Fox in the Mayors Office

mr-foxNashville is holding a runoff election between Megan Barry and David Fox for its next mayor. The race is being portrayed as a competition between competing visions. I’d argue that it’s actually a competition between competing pasts. What do I mean by that? Let’s get in my hot tub time machine and take a trip back to when David Fox was on the Nashville school board, and I think you’ll get a clearer picture.

Usually, you campaign for a position because you want the job. Well, I guess some people see it differently. Because then-school board member David Fox apparently didn’t think that citizens should be able to elect the people who oversaw their schools. He believed that the mayor should have that job. “I request that as soon as practically and legally possible, Governor Bredesen empower the mayor with authority over Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and support legislative efforts to give Nashville’s mayor the power to appoint all members of the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” Fox said in a speech back in 2008 before the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. So he basically ran an election, and then, when he won, decided there were better people qualified to do the job he was just elected to do.

What a tremendous slap in the face of the people with whom he served on the board, not to mention a lack of faith in the electorate. Apparently, the common folks aren’t capable of determining who should represent them when it comes to educating their children. They need a mayor to determine who is qualified for that position. It’s a proposition that hasn’t worked in Cleveland, New York, Baltimore, Newark, and other cities, and it wouldn’t work here. In fact Newark has recently taken back control of the democratic process and reverted back to an elected board after 20 years.

Furthermore, Fox failed to understand the importance of our schools as a cornerstone of our democracy. As Dewey once said, “Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform” (Dewey,1897). We have elected school boards to ensure that the progress and reform is consistent with the desires of the community and that all citizens have a voice in how all children are educated. The board is not populated by people who are just a reflection of the mayor’s personal vision but by the vision of the community. As dysfunctional as this current MNPS board is often painted, can you honestly say that every constituent’s voice is not represented at the table? It may be a loud and sometimes unruly table, but all voices are heard and represented.

But under Fox’s plan, that might not be the case. For example, what if a mayor were elected who was anti-charter and he appointed a board that put an end to all charter applications. Now, that would thrill me, but would it adhere to democratic principles? Are the voices of charter school proponents less important then others? Do all voices not deserve to be heard? The current MNPS school board certainly thinks so, as opposing voices are all given representation. A board controlled by the mayor might not see it as such. That’s just one example where the role of an elected school board is vitally important, yet Fox seems to disagree.

Then again, Fox has never been overly concerned with disenfranchising people. In 2009, while chairman of the MNPS school board, Fox was accused of openly advocating for segregation through a proposed rezoning plan for Nashville schools in a lawsuit backed by the NAACP. According to witnesses, Fox made the claim more than once that this plan would put African Americans back in north Nashville where they live. Not only did it do that, but it dropped Hillwood High School’s black enrollment from 49% to 24%. It’s interesting that Fox now supports the creation of even more charter schools – schools that many have accused of fostering even more segregation. Some words from that time still ring true: “Even Ray Charles can see that’s racial and socioeconomic isolation,” said Ed Kindall, a black board member at the time who opposed rezoning. “I went to segregated schools. If we start in this direction, what’s going to stop us from ending up with two school systems?” What, indeed?

Equally disturbing are reports that at a 2008 Chamber of Commerce-sponsored conference in Miami, public officials were being heavily lobbied behind the scenes to vote for the rezoning plan in Nashville. As then-Superintendent of Schools Pedro Garcia wrote in a memo, “Business and community leaders met with selected board members while other board members were excluded. The agenda clearly became to have a student assignment plan that pushed for neighborhood schools. In essence, a neighborhood school plan is a disguised re-segregation plan.” Actions like these show a lack of transparency and are hallmarks of mayoral control. Backroom dealing to advance policy – is that the Nashville w–? … Oops! I can’t say that because it’s trademarked, but you know what I mean. If you’d like an even clearer picture, I think the whole lawsuit is worth reading.

Ultimately, Judge Kevin Sharp determined in 2012 that the MNPS rezoning plan was not racially motivated. “While the School Board’s action caused a segregate effect, the Court is unable to conclude that the School Board adopted the plan with a segregate purpose,” Sharp wrote in his conclusion. My favorite quote from Sharp’s ruling is this one: “While the School Board might be chastised for its bitter divisiveness and lack of political will, the Court cannot locate an intent to use the re-zoning plan to discriminate on the basis of race.” I guess Fox forgot those words when he told the firm leading the search for Register’s (the most recent director of schools) replacement that the biggest challenge in finding a new director of schools will be convincing someone he or she can be successful “with a board that’s not been functioning at a very high level for the last 18 months.” He pointed to “varying agendas” of board members that have compromised a unified front. Speaking from whence he knows.

