TC and Dr. Battle

Nashville education blogger TC Weber sat down recently with MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle to talk about her experience as both a student in MNPS and now as the district’s top official.

Here’s how it got started:

It’s an amazing and humbling opportunity for me because as you’ve mentioned, just being a student here in MNPS, I’ve experienced many of the same things that our students are experiencing. I’ve sat in the same seat. Along the way, it’s a positive opportunity to reflect back upon. I really do attribute a lot of my opportunities and my success to the experiences I had right here in MNPS. I had loving, caring, talented teachers around me every single day. As a matter of fact, I knew very early on I wanted to be an educator because of those teachers. They were my heroes. I witnessed every day what they were doing to pour knowledge into me and other students. It was just a powerful thing that instilled in me a desire to do that for others as well. So this is very surreal and also a great opportunity, one that I don’t take lightly.

READ MORE about Dr. Battle’s journey through education in MNPS.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Mayor of Vouchers

Is Nashville Mayor David Briley a supporter of school vouchers? His actions certainly don’t indicate he opposes them. In fact, while Governor Bill Lee’s “Education Savings Account” voucher scheme was advancing in the legislature, Briley was working closely with a lobbying firm pushing the plan.

Here’s more on what Briley has said, done, and not done as legislation with a devastating financial impact on Nashville ultimately became law.

You might be asking how the mayor of Tennessee’s largest city ended up working with a prominent law firm that led the charge to undercut and underfund Metro Nashville Public Schools. That’s a great question and one voters may be asking as elections approach in August. Here’s a timeline of Briley’s “Disappearing Dave” act when it comes to fighting for MNPS at the General Assembly.

On January 31, 2018, Nashville was caught off-guard by the biggest mayoral scandal since Bill Boner as Megan Barry admitted to having an affair with her Metro Police bodyguard. 

A little more than a week later, on February 8, Metro entered into an amended “intergovernmental relations” contract with the law firm of Adams & Reese. The firm’s first public work? Its Memphis-based partner Lucian Pera questioned the ethics of the District Attorney Glenn Funk for investigating Barry on February 23Nate Rau of The Tennessean noted on February 28 that Adams & Reese pay from Metro Nashville jumped by 58% just prior to the firm’s interjection into the Barry scandal.

The Barry brouhaha reached its climax on March 6 as she pled guilty to felony theft and resigned from office. Vice Mayor David Briley succeeded Barry as Mayor of “It City.”

On April 30, Briley had his first “State of Metro” address and proclaimed that education is the “biggest key to Nashville’s success.” … then quickly disappeared from education policy discussions.

Meanwhile charter school advocates TennesseeCAN, represented by Adams & Reese, in their 2018 Legislative Report congratulate the Tennessee State Legislature for providing charter schools with more access to public school tax dollars and then call for more money in the future, at the expense of public schools.

The following February, Gov. Bill Lee’s “Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program” — (voucher scheme) is introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill was strongly supported by TennesseeCAN (among others) and their Adams & Reese lobbyists — TennesseeCAN is located in the Nashville offices of Adams & Reese. Briley issued a strong statement on how this legislation will have a devastating economic impact on Nashville schools. You might think that with such a big gun pointed at Nashville, he would direct the city’s lobbyists to fight against the bill like Memphis and Knoxville did. Instead, Briley did nothing.

On March 29Mayor Briley angrily appeared on television  and threatened the school board, telling them to “get their house in order,” and that future Metro money will come with strings attached.

Meanwhile, the anti-public education forces were on the march at the Capitol. The state House Government Operations Committee approved Bill Lee’s voucher bill on April 1. Briley was quiet.

Three days later, Briley and his staff hosted the “Mayor’s Legislative Reception” at the Bridgestone Arena on April 4. Adams & Reese was the primary sponsor of the reception. Among the attendees are Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, Senate sponsor of Lee’s voucher bill. Number of comments made by Briley about vouchers? Zero.

Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg on April 9 questioned how Adams & Reese can be lobbying for legislation that is contrary to the will and need of Metro Government’s citizens. Briley’s office said in response they support the firm and added, “vouchers were not discussed during contract negotiations with Adams & Reese.”

