NO POINTS FOR STYLE, BUT A WIN IS STILL A WIN

“I am often asked the question How can the masses permit themselves to be exploited by the few. The answer is By being persuaded to identify with them.”
E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime

“Once we understand how they think, we can predict their behavior. And once we predict it well, we can manipulate it. That is diplomacy.”
Charlie Huston, Sleepless

 

My normal writing schedule for posts to come out on Monday and Friday. On occasion, I’ll throw in an extra edition mid-week. Yesterday, in what proved to be a fool’s errand, I sat down and wrote 1000k words while the winds of politics blew around me. By the end of the day, I realized I would have to abandon those words and begin anew this morning. So here we are.

Over the weekend a lot happened. I’ll do my best to summarize and evaluate exactly what it all means. But before we go any further, I need to reiterate something that seems to be getting lost in the wash. What happened over the last several days is a win for teachers. A testimony of what can happen when people organize and apply continuous pressure to politicians.

Now is it a ticker-tape parade inducing win? No. It’s more like a 3-2 win where the winning run scores on a past ball by the catcher. Here’s the thing though, it still counts. Teachers were slated to get a 3% raise they got at minimum a 4.5% raise. For the record that is .5 higher than they would have gotten under the Mendes/Vercher plan but without a tax increase. That’s a win.

The money didn’t show up just because Briley was sitting in church Sunday morning and thought, “You know I really ought to do more for teachers.”

It came about due to his advisors and Dr. Battles advisors response to pressure being applied by teachers and by certain board members, specifically Jill Speering. It became clear that a simple 3% wasn’t going to get it. As a result, Briley’s proposal was born. An imperfect solution but one that meets more of the needs of those involved than previous suggestions.

But’s let back up a moment and retrace the steps of how we got here. Before we proceed I think a qualifier needs to be introduced here. Over the last several weeks you’ve probably heard a million times, “Teachers support the property tax increase.” or “Teachers really hate the discipline policy.”  and other statements that lumped all teacher together into some homogenous amorphous entity. The media and politicians like to refer to teachers as if they are some harmonious entity all sharing a like mind. Which if you’ve spent any time with teachers you know is just not accurate.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I could put 15 teachers in a room and I would get 17 opinions. There are extremely liberal teachers, there are extremely conservative teachers, and there is everything in between. Now there are certain areas where there is a general consensus among teachers – they need to get paid more, they love kids, and, well there is something else but I just can’t think of it right now – but for on most issues opinions run the gambit.

I say this out of respect for teachers, it is important to recognize all of them who move under the umbrella and not just the ones that step to the forefront or push forward an agenda we are personally sympathetic with. Like with any sub-group, its important to recognize that they share a common trait but not necessarily a common mind. We recognize people’s complexity but unfortunately, we constantly try to simplify that complexity, often to our detriment. There is nothing like an election year to acerbate those complexities.

So back to our recap, in case you haven’t been following at home, we’ll go through this quickly.

  • Then-Director of Schools Dr. Joseph’s team proposed a budget to the school board that includes a 3% raise for teachers. One that aligned with the Mayor’s office who made the argument that the city just can’t afford more.
  • Red4Ed starts organizing teacher “Walk-Ins” throughout the district to begin the process of educating the public why 3% ain’t going to cut it.
  • School board listens, decides to submit a budget that asks for what we need instead of what we can have, resulting in a budget that includes a 10% raise for employees being submitted to the mayor.
  • CM Mendes submits an alternative budget that gives funding for a 6% raise for teachers but includes a property tax increase. This is where the complexities begin to arise. Not everybody is down with a tax increase.
  • Council Budget Chair Taneka Vercher introduces her budget which is merged with the Mendes budget. Now there is only funding available for a 4% raise and the property tax, while smaller, is still in place.
  • Mendes/Vercher budget fails to pass and as a result, the Mayor’s budget becomes law.
  • Once the exact amount of funding is known, the school board has to approve the allocation. MNPS leadership team submits a budget with a 3% raise.
  • Jill Speering, herself a former teacher, gets the board to push for the district to dig deep and find $8 million in cuts to fund a step increase. The board passes a continuation budget to give leadership time to look for money.
  • Board chair call meeting for July 1 with no indication that more money has been uncovered. At last minute Mayor sends a letter giving MNPS more money.

That’s the gist. Meanwhile, as a backdrop, you’ve got a race for Mayor approaching the finish line. A race that is getting tighter every day. Which is unusual in Nashville, because mayoral races with an incumbent candidate are usually runaway affairs. Mayor Briley running a terrible campaign and John Ray Clemmons running a good one has made things dicey for the mayor. Especially considering that Clemmons has appeared to secure the majority of votes by teachers.

