HARSH TIMES WARRANT HARSH WORDS

“Now, now my good man, this is no time to be making enemies.”
(Voltaire on his deathbed in response to a priest asking him that he renounce Satan.)”
Voltaire

“Those were people launched into an exodus of biblical proportions, pushed only by the will to survive; beings weighed down with an enormous list of frustrations and tangible losses with gazes from which even dignity had disappeared.”
― Leonardo Padura, The Man Who Loved Dogs

I’ve long been fascinated by the power of words. Growing up, there was definitely a naughty and nice list of words considered appropriate. A list of words never to be uttered in polite society. Use those words and you risked being considered uneducated and coarse. So much so, that social commentator George Carlin – comedian undersells his art –  built a whole routine around the list of words to avoid using in mixed company.

The lines have blurred over the years and words once considered inappropriate now pepper popular music, movies and newspapers. As a general rule, I try to stay away from using language that could alienate people in constructing Dad Gone Wild posts. I recognize that for many people there are words that evoke a strong reaction and they find their usage offensive. But it’s for that very reason, that I feel compelled to use one of those questionably appropriate words in constructing today’s post.

It’s not a decision I make lightly. I walked around the house all weekend trying to find another word that conveyed the same kind of force and urgency. Every potential synonym fell short.

Today’s topic is one that I feel very strongly about, and quite frankly more people should be offended. So, in the end, I’ve chosen to employ courser language than I normally would employ. If it offends, please accept my apologies, but don’t dismiss the argument. We are getting to a very real tipping point and it’s imperative that for our children’s sake – and their future children’s sake – we walk ourselves back from the precipe we are on the edge of.

LEADERSHIP RULE #1

I’ve been managing people since I was 17 years old overseeing 9 lifeguards, 3 beaches, and a pool. Over the years I’ve been blessed to serve in a management capacity for several different entities of various sizes, with varying degrees of success. From all these opportunities, I’ve learned a lot.

Early in my career, I was blessed to have several great mentors who provided valuable insight into the principals of leadership, specifically a servant leadership style of leadership.

Under a servant leadership model, it’s never about the leader and always about those you are leading. A successful servant leader celebrates the victories of their team more than they celebrate their own successes. They recognize that a leader’s job isn’t to “boss people around” but rather to communicate the goal, procure the resources to achieve the goal and guide. It’s a concept I deeply believe in.

Every single one of those early mentors instilled in me the importance of rule #1 – don’t… fuck.. with… people’s… money. People will forgive you for many transgressions, fucking with their money is not one of them. If you say people are getting paid on a certain day – pay them on that day. If you say you are going to pay them a certain amount – pay them that amount. Don’t try and nickel and dime them. Don’t create bonus systems that are contingent on clearly unreachable stipulations. Like I said, don’t fuck with their money.

It seems like a simple and logical concept that should require little explanation, yet it regularly goes unadhered to in businesses across the globe. It’s one that Tennessee government and MNPS school leaders have clearly chosen to ignore over the last several months when it comes to teachers,  because right now virtually everybody is fucking with their money. Unfortunately, it’s the public that will be forced to pay the bill for this lack of adherence.

We need to look no further than MNPS for an example. Every year, teachers are given BEP money – $200 towards individual classroom expenditures. Teachers normally spend two to three times that out of their own pocket, but at least this is an acknowledgment and attempt to reimburse some of those expenditures. Typically the reimbursement is distributed within the first two months of the school year.  Not this year.

This year, it’s nearly December and that money has yet to be distributed. That doesn’t mean that teachers haven’t spent that money. Let’s be clear that money was spent months ago out of teachers’ pockets. They just haven’t been reimbursed.

In other words, this is like you and a friend going shopping and they see a warm coat that is much needed. They don’t have the cash to buy it, because they are waiting on a check, so you lend them the money knowing the coat is essential to their well being. Your friend promises to pay you back within a month, but months go by without repayment or even acknowledgment that they owe you the money.

