FREE YOUR MIND, SO YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW

“If you listen to neurologists and psychiatrists, you’d never fall in love.”
Timothy Leary

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”
Emma Goldman

 

Over the weekend I got dragged into a Twitter conversation around school funding. At first I was highly confused, I was familiar with one of the participants but had no idea who the other was. For ease of description, I’ll refer to them as the antagonist.

The premise of the conversation was the growing financial crush due to the pandemic and it’s potential impact on school budgets. The antagonist was making the argument that the district should be laying off as many teachers as possible and transitioning them to unemployment insurance while the extra $600 a week benefit existed.

Such a move would allow teachers who made around $50k the ability to retain their same level of income while shifting the financial burden from local to federal. Hypothetically this would save the district roughly, according to the antagonist, $25 million a pay period. I never checked their math, the idea on initial flush was too repulsive to even consider, but if that bears out, it’s not unsubstantial.

After the conversation ended, I started thinking, moving responsibility from the shoulders of the district to that of the federal government has some merit. If district leadership really thought it through, created a furlough that aligned with the length of additional benefits being available, with a guaranteed return to district payroll…the idea may have some merit. It would have to be extremely well communicated and there would have to extensive coordination between educators and counselors in order for the plan not to crater morale and as a result, create more problems while solving others.

The idea of doing a furlough for employees now, while the additional federal money is available, as opposed to waiting to be forced into layoffs next fall when there is no guarantee of additional money is available, shouldn’t be outright dismissed. We are in entering of times where we will be forced to consider the worst of two bad scenarios.

Over the years there has been a constant drumbeat over the power of “choice” as some kind of magical panacea. We are about to have to face the reality that “choice” sucks when none of the options are palpable.

Upon further consideration, I still believe it’s an unworkable idea, based on the district’s current capacity and culture. Not to mention potential contract conflicts and the stipulations that come with the recently awarded stimulus funds. On a personal level, I find it extremely disconcerting. But I feel it is equally important that we begin to recognize that we are entering a time where we are going to have to entertain some ideas, that make us incredibly uncomfortable.

I don’t doubt at this point some of you are probably pretty irritated with what you’ve just read. Please know that I don’t raise this conversation to upset or anger, but rather to encourage a deeper consideration on what the future might bring. In order to do that, we need to recognize that just because a subject is reprehensible to us, doesn’t mean it isn’t under consideration by others.

This means schools districts and educators need to be very deliberate in plotting future strategies. It’s important to control the conversation, instead of being in a position of constant reaction to others plans. That means considering, directing, and analyzing all options, in an effort to find the ones that are the most palpable.

Unfortunately, based on conversations that I’ve held with various people over the last week, I’m not sure that there is a widespread acceptance of how severe this growing economic crunch is going to be. Many still believe that federal or state monies will become accessible in order to offset sales tax loses. Or they believe that a property tax will be sufficient to make up loss revenues. Others argue that the economy was strong before the COVID-19 hit and that there is no reason to believe it won’t quickly rebound once restrictions are lifted.

I’m not buying any of that. Federal and state money may offset some of the challenges, it was announced late last week that MNPS would see approximately $26 million in money, but it’s not a limitless pot.

Nashville is dependent on the service and tourism industry to drive it’s sales tax revenues, as is the state. Per the Tennessean,

Among all 50 states, Tennessee falls only behind Nevada, South Dakota, Washington, Texas and Florida in terms of dependence on general sales tax revenue, according to research from The Pew Charitable Trusts. As much as 52 percent of Tennessee’s tax sources derive from general sales tax. That’s significantly higher than any other tax in the state, although the state levies a sales tax on groceries that some states do not.

Unfortunately, even if the governor’s and mayor’s restrictions are lifted tomorrow, it’s uncertain how long it will take for people to return to a willingness to gather in large groups. That means downtown is likely to remain underpopulated for several months. Those bridesmaid parties that everybody loved to complain about are likely gone in mass for the foreseeable future, unfortunately they took their cash with them and it’s hard to see them returning in the near future.

USA Today has an article out today that shares some very sobering statistics about the restuarant business,

A survey released Thursday by the James Beard Association found independent restaurants laid off 91% of their hourly employees and nearly 70% of salaried employees as of April 13 – double-digit increases in both categories since March. The poll of 1,400 small and independent restaurants found 38% of have closed temporarily or permanently, and 77% have seen their sales drop in half or worse.

Perhaps most troubling: 28% of restaurants said they don’t believe they can survive another month of closure, and only 1 out of 5 are certain they can sustain their businesses until normal operations can resume. 