Speaker of the House Glen Casada held the House vote open for 30 minutes on April 23 so he could twist one arm enough to pass Gov. Lee’s voucher bill and, in doing so, Knox County was exempted from voucher legislation. Only Memphis and Nashville remained in Casada’s crosshairs.

The same day, Briley held a media availability promoting the “Mayor’s Blood Pressure Check Up.” The photo op is in his office. He made no public statement on vouchers.

At his second State of Metro address, on April 30, Briley states “Education will always be priority number one. There are few things more essential to building a strong Nashville than having great public schools.” He then adds, “While the state of Tennessee will be putting more than $100 million of new money into K-12 schools across the state this year, Metro will get just $587,000 of that.” Maybe having lobbyists who shared the city’s interest in public education would have helped.

(By contrast, when Briley needed to stop the state from preempting his plan to sell off Nashville’s parking meters, he sent his chief of staff, in-house lobbyist, and chief strategy officer.)

On that same day, the Tennessee General Assembly appointed a conference committee to resolve issues on the voucher bill and how it would affect the state’s most populous counties. No one from Davidson County was appointed. Briley was silent.

Gov. Bill Lee signed his voucher bill into state law on May 24, a law that only affects Nashville and Memphis. A law that the city of Nashville was oddly quiet on, yet one that will have a significant impact on the city’s budget for years to come. Briley celebrated the one-year anniversary of his special election victory on the same day instead.

While the state makes preparations to take money out of public schools, the lobbying firm responsible for vouchers continues to cash checks from Metro. All the while, Disappearing Dave says nothing.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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An Interview with John Ray Clemmons

Nashville Mayoral candidate and current state representative John Ray Clemmons took the time to answer some questions about how he views the Mayor’s Office as it relates to education in Nashville. Here are his responses:

What are your top priorities for MNPS?

  1. Increase school funding to: increase pay for our teachers and para-professionals; fill vacancies with high-quality teachers; hire counselors, ELL specialists and a community partnership coordinator for every school; purchase new textbooks and classroom resources; and, fund our schools at the recommended level of $15,000 per student per year.
  2. Build a strong partnership with MNPS leadership to provide full Metro support to achieve a shared vision and create an environment more conducive to stability and longevity in the Director of Schools’ office.  
  3. Take more responsibility for the direct impact Metro has on student performance inside the classroom by working to address significant challenges facing students outside of our schools (adverse childhood experiences, hunger, homelessness/housing instability, access to transportation, traumatic events, etc.).
  4. Facilitate more budgetary transparency.
  5. Increase socio-economic diversity in our schools.
  6. Work to increase parental involvement and private partnerships.

As a public school parent of three young boys and elected official, I have had the opportunity to observe amazing things happening in schools across our city, and I cannot wait to see what our educators will accomplish with our full support and adequate resources.


What is your plan for addressing the teacher shortage in Nashville?
I would like to first review all school-based budgets submitted by the schools to gain a better understanding of and evaluate the biggest areas of need. Next, I would follow up by communicating with educators and administrators to create a priority list. Then, I would work with MNPS to draft a strategic recruitment plan and create a realistic budget to execute the plan.  

I fully recognize that our pay must be more competitive to attract high-quality teachers.

I also recognize that every school faces its own unique challenges and has varying needs. Those challenges need to be reflected in the way we budget more responsibly.  

What can be done to address chronic underfunding of Nashville schools?

First, we should start by making public education our number one priority and using clear, reliable data to demonstrate the real need for more funds in our school system.  While there are various factors limiting the pool of available revenues to invest in education, we must start by protecting our property tax base and restoring Metro’s fiscal integrity. We should also ask more of our entire community via public/private partnerships, technology/resource exchanges, volunteerism, and other means. Everyone is impacted by the quality of our public school system, either directly or indirectly.  I would also tap MNPS employees, including unions, to provide much-needed perspective and help with issues concerning pay competitiveness, training, and recruitment.

