Leaders need to remember those feelings and vow never to instill those on their watch. With the start of a new year, that needs to be at the top of any priority list.

BUDGET TALKS CONTINUE

Last week the Mayor’s budget was passed. Even though the talking points have given the perception that the Mayor’s budget or those alternative budgets proposed, dedicated specific amounts to certain line items, Metro can not demand monies allocated go to specific items. For example, a 3% raise for teachers. The budget designates enough money to cover those proposed increases in salary but can’t guarantee that they are funded.

Once that lump sum is designated it’s up to the school board to confirm it’s dispersal. Obviously, if the amount funded equals what’s in the proposed budget, then the budget passes as is. But, as is the case this year, the amount funded is less than what’s in the proposed budget, the school board needs to reallocate money based on need and priority. This year the board requested $78 million and received close to $30 million.

Teacher compensation has been designated as the number one priority this year. $78 million would have provided enough funding to grant teachers a 10% raise with step increases. $28 million only allows for a 3% and no step increases. Board members recognize that number as being insufficient and therefore they are requiring district leaders to go back and look at the budget proposed and find the extra $8 million needed to fund step-increases.

It is not an easy job, but an essential one. 80% of the budget is dedicated to salaries. That means potentially some people could lose their jobs in order for others to receive their promised income. That is not to be taken lightly.

However, much of the budget season has been framed by a conversation about a “moral” budget where what we fund is a reflection on what we most value. This is an opportunity for people to put their money where their mouth is. There are many things that are important and that we would like to do, but is there anything more important than the recruitment and retention of teachers?

On Tuesday of last week, board members explored several options to find the extra $8 million needed to fund step raises for teachers. Board member Will Pinkston was first up and used the opportunity to argue for repurposing money designated to charter schools due to growth for step-increases, He framed the funding of charter growth as an immoral choice of charter schools growth over teachers, bemoaning the message we were sending teachers by honoring this allocation. An interesting argument from Pinkston considering that he spent much of the budget season mocking teachers and referring to them as cranks.

Pinkston calls it a myth that the district is obligated to fund charter school growth. He bases his argument on language included in legislation passed in 2017, 49-13-112, that states that an LEA may reduce payments to charter schools based on a change in a revenue stream. In looking at the legislation I’m assuming that Pinkston is referring to this line, “An LEA shall adjust payments to the charter schools, at a minimum, in October, February, and June, based on changes in revenue, student enrollment, or student services.

Taken out of context, it does seem to support Pinkston’s argument. But it’s important to look at the whole paragraph.

(a)  A local board of education shall allocate to the charter school an amount equal to the per student state and local funds received by the LEA and all appropriate allocations under federal law or regulation, including, but not limited to, Title I and ESEA funds. The allocation shall be made in accordance with the policies and procedures developed by the department of education. Each LEA shall include as part of its budget submitted pursuant to § 49-2-203, the per pupil amount of local money it will pass through to charter schools during the upcoming school year. Allocations to the charter schools during that year shall be based on the per pupil amount. The LEA shall distribute the portion of local funds it expects to receive in no fewer than nine (9) equal installments to the charter schools in the same manner as state funds are distributed pursuant to chapter 3 of this title. An LEA shall adjust payments to the charter schools, at a minimum, in October, February, and June, based on changes in revenue, student enrollment, or student services. All funds received by a charter school shall be spent according to the budget submitted or as otherwise revised by the public charter school governing body, subject to the requirements of state and federal law.

Pinkston argues that in previous years the district went into the fund balance in order to make up the difference allocated from the city. Our fund balance is now depleted and therefore we can’t access it anymore. He makes the claim that the inability to access the fund balance constitutes a change in revenue. Now I earned my law degree from the same university that Pinkston earned his at, and in my eyes, his assertion is a stretch at best.

I think in reading the whole paragraph it’s pretty clear what the state is requiring from an LEA; pay the man. Now, this highlights an area where the district could cut costs, legal expenses. The district is already defending itself against several expensive lawsuits. Not to mention one involving the suing of the state over BEP funding. The last legal action Pinkston pushed for, suing the state over the sharing of data with charter schools, is not likely to have a positive outcome as the state supreme court as denied it a hearing yesterday,

So if we chose Pinkston’s proposed route, how much of the possible 8 million dollars saved would be spent defending legal claims? How fast do you think the state would move to financially punish the district for failing to pay charters schools money owed to them? What about the family’s that have chosen to attend charter schools, how would they be impacted? Let’s be honest, the only beneficiary of this proposal is Pinkston’s agenda.