As someone who works as a bartender, I found those facts extremely concerning. Furthermore, 80% of all restaurants currently closed remain uncertain that they will ever reopen. That loss can not be understated.

While this is just one industry, don’t forget, they spend money with other industries that help drive the economy. As one area dips, so do revenues in other industries. As revenues dip, so does employment. As a result, even more people will potentially find themselves out of work, further taxing our all ready stressed economic system.

Many economists are projecting a W shaped recovery, as things will recoil again in the event a likely second wave of Miss Rona hits in the Fall. Most projections are that we’ll see a reoccurrence of the last month come late October/November.

Nashville Mayor Cooper has already sounded the warning bell. This next budget is going to be a very difficult one. Once opposed to a raised property tax, he’s now indicated that a substantial increase is on the way – early indications are that it’ll be around 20%. Personally, as much as I hate the idea of a property tax increase, I think 20% is too low and would urge the mayor to think more around 25%.

The reason being is that any amount is going to hurt. If there is going to be pain, then it ought to bring a little benefit. I don’t believe that a 20% will be adequate to offset sales tax losses.

Last week it was determined that Nashville’s next budget would include a freeze on all city employee compensation, including step increases and cost-of-living adjustments for employees in an effort to save around 26 million. It was accepted with a caveat to allow step increases and upgrades to job classifications for employees in 911 Emergency Communications, a department with high vacancies due to high employee turnover.

Cooper is required by law to release his proposal for next year’s city budget by May 1st. The difficulty of this task is undefinable, whatever his final number is, it’ll be based on factors well beyond his control and without any precedence in which to offer support. He’s literally throwing a dart against the wall and praying that real-life events at least marginally follow his anticipatory budget.

Some may argue, that’s pretty much with any budget. And while that’s true most are constructed through the usage of carefully considered data points created through years of application. There are no existing data points in this case. Much is dependent on when people choose to engage in large events again or feel safe in clustering in groups again. Science can only give so much indication, but eventually, it comes down to the collective decision of individuals influenced by personal emotions. Personal emotions that are beyond prediction.

As a result, it may be 2 weeks, or it may be two years, before we return to previous patterns of behavior, if at all. We’ve done so well at convincing folks of the importance of social distancing, how long will it take for that increased awareness to be mitigated is anyone guess.

Across the country some states are already beginning to take steps to address funding shortfalls, these initial steps won’t be the last.

“I can’t see a school district that won’t be looking at budget cuts come this fall” Michael Griffith, a fiscal analyst and school finance expert said Thursday morning. “Some might be dramatic. Some places might start seeing cuts this school year.” 

Many folks are looking at 2008’s recession for guidance on actions to take. That may be a mistake,

“People felt like the recession moved quickly,” Griffith said. “But that took an extended period of time for things to happen. It didn’t hit rock bottom until 18 months in. We’ve already got worse numbers now and we’re only five to six  weeks into this.”

In other words, time is of the essence and we can’t afford to discard ideas just because they come from sources we have personal animosity towards, or that make us uncomfortable. Ironically, former school board member Will Pinkston has a piece out today. As much as I personally detest Pinkston, and lord I do, he raises some salient points despite his inability to separate his policy arguments from his personal agenda.

So what do we do? First, we take a deep breath. While we need to act with an urgency, we can’t divorce that sense of urgency from a sense of purpose. One of the gifts that Dr. Battle has brought to MNPS is a sense of deliberate action. She seldom falls prey to a course of blindly rushing from crisis to crisis, choosing instead to employ a series of actions to solve one problem and then moving to next.

For evidence, look at how she’s attacked the issues with the overall school district. She identified primary issues with communications, human resources, and morale. Very deliberately she has begun addressing each of those areas starting with leadership, and as a result, the district is in a better position than it was last year at this time. In this light, it’s imperative that she be given some space to lead.

After we’ve taken a deep breath, we need to open our minds. Over the next several months we are going to hear a lot of ideas and proposals, many are going to come from places and people that we are diametrically opposed to. It’s imperative that we focus on ideas over personalities. There will be an inclination to evaluate ideas through the lens of past experiences, I’d urge temperance there. We are entering an arena we’ve never been before and analyzation skills sans prejudice are a needed commodity.

We need to carefully consider strategies before dismissing them. There will be proposals that cause short term pain in order to allow long term relief. Again, sometimes our only options will be between bad choices and worse ones.