Another wrinkle in the mix is that MNPS has an interim Superintendent, Dr. Battle, in place who would like to remove the “interim” from her title. You don’t get to do that by failing to meet board edicts and pissing off teachers.

I firmly believe that school board leadership tried to convince both Battle and Briley that they could pass the status quo budget at the hastily called July 1 meeting. After all, guess who was absent at the meeting where the continuation budget was initially passed. Wisely, Battle and Briley didn’t fall into that trap. Instead, they got creative and found a solution.

Is it a perfect solution? No. Is it a solution rooted in politics? Yes. As such, Briley asked, not demanded, that the extra money be utilized for raises for all instead of step-raises. If the money had gone to step-raises, it would have had no impact on at least 30% of the district’s employees. It is not unreasonable for the mayor to want his political decision to impact as many potential voters as possible. In fact, it would be kind of foolish to not take steps to maximize the number impacted.

In a report by Harriet Wallace on Fox 17 News, Vanderbilt University Political Science Professor Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer points out that this move by the mayor is just part of the advantage of being an incumbent.

“You respond to constituencies out there and you’d be silly not to do things which are within your powers to help support your re-election,” said Oppenheimer. “Clearly teacher salaries has been the big issue, it’s a substantial constituency group.”

This is not to excuse the lack of step-increases or downplay their significance. Addressing that need is still critical for district success. Though it is an area where work still needs to be done around educating the public in order to make people aware of why they are essential. To most taxpayers, it is not clear on why they are important.

Step increases offer a steady pay increase per experience gained. It levels the playing field so you don’t have first-year teachers making more than 10th-year teachers. Experienced teachers who have not received step increases when a large raise goes out often still make less than rookies. When the salary schedule is published potential teachers look to that as a guide for the future. Retirement pay is negatively impacted when not adhered to. The importance of re-instating step-increases can not be understated.

Now back to our election. Clemmons and fellow candidate John Cooper can’t allow for Briley to get any traction out of this move, hence you know they’ll offer a critical response. What else are they going to do? As a result, all over social media people were clutching their pearls and bemoaning that Briley doesn’t really care about teachers and highlighting that it’s only a 4.5% raise.

Yes, in 2019/2020 MNPS staff will only receive a 4.5% raise. But that number is higher than the previously proposed 3% and .5% higher than if the Vercher/Mendes budget had passed. It also comes without a property tax increase that would have impacted some teachers. Not sure how that adds up to a loss.

In 2020/2021 MNPS staff will receive a salary 6% higher than in the school year of 2018/2019. If anybody was under the illusion that teachers would see an additional increase in salary next year, in the aftermath of a property tax increase, I’ve got a bridge in Arizona I’d like you to look at.

Now I don’t like that the school board has to approve the raise for January in December. That admittedly makes me a little nervous, but you can’t do these kinds of things completely sans trust. So we’ll just have to trust that the board and whoever is mayor will do as promised in 6 months.

There is also some skepticism that the funding as described by the mayor is reoccurring and sustainable. That’s the mayor’s issue. I’ve maintained all along that there is more money out there from developers and tourist than anyone is admitting. Briley “suddenly finding” this revenue stream confirms that. I also don’t believe for one minute that there isn’t more, but nobody is going to offer it up unless pushed. Teachers and school board members pushed and miraculously money was uncovered. I would encourage us all to push a little harder.

In the end, sometimes you just have to take the win and recognize it as just one battle in a bigger war. Victories are seldom as defining as the ones found in literature or displayed on the screen. Often they are messy, uncomfortable, and not nearly as fulfilling as we’d expect. That doesn’t mean they don’t count. Unless we fail to recognize them as such and don’t build on them.

There is a lot to build on here. Dr. Battle and her team demonstrated a willingness to listen and to be creative in finding solutions to problems. What transpired in the last few days is more responsive than any of Dr. Joseph’s moves in the last 3 years. You have to be careful when fighting your wars that you don’t downplay the efforts of your allies. Dr. Battle and her team seem to be working hard to be good allies and as such should be recognized. A lot of hard and thankless work went into arriving at this point.

Another thing that should be clear to everyone is that when teachers raise their voices together people listen. Without their actions, this conversation taking place right now would be moot. Remember back when the process began and a certain board member was repeatedly referring to teachers as cranks for demanding more? When they were being told that theirs was an exercise in futility? Yea, good times.

Amanda Kail, Michelle Sheriff, Paula Pendegrass, Paige La Grone Babcock, Kathrine Greene, Mary Holden, Susan Norwood, Laura Leonard, Chelsea Norman, Amy Snead Hodge, Jayne Riand along with countless others have helped demonstrate what leadership looks like. MNPS is blessed to have each and every one of them and all of those I didn’t mention.