Meanwhile, you continually see them spending money on other things – in your opinion more superfluous items – without ever addressing what they owe you. I’m pretty sure that person wouldn’t remain at the top of your friends’ list for long, and it wouldn’t take long before resentment set in. Future interactions would be rightfully viewed through a jaundiced eye.

Over the last month, there has been very little acknowledgment of the late payment by MNPS. There was some communication about roster’s not being complete, or itemized lists not turned, in but not a single message of, “We are sorry. We know this money is important to you and you are important to us.”

There have been vague promises of when the money will be delivered – the latest being November 27th – along with a general attitude of dismissal of the importance of this money to teachers. It’s another one of those situations where Dr. Battle is saying all the right things publically and doing the right thing in her personal interactions, but those underneath her are undercutting her message by not attaching the same level of priority to teachers as she expresses.

Some teachers this week received notice that due to the move to the new R12 system, there was an erroron their September 20th paycheck that resulted in a lower deduction for their TCRS/Hybrid pension. An error that was corrected with a higher deduction out of this past week’s paycheck, one of the last three paychecks before Christmas. The district’s message to teachers? “We know errors in pay are not acceptable and apologize for this inconvenience. We appreciate your patience and understanding as finalize this system transition.” Feel better?

Stop fucking with teachers’ money.

The city of Nashville and its leaders are no better though. John Cooper ran on a platform of recognizing the need to address teacher pay inadequacies. In his stump speeches, he often spoke of his respect for teachers and their profession. He promised that his budgets, as mayor, would increase funding to MNPS and by de facto, teachers’ salaries would also increase.

Here we are, barely 2 months into his administration, and instead of talking raises for teachers, he’s talking long term compensation studies. The latest proposed study comes on the heels of studies commissioned by the district and those internally conducted, by MNPS over the last decade. Much like, the listening tour on the ASD, we know the answers, they are just not the ones that are politically palpable.

What leaders are doing is not hard to recognize. Every parent can regale you with tales of their young children voicing their desires in different forms to different parents until arriving at the answer they seek. Cooper’s proposed study with NPEF is no different and is even more inexcusable because it partners with the Nashville Public Education Foundation, an organization headed up by a former MNPS HR director. I’d argue that there are few in Nashville that understands the staffing challenges faced by MNPS better that NPEF head Katie Cour.  More study just means less action, something we can’t afford right now.

To compound matters, Cooper’s team is sending mixed messages on whether a promised 1.5% raise in January is going to happen or not. When questioned about the promised raise in light of Nashville’s budget crisis, the best Cooper’s office could respond with was, “In light of the Comptroller’s report this week, we are doing everything possible to make the raise happen. The finance director is working with MNPS to determine the sources of funds.”

Not the answer teachers are looking for and surely there is a Metro Council member willing to step up and hold the Mayor’s office accountable. There may be, but it’s not going to be Bob Mendes, based on his Twitter posts this past weekend. His words seem to convey more of a desire to assign blame rather than assure a solution. Words that are especially concerning as they are coming from arguably councils’ most popular and well-respected leader.

Mendes’s Tweets paint a picture of him being no different than the rest of us, just waiting on the sideline wait to see what develops, perhaps writing another blog showing more of his smart and likable side. As if he has no political clout in which he could affect the outcome of this conversation. In case there is any question, I don’t think who is responsible for a failure to deliver the promised raise is half as important for teachers as the designation of who delivers it. Leadership means more than just amassing political clout, sometimes you have to spend that clout in order to earn more.

I suspect the raises will go through, but any potential good-will being generated is already jeopardized due to the uncertainty around the conversation. The fact that we are even having this conversation reinforces the distrust teachers feel towards those in power.

When the raise was first proposed, many teachers were skeptical. Instead of proving that skepticism unfounded and sending a message that teachers are valued, the Cooper administration has instead chosen to confirm that teachers were right to be suspicious, and, no…we do not value them. Nice job.

Stop fucking with teachers’ money.

State legislators don’t want to be left out of the fun. This past week state Senator Todd Gardenhire and state Representative Mike Carter decided to voice their frustration with the state budget process, where funds are passed to increase salaries for educators through the Basic Education Plan (BEP).