Last night on Homeland a fellow Agent asked the show’s protagonist Carrie if she was sure she wanted to proceed with a proposed strategy. Carrie answered, “I am absolutely certain that I don’t want to proceed with this plan, but I don’t see another option, do you?” That’s the neighborhood we now live in.

We need to prioritize and weigh the level of importance of each idea against current circumstances. For example, yes, educators are extremely underpaid, but is now the time to fight tooth and nail for increased compensation? Is a 2% raise worth a 2% decrease in the workforce? Those are the options being presented.

I would argue the need to put more money in mental health services – both student and teacher – at this juncture. The need for further training in and acquisition of technology should also probably take precedence under the current circumstances. These are just a couple things to consider.

As of late, I’ve been raising concerns about a proposed change in the district curriculum. Some quarters have suggested a need to make this switch happen quickly in order to put materials in the hands of teachers. If that does indeed happen, then it comes as a result of resources being stripped from another area. That stripping can’t be done without careful deliberation. i wonder how many district superintendents would like to delay the adoption process by a year in order to get a better handle on finances.

One area that Pinkston get’s right in his piece is the need for transparency and honesty. We need to be clear that this isn’t some momentary blip on the radar, but rather a fundamental shift in reality. How far a shift is something we are in the process of discovering.

The other thing that needs doing, is collective advocating. Contact your state and federal representative. Make sure they understand the need for another federal stimulus package. One that includes $200 billion just for schools. I know it’s a big ask, but these are the times to make big asks.

Now more than ever, it is important to remember the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Something more true than ever before.

This leads to the question, as we rush pell-mell to provide continued learning opportunities for students, are we taking teachers’ mental health enough into consideration? Not according to an article in Education Week,

Teachers are grappling with unfamiliar technologies. They have to retrofit—or reinvent—their lessons and find new ways to do familiar things, like grading homework. They’re inundated with emails, texts, and calls from principals, parents, and students. They’re trying to “be there” for students and their families. And many are also juggling the needs of their own children or other loved ones while managing their own coronavirus fears.

What’s currently happening is not dissimilar to being in a multiple car accident and being instructed to perform first aid on others with new methods while trying to address your own injuries. Not a great idea.

Lastly, please keep in mind, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Medals are not won by leading the early miles. There is a long way to go before things are anyone near settled. We need to continue to apply strategies that are scalable, sustainable, and equitable.

QUICK HITS

Educators, if you are looking for a source to help navigate these difficult times, look no further then the Educator’s Co-Op. You can check out their latest newsletter for all kinds of useful information.

Last week I broached the subject of making internet service a public good, Ben Hecht, the CEO of Living Cities , has more on why internet access is such an important subject.

The virus has also shown the fundamental role that internet accessibility plays in giving every child a chance at a quality education, in addressing our widening racial inequities, and ultimately, in closing our nation’s gaps in income and wealth. This is one problem we know we can fix—and we know how.

Heard from a teacher this week that she got an email from new MNPS HR head honcho Chris Barnes expressing his gratitude and congratulations that her husband was recovering well from COVID-19. Needless to say, it was impactful. This is how you change culture. Kudo’s to Mr. Barnes for walking the talk, hopefully he will be emulated.

Do you know what a “covidiot” is? What about “Coronaspeck? “Miss Rona”? If not, update your vocabulary by reading the Economist’s Glossary to COVID-19 Slang.

If you submitted a complete Pre-K Application by the April 10 deadline, you can now view your Pre-K selection results at schooloptions.mnps.org. Families must accept their Pre-K seat online and submit all documentation by May 8 to secure the seat.

It is with great sadness that we share the loss of Mrs. Marianne Wheeler, band director at McMurray Middle School, who passed away last Thursday. My wife had the pleasure of teaching with for several years, so this one hits close to home. She was an exceptional educator who enriched the lives of many students.

That’s it for now, if you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work 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 always 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 and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, 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, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them. Tomorrow I’ll print the first of those. A piece by an 8th grader from Bellvue.

 

 

 



Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. You got 99 problems and David Plazas is one of them. Each of his “editorials” contradict or are utterly oblvious to the reality of the situation. Seriously what is wrong with that man. Covid Fever? My favorite was how Tennessee because of its regressive tax rates will enable the state to recover quicker than any other. Then he talks about Nashville and its own budget crisis, neglecting to mention that a week earlier a Tornado hit. Then you have the paper declaring how much money from the feds the state will get the same State that eschews federal taxes or laws. Which is it? Good luck you are going to need it.

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