When the ruling came down in 2012 for MNPS, did Fox address the outcome of the zoning changes? Did he show that he understood parents’ concerns? Was he sympathetic to the people affected by these changes? No, he did not, and no, he was not. In his own words, “I wish that taxpayers were able to recoup all the money we had to waste against this ridiculous lawsuit. I’m glad it’s over. It was a distraction. It was an unfortunate waste of money.” A judge ruled that the zoning changes did indeed cause greater segregation, but Fox calls it “an unfortunate waste of money.” Is that the Nashville … Oops! I almost slipped again.

In 2010, while still on the school board, Fox also supported the outsourcing of custodians in MNPS, despite many members of the City Council being against the decision. As the spouse of a teacher during this change, I can testify that the quality of custodial services dropped dramatically after being outsourced. Fox argued that the move was to prevent educational funds from being lost. Well, those custodians employed by MNPS did a lot to make sure that teachers were in an environment that allowed them to focus solely on instruction. Sometimes the bottom line isn’t the whole line. Fox also opposed a cost of living raise for teachers. In fact, he was supportive of merit pay though he and Dr. Register were never able to come up with a model that they could pass.

Since we are on the subject of the bottom line, I think it’s fair to reiterate Fox’s continuing support of charter schools. Especially considering his past profession as a hedge fund manager. You see, hedge fund managers love charter schools. I think it’s a fair supposition that he still has a lot of friends who continue to make a living as hedge fund managers. Probably also a fair assessment to say that given the financial possibilities of charter schools, having a mayor who would actively promote more charter schools would be pretty enticing. I’m just saying, like my daddy always told me… follow the money.

Megan Barry, on the other hand, has been one of the most approachable City Council members during her tenure, and not just for those with open wallets. As a council member, I don’t think she’s ever made a speech asking for the mayor to take over the job of the council. Truth is, Barry has been a voice for those often under-represented. Having spent time early in her career in a classroom, she has insight into what is needed and has vowed to support teachers. She has committed to picking up the torch from Bill Freeman, a candidate for mayor who didn’t make the runoff, in supporting Community Schools. She is an unabashed supporter of universal pre-K. All in all, she presents a more attractive education policy plan. One that is more aligned with the Nashville … (wink wink).

Everything today is so immediate that we often overlook the past. However, the past can provide insight into what we can expect from the future. In talking with someone the other day, they bristled when I mentioned that a Fox administration would be one of chaos. Well, history shows us reasons to believe it would be true, as his time on the school board was one of such acrimony that it makes today’s board look like a model UN. But let’s also look at how he left the school board.

On April 1, 2010, David Fox decided that he was not going to run for re-election for the school board. Unfortunately, that day happened to be the filing deadline, and the only other candidate was fellow Chamber of Commerce-backed KIPP board member Michael Hayes. In other words, Fox hand picked his successor, a moved that demonstrated a continuation of the back room deals that had been a hallmark of his time on the board. Whether it was outsourcing custodians, re-zoning schools, turning over control of the school board to the state, allowing teacher salaries to fall below surrounding counties or his latest fascination, creating more charter schools, David Fox has always been more about serving private interests rather than the electorate.

I don’t know about you, but personally, the past has shown me all I need to know about the future. Despite the fact that I was, and remain, a Bill Freeman supporter, Megan Barry is the only choice in this election for Nashville’s next mayor. Nothing worries me more then the thought of David Fox and his vision of the Nashville style of doing things. There is nothing in his past dealings or current pronouncements that line up with the Nashville that I envision my children inheriting. I hope that upon investigation you will agree and that starting on August 21st you will consider early voting for Megan Barry. We definitely don’t need a fox in the mayors office.

17 replies

  1. I was curious about this article because every one of my friends is for Megan Berry. Many of them I think very highly of their opinion and would entrust them with my life.Maybe your article is just not well written but it just seems like a petty attack on Daivd Fox. Then you threw in how great Megan Berry. I have alwlays been taught in my years of leadership to start with the positive, end with the negative. Don’t piss people off with the negative, then try to win them over. You lost me at your personal attacks on Daivd Fox. You just made me want to go vote for him. Now people are saying “Megan who”? I really don’t care if who replies to this or critisizes me, we all have our own opinion, this is mine, I am sure that you have yours!

  2. And obviously yours is welcome. I don’t call handing over democratic control and disfranchising people petty attacks. That may be where we differ. I appreciate you taking time to read my thoughts.