Per an article in the Times Free Press, “State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, have long called for one official definition of what a “teacher” is that school districts and the state can stick to, and they have again been raising the issue with Hamilton County’s school leaders and lawmakers.” They question if all these people are really teachers, “Regular classroom teachers, special education teachers, vocational education, music or art teachers, school counselors, guidance counselors, social workers, librarians, principals, assistant principals, and even supervisors such as instructional coaches, teacher supervisors and staff who complete special education assessments for students all fall into the same category.” Really?

Let’s not nickel and dime teachers. Let’s not just ask more from them without compensation, let’s not make them justify their existence and place value on their importance. When you force people to justify their value you are sending a message that you don’t value them. That’s not the right message to be sending right now.

So damn dumb, especially in light of when Gardenhire and Carter were pressed by Hamilton County Commissioner David Sharpe, of District 6 to name “Who are we angry [about] that is getting a raise that we don’t think should be getting a raise?” neither man could answer.

As TNEd Report’s Andy Spears points out there is an easy answer here.

“One way to solve the dilemma expressed by Gardenhire and Carter? Actually, fund the BEP at an adequate level. The state’s Comptroller of the Treasury estimates the BEP is underfunded by some $500 million annually. Fortunately, both Gardenhire and Carter are lawmakers and have the ability to push legislation to actually fund the formula. Unfortunately, neither have made any effort in this area.”

I’ll put it even more succinctly, stop fucking with teachers’ money.

Recruitment and retention of teachers is a very real problem. We seem to recognize the crisis on one level but on another level refuse to acknowledge that a change in behavior is necessitated. Waving a flag that says I love teachers is no longer sufficient. Teacher issues are student issues. When we fail to make sure that every classroom has a certified teacher in front of it, we are failing students.

Let me say it again, in case those in the back didn’t hear, when we fail to make sure that every classroom has a certified teacher in front of it, we are failing students. Charter school growth, the science of reading, the status quo,..pick your poison … all become moot unless we have an adequate number of qualified teachers and we currently don’t.

Fucking with people’s money does not improve the situation. In fact, it does the opposite, it makes it easier to leave a job that has been repeatedly made less attractive. Making the job less attractive impacts the number of future recruits.  It’s a losing hand no matter how you play it. The answer is simple,

Stop fucking with teachers’ money.

QUICK HITS

ChalkbeatTN published an article this weekend that put in writing what many of us were already privately saying, the TNDOE under new commissioner Penny Schwinn is a dumpster fire. The office is severely understaffed due to high turnover. Those employed lack experience and much of the department’s institutional knowledge has been lost due to the high turnover. The recent exodus leaves many local school leaders wondering whom to call about everything from testing to information technology to early intervention programs for students with learning disabilities. Also gone are dozens of mid- and lower-level employees responsible for executing essential department responsibilities, including the state’s testing program.

Chalkbeat’s story tells a tale of high attrition, sinking morale, as expressed by one anonymous source, “This isn’t about people being terminated or even reclassified; it’s just people quitting.” The only question remaining is…will Governor Lee do anything about it or will he continue to make the ridiculous defense that, “The Department of Education has a clear directive to challenge the status quo by developing solutions that best advocate for students and teachers,” Arnold said. “We are confident that changes in structure reflect a desire to build the most effective team that will deliver on this mission.”

The Tennessean has announced a new initiative to get the public to adopt a teacher in order to help with those expenses that continually fall to the responsibility of the teacher. A noble goal, but one that I fear will only make it easier for lawmakers to ignore the very real underfunding issues of Nashville’s schools. They’ll point to the public contributing financially as a reason to shirk their responsibility. It’d be much more effective if the Tennessean devoted their efforts to drawing attention to funding inadequacies and the importance of the state meeting their financial obligations, as opposed to portraying schools as one more charitable effort we need to get behind.