The increase in funding to charter schools is driven by an increase in attendance, Some of which comes from charters adding grades annually as permitted by their chartering agreements. There are siblings that are entering charter schools based on their families satisfaction with the quality of education older siblings are receiving as well. Board member Gini Pupo-Walker asked for the number of students potentially impacted by Pinkston’s plan, 854 students.

This is where things get offensive for me. Pinkston argues that number as being just a projected number as if those families don’t even exist. It should be noted that all of MNPS’s highly touted student-based budgeting is based on projections. Sometimes highly questionable projections. In that light these projections should be given the same weight as those given for our traditional schools.

It is appalling to me how little consideration is given to MNPS students and their families who have done nothing but take advantage of an option offered them by the district. Pinkston may consider himself at war with the charter school industry, but I promise you the only war these parents in question consider themselves fighting is the one to get their kids the best educational experience available based on options provided by the district.

The reality is, those parents are not doing anything that Pinkston himself hasn’t done as a parent. He recently got into a very public spat with an MNPS principal and as a result, pulled his child from that school and pledged to enroll her in a private school. Private school is not an option for every family. As a result, they are left to take advantage of the options provided by the district. Charter schools being just one of those options.

That said the conversation around charter schools and their impact on the fiscal stability of a school system is a very real conversation that needs to be had. Ironically one of the reasons that Nashville was forged into a metropolis was because of a question around whether the city could adequately fund two schools systems. At that time Nashville and Davidson County were sperate districts and leaders believed that funding of both would have a negative impact on both. Yet, here we are 50 years later in a very similar position.

But it’s not just charter school parents for whom an appalling lack of concern is shown. Later in the budget meeting, Pinkston alludes to those who are “clued in” being aware of the state circling around for a potential district takeover or at least a take over of the Whites Creek cluster. He dismisses further conversation of the subject with a summary statement of. “we’ll fight that off after the mayoral election.” WTF?

That’s kind of alarming, no? Yet no mention in the Tennessean. No further information is given. The threat is real enough to bring forth on the board floor but there is no sense need to inform the community. It’s not like a state takeover wouldn’t have a huge impact on families lives.

It doesn’t end there though, this summer, Stratford Principal Mike Steele was placed on administrative leave for over a month while the district investigated charges of grade inflation. Steele will remain at Stratford but even after the district made the decision, families were left in the dark about who would be leading their kid’s school despite the pending schools year being only a month away from starting.

Families at Shayne, Cumberland, Inglewood, didn’t find out until this week who would be leading their respective schools. That’s appalling.

All of these instances are ones where the district has failed to acknowledge that their actions impact real people. People who are building their family lives around their children’s schools. Failure to recognize that and treat families investment as valuable completely sends the wrong message.

Further conversation around the budget, looked at other areas of savings possible, including partnerships like those with PENCIL and Alignment, Literacy coaches, and Gifted education. Cuts in any area are painful, but again, if teacher recruitment and retention is our primary concern than everything should be on the table. If we are not willing to cut in those other areas, let’s be honest and just admit, teacher recruitment and retention is not our primary concern.

Side note on PENCIL. Everyone recognizes the exemplary work they do but much of their funding comes through private efforts. The district didn’t start contributing to that funding until 2010. With the economic crisis in full swing, PENCIL came to the district and asked for help due to economic circumstances. The district in recognition of their value complied, awarding them 54k. The next year that number doubled and has grown since to its current level of $291k.

While their value as partners is invaluable, there are services that are duplicated by the district. The district now finds itself in circumstances not dissimilar from those PENCIL faced in 2010. We need them, and other community partners, to do us a solid as we did them a solid in the past. That’s what partners do.

There is a special board meeting scheduled for Monday at 11AM. The supposed purpose of this meeting is to approve a budget for the 2019-2020 school year.

QUICK HITS

Mayoral debates took place this past week and as a result, we now have a clearer picture of the candidates. John Ray Clemmons at this juncture looks the most mayoral of all. He spent much of the debates reciting talking points generated by his campaign but on the instances where he broke from the sound bites he demonstrated a solid knowledge of the issues. I urge people to look at Clemmons record as a state legislator. (Clemmons 110th GA 2017-2018) (Clemmons 109th GA 2015-2016)

While he didn’t get much passed – what Democrat in Tennessee does – he was championing causes like reasonable gun control, equal pay, mass transit, student protections, and family-centric issues well before most.

Briley continually strikes me as a man waiting for a bus which is already late to arrive. At times he appears frustrated and then by turns he gets angry, followed by resignation that the conversation is not following his desired script. It was telling to me that he has repeatedly touted his proposed MOU with MNPS while out on the campaign trail, yet when offered the opportunity to tout it with board members in the second row at the NPEF debate, he chose to omit it and instead offer his assessment of the hearts of board members.

