A QUESTION OF FOOTING THE BILL

“To admit error and cut losses is rare among individuals, unknown among states. States function only in terms of what those in control perceive as power or personal ambition, and both of these wear blinkers.”
Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”
Chip Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

 

It was nice waking up this morning and being able to make a pot of coffee. To pop an LP on the turntable – started the morning with Springsteen’s Nebraska. Grab the laptop, a bowl of Captain Crunch, and search the world for information. To write another installment of Dad Gone Wild.

Thank you, NES employees. Too often we take the magic in our lives as a gimme. We forget how fragile it all can be and the opportunities brought forth by the very things we take for granted. This morning, I’m grateful that when I flip a switch, lights flare. The last three days were an uncomfortable reminder that it isn’t always that way.

Several years ago, I was talking on a plane to an IT specialist and as we discussed the many different variables that go into making our technology function, he said something that changed my perception:

“We are frustrated when technology fails us, but there is so much that goes into making it all work that we should flip our thinking. Instead of being upset when it doesn’t work we should continue to be amazed when it all does work.”

It’s a concept I try to keep at my center when dealing with technology… and life.

PREAMBLE

There is still a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it. Before we get going, though, there is something that bears repeating – something we seem to have lost sight of in recent days. This morning I read an opinion piece on a viral YouTube video that is quickly gaining traction among the conspiracy theorist crowd, Plandemic.

In the piece, author Derek Bees debunks much of the film’s conspiracy theory put forth regarding the Coronavirus, while still acknowledging the film’s legitimate concerns about pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of our for-profit health care system. Bees lists 7 points from the movie that bear further examination. One of those is that we need to be exposed to bacteria in order to build immunity, but that’s not what stay-at-home orders are about:

The problem is that this point is conflated with sheltering at home. What we’re avoiding is not bacteria, but overwhelming our health care system. Sure, a large percentage of those infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. Doctors are still trying to understand why that is. We’re protecting vulnerable populations whose immune systems cannot handle it as well as doctors and nurses. The film’s editing is disingenuous. It makes it appear that if we only got a little COVID, we’d all be alright. The debate over herd immunity is a separate conversation. The short-term solution is sheltering at home. It’s not about taking away our freedom. It’s buying researchers and hospitals time. These doctors should know better.

I don’t know why, or how, but I’ve lost sight of that central point. All of our actions have been governed by fear. As we swing to the economic fear and away from the health fear, we need to recognize that one is about fear for our fellow citizens and the other is about ourselves. Most of us are sure that we could survive a bout with COVID-19, but as the economic shutdown continues, more and more of us become afraid that we can’t survive the economic threat. The focus switches from an altruistic one to one of self-interest. Both of which are viable fears.

It seems like a simple thought, but for some reason, it had slipped from my grasp, and I think many others – Coronavirus precautions are not about keeping me safe, but rather ensuring others’ safety. I personally need to re-read those words and remember that yes, I may survive, but if others do not, my world will be negatively impacted. Just “opening the country” doesn’t solve the issue; people still need to feel safe. And if people are dying en masse, the masses ain’t engaging in economic pursuits. And without proper precautions, people will continue to die en masse.

Yes, we are all afraid right now – especially those with the loudest voices – but none of the solutions is dependent on the individual. There ain’t enough bootstraps to go around. You may contract the Coronavirus and never show a single symptom, but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t give it to someone else who gives it to 10 people, 3 of whom may die.

Three might seem like a minute number unless, of course, you or a loved one is among the 3.

By the same token, we can’t take a cavalier approach to the very real economic threat. People who insist on opening the economy are not doing so out of a whimsical approach to grandma’s life, they are doing so out of fear for their own. A fear of an economic crisis they’ll never escape.

Speaking of things we forget, we forget how much sweat and sacrifices a business owner invested in creating their businesses – large and small – that we enjoy and benefit from. The people that established those businesses did so through a tremendous amount of risk, and I’m almost willing to bet the rewards aren’t as great as we might surmise. It is not unrealistic for them to fight to defend their businesses like others fight to defend their loved ones.

Moving forward is going to take a higher degree of empathy from both sides. I never thought I’d do this, but I’m going to quote political talking head Ben Shapiro because he’s got a solid idea:

How about we all make a deal: no downplaying the Covid-19 death and hospitalization counts, and no downplaying the dire economic and liberty costs of lockdown. Fair? 

CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS

Earlier in the week, social media began the rending of garments when news came out that three MNPS school board members – Amy Frogge, Fran Bush, and Jill Speering – were suing the former Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Instantly, detractors seized upon this event as evidence that these board members had a personal ax to grind with Dr. Joseph, one that is rooted in him being a black man who rose to prominence. Accusations of ignoring the children of Nashville in order to pursue a personal vendetta were hurled at the trio with little concern about their veracity.