Tomorrow is the ceremonial opening day for the Indiana state legislative session and over 12000 teachers are planning to welcome legislators back to session. While not an official strike, “This is a warning shot,” said Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a Carr professor of labor and employment law at Indiana University. “This is a sign of how serious the problem is and how unified the teachers are.” Because of the number of teachers requesting the day off, 130 districts across the state have canceled classes. Tennessee…you might want to pay attention.

In strange voucher legislation news, TN Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn says parents who accept voucher money under the Education Savings Account program will have to report that money as income in their federal tax returns. That might give a few families a pause for cause since a voucher could potentially increase family income by 15% if not more. That’s a potential tax hit that I’m not sure is easily absorbed. The peels of the onion continue to fall away producing more tears. 

Questions were raised last week about the timeliness of documents made available to the public in relation to recent charter school expansion requests. It seems that the MNPS charter school department turned in the documentation back several weeks ago, but since there is no defined protocol of when that information should be delivered to the board and/or released to the public, it sat unshared until just prior to last Tuesday’s board meeting. Hopefully, protocols will soon be put in place in order to prevent a repeat. Appearances matter in these conversations. With both sides being equally suspicious of each other, care should be given in not adding fuel to that fire.

James Moore, running back for Stratford STEM HS, is a semifinalist for Mr. Football for Division I, Class 3A – the only Metro Schools football player in the title running. He recently tied a 38-year-old TN Secondary Scholastic Athletic Association record with 56 carries.

If you haven’t checked out MNPS Executive Director Craig Hammond’s latest blog post on the Productive Struggle…now might be a good time to do so.

Since we’ve already broken the seal on strong language with this post, I’d like to share with you the words of MNEA President Amanda Kail,

“I will tell you that together we are powerful. When Nashville teachers stand up together, we can accomplish anything we want. And when we build a movement where we intentionally stand together with other communities and other workers, we will be so big and so powerful that NOTHING. WILL. STOP. US.”

My feelings on MNEA are often conflicted – at times leadership seems oversensitive, uncertainty over alignment with other labor unions, and I’m not always sure how effective their strategies are – but there is no conflict about the work ethic, commitment to teachers, or integrity of the current MNEA leadership team. In fact, if you are on the fence about joining, now would be the time to do so. There is no better time to affect change.

POLL QUESTIONS

Good response to this week’s poll questions. Let’s review.

The first question asked whether you thought the new charter school seats should be approved or not, 62% of you answered absolutely not and noted that charter school growth continues to negatively impact the district. Only 8% answered the counter. Here are the write-ins,

Hell no. They aren’t held accountable. Kick the “tough” kids out!! 1
NO. 1
If they’ve earned it 1
There no better or worse than traditional MNPS 1
Targeted perhaps to relieve overcrowding at some schools 1
Are we going to improve site schools?

Question 2 asked how you felt about the new leadership team in the communications department. The answers on this one surprised me a bit, as I thought Braisted and Cass were well known throughout Nashville. Apparently not as 54% of you voiced an unfamiliarity with them, but looked forward to the change. Only 8% of you recognized them as talented, while 11% expressed displeasure with the move. Here are the write-in votes,

More big salary jobs in central office 1
But we can’t find money for raises? How much do they make?! Sick of Bransford!!! 1
New leadership? I don’t even know who they are, and I’m a teacher. 1
Waiting to see how they perform 1
I don’t see why there are so many administrative ppl in MNPS 1
Who are they? 1
Nepotism at its finest. How can MNPS afford these guys !?!? 1
same old same old

The last question solicited your opinion on the impact that the recent TN State Comptroller’s presentation to the council would have. Not a pretty picture, 38% of you predicted another under-funded year and 26% of you predicted raises would disappear. Here are the write-ins,

Another excuse for piss poor leadership to not fund schools.They just don’t care 1
No money, no money, mo problems, no problems 1
Hopeful for realistic budgets and spending across the city 1
More teachers, police and fire cut/leaving for $

That’s a wrap. 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 and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is also welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do.

You can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on.

 

 

2 thoughts

  1. I appreciate your work. I visited your schools professionally as my district looks towards implementing an academy system. I really value your perspective.

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