What role can the Mayor’s Office play in shaping state education policy?
Nashville is the economic engine of the state and produces a larger percentage of our workforce than any other city. The mayor has the ability to use these facts as leverage to advocate for policy, as well as fight state overreach and ensure that Nashville gets its fair share of state resources. Unlike the current mayor who remained completely silent on Gov. Lee’s voucher bill, Nashville’s mayor has a large platform that can and should be used when appropriate to demonstrate the problems with ill-conceived state policy.  Nashville needs and deserves a mayor who will not hesitate to act in the best interests of Nashville and fight to protect those interests.

How do you envision the relationship between the Mayor and the MNPS school board?
As mayor, I will work to build a strong partnership with MNPS leadership to provide full Metro support to achieve a shared vision and create an environment more conducive to stability and longevity in the Director of Schools’ office.  Rather than threaten to take over the schools or continue the finger pointing, I would seek to serve as a partner with the school board and the director of schools to ensure that all stakeholders are working toward the same goal. We would maintain an open door policy with school officials and maintain an open line of communication to stay apprised of how we can collaborate to achieve strategic objectives and improve student performance.  I would also like to appoint someone from the public or private sector with relevant expertise or knowledge to each school board committee to simply act as a subject-matter resource for board members. Ultimately, we must work together to bridge divides, build trust, and maintain mutual respect to ensure that our educators and students succeed.

If you are elected, what message would you send to MNPS teachers and staff?

I am in awe of your commitment to our children, and I am always available to listen and learn how I can help. No one has a more direct impact on the future of this city than our educators and staff, and I openly recognize that. I have your back.

What would you tell families moving to Nashville about MNPS?

I would tell them that I believe in MNPS so strongly that I proudly send my own children to an MNPS school every day with total confidence that they are receiving a quality education.  I would then encourage them to get engaged and stay engaged in their child’s school.  The diversity, educational opportunities, students and educators in MNPS make it truly special.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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The Nashville School Budget

So, Nashville is now Tennessee’s largest city. In fact, it is one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Nashville is hotter than the Hot Chicken the city is known for. It’s the “It City.”

Of course, that means teachers in Nashville are earning top dollar to live in this highly desirable, rapidly growing urban mecca, right? Nope. In fact, Nashville teachers earn significantly less than their counterparts in similar cities. The Nashville School Board and Metro Council have known this for YEARS now and done nothing about it. At all. It’s not like the MNPS School Board was consistently proposing significant raises for Nashville teachers. They weren’t. They haven’t been. They’ve seen (and ignored) the data since at least 2015.

In fact, I noted in 2017:

Teachers in Nashville start at $42,100 with a bachelor’s degree. In Louisville, they start at $42,700. So, starting pay in Nashville is competitive. But, let’s look longer term. That same teacher after 10 years in Nashville will earn $47,000. In Louisville, it’s $54,974.

Oh, and let me note this: The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.

So, what about after 20 years? A Nashville teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years experience makes $56,000. In Louisville, that teacher makes $71,000. A teacher working in Louisville with 20 years experience earns $22,000 more a year than that city’s “comfortable living” salary. In fact, they earn more than Nashville’s “comfortable” salary.

So, what’s up? Why aren’t MNPS teachers earning the salaries they deserve? Well, SEIU Local 205 offers this handy explainer relative to the Metro budget:


The job of the mayor and council is to decide what property tax rate generates enough revenue to fund the city. In both 2009 and 2017, Mayor Dean and then Mayor Barry accepted the tax rate that kept revenues neutral without debating the impact on the city budget. Both times, the Metro Council agreed. Our elected officials collectively refused to make the politically difficult decisions we need them to make as leaders of our city. They made an irresponsible choice to lower the rate, which cost our city vital revenues and disproportionately benefited developers and commercial properties. This broke the budget. In 2010, the Dean administration restructured the city debt, pushing payments into the future. Much of our budget is paying for that debt now instead of our schools and other public institutions.


Another way to think about this is that Mayor Barry proposed a $394 million/year tax cut, and the Council accepted. Technically we did not “lose” revenues because the appraisal has to be revenue neutral, but we did lose out on $1.5 billion in potential revenue over 4 years.