The narrative of three women – two of whom are white and therefore privileged – relentlessly pursuing a poor man just trying to do right by children makes great headlines. But the reality is a whole lot less titillating and borders on the mundane.

The exit of Dr. Joseph came on the heels of a tumultuous and contentious year. As a result, everyone wanted to get to the exits as quickly as possible. Dr. Gentry, a Joseph supporter, used her power as chair of the board to craft a severance package that did more to protect Dr. Joseph than it did MNPS. In that package was a clause that was both unconstitutional and severely limited board member’s ability to execute the duties of their office:

“The School Board Censorship Clause forbids the Plaintiffs — three duly elected officials who have a duty and obligation to their constituents — from speaking candidly and honestly with their constituents and with other elected officials, including one another, about matters essential to their offices and their official duties.”

Local attorney Daniel A. Horwitz, who specializes in these kinds of cases – nationally and locally – recognized the clause and identified it as problematic with the potential for placing board members at financial risk in the future. He approached the board members and offered to handle their case more or less pro bono. I’m not privy to the actual financial agreements so I’ll refrain from speculating, but rest assured no taxpayer dollars are being utilized.

Board members were faced with the option of taking action now and reducing future risk at little cost or waiting until possible future actions were possibly taken by Dr. Joseph. Actions that could have come at a time when legal representation at a reduced cost was not available. Seeing as how in the past Dr. Joseph has struck out at critics, trusting that he would never pursue legal action against them based on his interpretation of their words does not seem like a wise bet to me.

Yes, the timing is terrible, and the optics not great, but the only potential benefit to the board members pursuing legal action is the retention of their First Amendment rights. While the financial cost may be mitigated, pursuing this protection does come without personal cost.

All three board members were subject to horrific accusations due to their willingness to hold Dr. Joseph accountable. Fran Bush’s very racial authenticity was questioned, and both Frogge and Speering were subjected to accusations of being practicing racists despite the former having a long history of fighting for equity issues and the latter having spent 35 years as an urban school teacher. This lawsuit allows detractors to once again raise those hurtful and dishonest allegations.

The lawsuit seeks no damages. It seeks no compensation. It only seeks to restore what should have never been removed: board members’ ability to speak honestly and openly about the one employee they are empowered to oversee.

An employee whose actions have lead to over 2 million dollars in payouts for compensation to former employees and along with legal fees connected to those lawsuits. An employee whose actions have led to a complete restructuring of both the human resources department and the methods used by the district for procurement of services. An employee whose actions led to the surrender of his Tennessee teaching license. The case against Dr. Joseph was always about performance, despite how he tried to twist it. Unfortunately, racial overtones came into play, but for that Joseph bares fault as much as anyone.

In the wake of the announcement over this pending legal action, we are faced with a choice. We can choose to be upset by board members protecting their First Amendment rights or we can choose to accept that Dr. Joseph never reciprocated the faith Nashville placed in him. We can choose to continue to try to rewrite history in regard to one man or we can choose to focus on securing a better future for the 86K students that attend schools in MNPS. One choice will lead to better outcomes for children, the other to repeating the mistakes of the past. In the end, it all comes down to choices.

SPEAKING OF RELENTLESS PURSUITS

The big news of the week came on Monday when a judge in Nashville found that Tennessee’s voucher law is unconstitutional. Since then, events have taken some interesting turns.

Initially, Governor Lee attempted to ignore the ruling by continuing to solicit applications. In his opinion – though not an attorney nor playing one on TV – the voucher plan was constitutional and the thoughtful 30-page brief written by Judge Anne Martin would not stand up to appeal.

He’s since changed his mind a bit. After initially continuing solicitations for applications, on Wednesday, the TNDOE halted those solicitations while State Attorney General Herbert Slatery III filed an application with the Tennessee Court of Appeals. An appeal was also filed with Judge Martin asking her to pause her order so that the program rollout can continue pending an appeal. That appeal is scheduled to be heard today.

Martin’s ruling doesn’t just open a legal threat to Lee’s ill-conceived voucher plan, it also raises some important political questions as well.

In case anyone forgot, the state is facing a growing economic crisis. One that has already led to drastic cuts in the proposed budget for 2020/2021. Cut are several proposed education-related items that impact teacher salaries, student mental health, literacy, and educational materials for students. Those cuts come while 41 million dollars remain in the budget for the voucher program.

While the legal threats to the program grow, so do the financial costs. There is already the additional $2.3 million needed for administration costs that went to a Florida company, ClassWallet. Now legal costs are mounting. Even if you are the state, writing legal briefs and filling challenges does not come cheap. Yet Governor Lee seems willing to absorb these costs in a relentless pursuit of a bill that serves to benefit only the citizens of two municipalities.