Let’s not also forget those teachers at McGavock either who pushed the whole conversation forward by organizing districtwide sick ins, Their contributions can’t be overstated.

Again, the conversation is far from over. But I think it’s essential that you stop along the path and acknowledge the progress that has been made. If you look at the journey in its entirety it appears overwhelming, but when you look how far we’ve come, it’s inspirational. Y’all rock.

Will Briley’s ploy work out for him? I don’t know. It doesn’t change my opinion. I didn’t think he deserved to be mayor 6 months ago and I don’t think he deserves to be mayor today. But his actions may persuade some to change their mind about his qualifications. Time will tell. But for today, teacher’s and education advocates have claimed a little more of the pie.

QUICK HITS

Word on the streets is that Dr. Joseph’s Survivor Island series continues. At last count, we were down to three participants. This week I heard that EL director Joie Austria will be the latest to leave MNPS. Charter School Executive Officer Dennis Queen still remains but has been demoted to a director position which means a cut in pay.

At this point, the odds are on EDSSI Karen Desouza Gallman being the lone remaining holdover from the Joseph administration. Gallman’s tenure with MNPS has been fraught with problems. Many point to her as a root cause for some of MNPS’s most talented principals now being employed outside of the district. If the rumor mill is to be believed, Gallman is poised to take over an executive officer position under the new organizational chart. A move that is sure to cause rifts and as such, I urge district leadership to think long and hard about before executing.

Side note on Gallman. She is currently finishing up her doctorate through a program at Trevecca. The program was created by Dr. Joseph during his first year and allowed for a small cohort to earn their doctorate with MNPS picking up half the cost.

Dr. Joseph may be gone but some practices remain just as clouded in mystery as if he was still employed. Under the new organization chart, EDDSI’s are in the process of being reassigned. However, for some reason, those assignments remain top secret. As of date principals don’t know who their direct supervisor is. With school starting later this month, I would say that’s a problem and I’m puzzled by the need for secrecy here.

At Monday’s budget meeting the discussion around the number of district openings was broached. I still maintain that nobody knows the true answer but the number 338 – many of which are supposedly filled and just awaiting final paperwork – was thrown out. I’m of the mind that this is another example of where numbers are left deliberately vague to the benefit of leadership, not unlike central office funding and employees. It was promised that once the new system is in place accurate reporting would be much easier. Right…want to look at my bridge?

Starting to hear more stories about the role of Mayor Briley’s office in the recent fight against voucher legislation. Many of you are probably aware that metro’s lobbyists worked to help the bill pass. What you may not know is that according to the street, Briley refused to get involved in the fight due to the perception that the democrat caucus was too small to be effective. There were opportunities were Briley could have impacted the vote and instead chose to remain disengaged. There are those that believe had he become engaged, the pilot could have been limited to just Memphis.

Nobody should be shocked by that revelation though. Briley’s chief education advisor, Indira Dammu is a former SCORE fellow. SCORE urged fellow Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition members not to take a position on voucher legislation. SCORE recently announced that they would be expanding their focus beyond k-12 education. On the campaign trail, Briley has been touting his new Nashville GRAD program. As they say, follow the money.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the results from last weeks questions. Believe it or not, July 9th will mark 90 days since Dr. Battle assumed the role of interim director of schools. I figured it was time you assigned her a score. Dr. Battle received some encouraging marks. 32% of you gave her a “B” with 22% giving her an “A”. It’s safe to say, she’s making some right moves.

Here are the write-in answers,

Too soon to say 1
Why all the secrets? Thought Joseph was gone?? 1
Petty leading teaching and learning = F 1
3.52 based on Teacher evaluation rubric 1
We are in trouble with the Jill Petty decision

Question 2 asked for your evaluation of the current state of MNPS’s HR department. Unfortunately, they didn’t fare as well as Dr. Battle. 51% of you indicated that you saw no change, while just 16% have noticed a slight improvement. Those are not quite the results needed.

Here are the write-ins:

Waiting with fingers crossed 1
When I’ve needed HR assistance, I’ve gone to Dr. Barry Potts. He’s always helped 1
Tony needs to focus on HR instead of student services

The last question asked who you thought was the highest functioning department in MNPS. The EL Department was the winner here with 38% of the votes. SEL was second with 21%. This one garnered a lot of write-in votes:

None 2
None of the Above. 1
Not sure I can name any 1
EL department was high functioning when Kevin Stac 1
Retirement 1
Hoping to see improvements in all 1
None seem to function well. 1
There is a high functioning department? 1
Schools 1
Too soon to tell 1
Hell if I know. 1
Pre-K. Winning national awards and communicating clearly with teachers. 1
None of the above 1
Athletics

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, and if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out.

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