Cooper arguably has the best understanding of the issues but suffers from a decided lack of style. Style shouldn’t trump substance but you have to at least look the part.

Swain…I just don’t know what to say. I’m still trying to figure out what she’s talking about half the time. No really…I have no idea.

Speaking of elections, MNEA made the strange decision to rescind their endorsement to 6 metro council members running for re-election. It’s a move that strikes me as extremely petty and begs the question of intent.

Jeremy Elrod is one of those candidates. My feelings toward Elrod are well documented. I hope he loses that election, but the reality is he’ll probably win. Furthermore, he is a public education supporter. Given the opportunity, 98% of the time he’ll vote in a manner that aligns with the interests of schools. So why are we trying to publically shame him?

It makes no sense. Union member’s counter that he changed his vote from what he promised during endorsement interviews. Big deal. He changed his mind. Every one of us changes their mind about things daily. It happens. Get over yourself. Case in point, I once swore I would never publicly defend Jeremy Elrod, yet I just did. We have to be smarter.

Quick clarification, A recent tweet by the Clemmons campaign made the assertion that Metro Schools had 227 teachers for 14,000 ELL students which equated to a ratio of 1:60. This is a prime example of where you have to be careful when you make interpretations based on just looking at the budget.

In reality, MNPS has a ratio of 1:35 or just below. The number the Clemmons campaign refers to is only the number with the job title of EL Teacher. It does not account for teachers that are providing services for 1 hour during PLT or a sheltered ELA/ELD class. Those teachers have a job title of a general education teacher. hold EL certification, and provide services for 1-2 hours per day.

I will never argue that ELL services couldn’t use more resources, but we have to make sure that we are telling as true a narrative as possible.

Among education bloggers, recognition and reposting by Diane Ravitch is considered to be one of the highest of honors. Last week that honor went to MNPS teacher and parent Mary Holden. This week it is our very own Andy Spears writing about Dark Money and Vouchers. Keep up the good work guys.

If you were watching the NPEF debate on Wednesday and playing dink Unchained – take a drink every time former director of schools Shawn Joseph’s name was mentioned – you would have ended the evening stone cold sober. Not once was Joseph’s name mentioned, nor even alluded to.

Meanwhile, his old school district has a new leader, one who was previously a peer of his. Monica E. Goldson was appointed the chief executive of Maryland’s second-largest school system last week, she begins her tenure July 1 as the school system’s permanent leader with an annual starting salary of $302,000. For the record, PGCS serves 134,000 students and more than 20K employees.

I have a bucket of penguin-regurgitated fish dinners waiting for any teacher who tells my children they only failed because they didn’t try hard enough, and for any head who uses the growth mindset to avoid providing the additional assistance they need.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of “growth mindset” and earlier today Alfie Kohn shared a blog post by the Disappointed Idealist that makes my case. I urge you to read it.

The story’s behind Vanderbilt’s second National Championship are both tragic and inspirational. Nobody gets left behind in this accomplishment. In the midst of all the chaos this coaching staff and players never lost sight of what was important.

That’s it for today. Thank you for your support. 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 to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support, and if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Thanks to this week’s newest donors. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday.

 

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2 thoughts

  1. John Cooper may not be a flashy speaker, but he knows his stuff financially and has his priorities in order. He has been challenging the spending at Metro Council for four years. He has found where they hide the money and understands the corruption of Rich Riebeling and the courthouse crew.

    Too many jumped on the Clemmons’ bandwagon early instead of waiting to see every candidate that threw their hat into the ring. Now they are stuck with him. It is important to note that all teachers were not polled, nor were all MNEA members. A small group of teachers make up the MNEA PACE committee and they decide the recommendation. Social media takes off from there, and we have an illusion that looks like every teacher actually understands politics and supports a candidate because their colleagues said to. The leaders of this same bunch rescinded the candidate endorsements because they didn’t vote in favor of a property tax that would have been a temporary fix and causes even more families to be forced to leave Nashville. Too many folks don’t understand local politics, how the Council works, or the impact a property tax without control over spending could hurt worse than help the situation in the long run.

    Smart teachers, cops, firefighters, city workers, and citizens who do their homework know that when you have a financial crisis, you hire someone who has years of experience with finances to fix the problem. You vote for someone who has consistently called out corruption, wasteful spending, and a lack of support for city employees. Supporting the good looking candidate who can make flashy speeches got us Megan Barry. Give me the compassionate nerd who can fix the problem. John Cooper for Mayor.

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