It’s campaign season in Tennessee, and if I lived in one of the many Republican-leaning districts across the state, the question I would be asking every politician who knocked upon my proverbial door looking for my vote would be: why is a republican governor seemly willing to spend unlimited resources in the pursuit of a bill that will only serve to benefit the children of residents in two predominantly Democratic districts? Spending that is coming while all other districts are being asked to make hard decisions about their education spending.

I’m already hearing rumors of teacher layoffs in Wilson and other surrounding counties, and whether true or not, it begs the question, why are those decisions being forced on LEAs while Lee continues to spend more money in pursuit of a policy that benefits none of the children of people who put him in office?

If the person seeking my vote couldn’t adequately answer that question, I don’t think I’d give them my vote. PET Executive Director JC Bowman, who formerly worked for Florida Governor Jeb Bush, makes a salient point:

“The cost of the appeal and continuous appeals will be borne by taxpayers. I am not certain, given the state’s perilous finances, this will be popular with voters who continue to support public education.”

I’m sure by tonight we’ll have more to say about vouchers, and I’ll be back with more tomorrow. But at the root of it all will remain, how much is Bill Lee willing to spend in pursuit of a bill that only affects a few? Luckily there is an election this year that gives us a ready answer.

One quick side note, I urge you to read Judge Martin’s brief especially as it relates to MNPS’s ability to sue or be sued. Apparently, since they are not empowered to do so by the Metro charter, the MNPS School Board does not have the power to enter into a lawsuit or be sued. Martin cites several other cases as the basis for this ruling. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in regard to existing and future legal actions.

QUICK HITS

It’s not only graduating seniors that the COVID-19 crisis has denied a fitting farewell, but also long term educators. Susan Cochrane, currently an executive director for MNPS, is wrapping up a storied career in the coming months. Cochrane served as a principal at Cockrill Elementary School before moving to central office three years ago. All told, she’s got 3 decades of experience as a professional educator. She’s a good one and will be missed. Thank you, Susan Cochrane, for sharing your gifts.

Tennessee has a new online news outlet, The Tennessee Lookout. According to their masthead:

The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.Our investigative reporters and journalists explain what’s happening, why it’s happening, and who it helps or hurts. We expose the relationships between politics, people and policy and we hold the powerful accountable.

Bookmark, subscribe, read, rinse, and repeat.

MNPS’s Department of Exceptional Education is hosting a live broadcast at 9 a.m. Friday titled “Guidance on Remote Learning for Students on a Modified Curriculum.” All are welcome to attend.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the results from the weekend.

The first question asked for your opinion of Mayor Cooper’s proposed budget. 42% of you were not fans but recognized the need. The number two answer, with 28%, was gratitude for it and Cooper’s leadership. Only 5% of you thought it inappropriate and hoped it failed. Here are the write-in votes:

So glad it isn’t Briley 1
a lot of fat in city salaries cut them 1
Ridiculous. 2 of last 3 yrs less take home pay 1
Should be temporary 1
Don’t like it. Understand the need. Glad I moved from Nashville a year or so ago

Question 2 asked for thoughts on Dr. Battle’s reorganization plan. 37% of expressed gratitude that Dr. Battle was making the hard decision, though 28% of you were wary that it was just a rearranging of deck chairs. Only 2% of you were in disapproval. Here are those write-in votes:

Gallman is a bully and needs to go 1
Springer and Gallman wiill land near the top as battle buddies 1
What does Trauma Informed even do? Cut them.

The last question asked about your opinion of Remote Learning 2.0. Teachers have done a Herculean amount of work on this initiative, and I wanted to see if opinions had changed. 54% of you felt that it was fine. but recognized that participation rates were low. There’s a couple points I want to make about participation rates, but I’m going to save those for a later post. I just want to acknowledge one more time how much work it has taken by teachers in order for things to get to this point. It’s also clear that nothing can replace the classroom experience. Digital learning will improve, but it will never replace the need for quality classroom teachers. Here are the write-in votes. Oh, and Carrie Whittaker, I appreciate your readership.

It is WAY more than parents/teachers are capable of at any time, much less now. 1
It was important to test the waters as we may be back to remote learning again 1
High School students do not do the work 1
Ugh… 1
I get the need to “try things out” just wish it had been presented that way 1
easy to be a critic but people are working their tails for students 1
would be more participation If started after spring break 1
Not happy with it. But we had to do something. 1
Too hastily put together 1
Where do I send my internet bill to? 1
Visuals first, students second. 1
Carrie Whittaker is amazing!! 1
Good trial run for potential future shut downs

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.

 



Categories: Education

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