  3. I have been reading several parables written by people like Plato, Voltaire and modern day scholars of the fox and hedgehog….I ordered me a Hedgehog T-Shirt…Vote for Megan Barry…

  4. You might be interested to know that there once was a Mayoral appointed school board in Nashville. In the 1970s the Mayoral appointed school board decided to build a new high school in Hillwood and close the Bellevue High School (yes, there WAS a high school in Bellevue) and then bus all of the Bellevue kids to Hillwood. My late father, Doug Underwood, published a weekly newspaper in Bellevue and he and other concerned citizens of Bellevue led a campaign to elect the school board – and won. So, that is what we have today. My father wrote a history of the area and we have pictures and narrative of people holding signs saying “Save Our Schools” – vote for an elected school board…..
    Sydney Underwood Rogers

    • Yes, but then the school board was acting under a much stricter landscape of court oversight, court-managed racial quotas, 30 years ago in Nashville. Today, mayoral control can toss all of that aside, resegregate schools with abandon (which invariably means new sets of winners and losers), and essentially hand over the keys to privatization due to a laundry list of legislation and court rulings over the last 30 years. If David Fox is still for mayoral control, I hope he’ll flesh out what that will look like in MNPS – and not leave it to a blogger to define for him.

      To those of you who are complaining of bias in the blog, and sure, I see some too, try to be more specific about what is being mis-stated in particular. A nice thing about this blog entry is that it is try to round up the _past_, It occasionally not over-interprets the future based on the past, but help help us connect the dots for ourselves.

  5. How blatantly biased. Inflamed info, circumstantial cases, no regard to current positions or clarification. Obviously just a smear tactic and not journalism (not that you claimed it to be). Purposefully left out other info that might go against your point of view. Fox publishes his phone number for one-on-one conversations (compare that to Barry being “approachable”), maybe you should ask Fox directly for a follow up. The title here is quite misleading, instead “All the Dirt I Could Find on Fox to Promote My Political Agenda”.

  6. Thank you for sharing this! Go Barry!

  7. This article is ridiculously biased and is going to make people not want to vote for Megan. Even if what you are saying is 100 % correct, the tone of the article is going to turn people off to her campaign because of how petty you are sounding. If you are writing this article to swing voters, you are achieving the opposite of what you are trying to do

  8. I don’t know Fox but I have a friend who worked with him while he was on the School Board and my friend said he was indecisive and not a good leader. I picked that up in his speech election night when he was interviewed. Just his few comments left me thinking he lacked strong leadership.

  9. I voted for Barry. But this article is not fair to Fox at all.

  10. I can’t disagree with many of the points here and certainly perception is reality. But, as it relates to the segregation lawsuit: that plan was created by a diverse group of volunteers appointed by each school board member to represent the interests of their specific zone. I was one of those appointed by Gracie Porter and I agreed to the appointment because our school board members in the aggregate did not have the political will to make the plan for themselves. None of them wanted to touch it even though a new plan was needed for a variety of reasons included escalating transportation costs, overcrowding and underutilization of buildings and so forth. Fox’s name was on the lawsuit because he was the head of the school board at the time, not because he played any role in the design of the new plan. Just my two cents as someone who was put through the ringer in this process while attempting to serve our schools and the community.

    • Thank you for the insight. It is important to hear from people that were actually involved in the process. What struck me the must was insensitivity of the comments made by Fox. He never, in any of the articles I read and I spent a week-end digging, acknowledged the outcomes whether intentional or unintentional. Again taken in light of his support of charter schools, which many believe are tools of segregation, it raises questions. Some people will be fine with his positions and to some it’ll raise a flag, but I think it all needs to be considered.

    • I agree that the re-zoning is not an issue that sticks to David Fox.

      I remember sitting on the PTO Board of Percy Priest Elementary when the rezoning announcement came. We had worked as hard as any parent group could (outreach/transportation of parents/tutoring (?100? affluent parents working on this)/mentoring) to make integrated schools work well. But, there was this preponderance of data that showed kids having
      higher academic results when they walked across the street from Edgehill to Carter Lawrence. Not one of us complained in a public forum. The data told us that we had failed.

      Today, I more clearly understand that kids who apply to a magnet (or charter) school, even if across the street, are a different subgroup than kids who don’t -and _this_ explains those data the School system was looking at. We all understand that a lot better after the past 6
      years of the callous reform movement….. that Mr. Fox _does_ support.

      David Fox has skills that we need in other places around Nashville – just not the mayor’s office. But, I agree that the rezoning aftermath is not the right card for Megan Barry to play.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective and insight. I want this election won by Megan Barry on facts – and an honest discussion ( and not by who spends more per vote ) more than anything!

  11. Thanks for the comments but I prefer they all be valid. Your comments about segregation are lacking in factual information and very misleading. I realize this is part of the political game. More information before you speak on a subject as sensitive as segregation is generally a good thing. Stirring just to stir without truth is discouraging.

  12. Interesting. Are you saying that the articles I link to are made up? Did the judge not rule that the zoning led to increased segregation? Did African American leaders not call it re-segregation? Did Fox not call it a frivolous law suit?

  13. David Fox has put his future in the hands of the government…The last minute Super PAC with his Brother will have legal boundaries…


  1. What Does the Fox Say? | Dad Gone Wild

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