So, if you wonder why all those teachers are wearing “Red for Ed” or were staging “walk-ins” this year or even engaging in sick-outs in some cases, now you know. In fact, it’s amazing to me that these teachers even show up at all. Will the current Mayor and Metro Council address the glaring needs of Metro Schools OR will Nashville need to elect a new Mayor and different members of Metro Council in order to claim “It City”-level funding for schools and teachers?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Pinkston’s Parting Words

Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston announced his pending resignation earlier this month and will soon leave his position on the board. He’s offered some thoughts as he’s heading out and you can read (then listen) to his parting message here:

Friends: As you’ve likely heard, I’m stepping down soon from the Nashville School Board after nearly seven years of public service. I made the decision earlier this year and explained the rationale in my resignation letter. I’m pushing my departure date into the summer (versus this month, as originally planned) to tie off some loose ends.

I won’t rehash my reasons for leaving in this email. But if you want more information about the state of the school board, listen to my “exit interview” on the Nashville Sounding Board podcast — recorded a few days after I announced my plan to leave. The first few minutes of the podcast are pleasantries and chit-chat. But the rest of it is a spirited discussion about Metro Nashville Public Schools and major issues, including (with time marks):

  • Employee pay and HR (12m01s & 43m40s)
  • Budget and revenue (14m40s & 49m40s)
  • School board and superintendent evaluation (18m10s & 28m20s)
  • Priority schools and charter schools (21m20s & 46m50s)
  • Standardized testing and English learners (23m05s)
  • Race and equity in funding (26m15s & 29m40s)
  • Future of the school board (40m50s)

Nashville can, and should, have more of these kinds of thoughtful conversations to help inform next steps at MNPS. I appreciate the Nashville Sounding Board’s Benjamin Eagles for creating a good platform for civic discourse.

Meanwhile: Even though I’ll be departing the boardroom, I’m not leaving the public-education arena. On the heels of my Race to the Bottom project, I’ve been thinking about a new campaign to better explain how charter schools bilk Tennessee taxpayers and our chronically underfunded school systems. More on that another day.

Finally, as I said on the podcast: Other than being a husband and a father, serving Nashville’s 86,000 students has been the most important thing I’ve done in life. Over the years, I’ve appreciated the support of countless students, parents, teachers, taxpayers, and friends. I’ve always believed that public education is our greatest democratic institution. With this in mind, I know MNPS won’t just survive — it will thrive. Thanks, and onward.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Bad Vision

New Vision Academy, a Nashville charter school, is in trouble again.

The school, once selected as a winner of the SCORE prize for innovation in education, has faced questions over financial management and now is in violation of the city’s fire code.

The Tennessean notes:


The Nashville charter school New Vision Academy has been violating city fire code by enrolling more students than the capacity allowed at the south Nashville church building where it rents space.
Because of the overcrowding issue, Metro Nashville Public Schools is forced to remove at least 64 students from the school in the coming weeks, according to a letter from the district’s charter school chief.
It’s the latest development for a school that has been embroiled in turmoil. New Vision Academy remains under federal and state investigations related to financial irregularities, special education requirements and compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Back in 2015, SCORE — Bill Frist’s education think tank — romanticized New Vision like this:


A small, single-hallway school with nine instructors on staff, NVA has an exceptionally data-rich culture. Many tools for monitoring student growth are in use at this public charter school in Nashville – assessments, benchmarks, math and reading levels – and NVA sets a new standard for using this information productively. Data improves instruction, facilitates teacher collaboration, and aids communication with students and parents

Turns out, innovation may just mean bending, or even breaking, all the rules.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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The Nashville School Board is Exciting Again


And for all the wrong reasons.

TC Weber breaks down what’s going on at MNPS in his most recent post that follows last night’s highly contentious School Board meeting.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

Last night’s Metro Nashville Public School’s board meeting was an abhorrent display that should embarrass all of us. I try and instill in my children that making a mistake is not the defining moment, but rather what you do with the mistake. Last night, the MNPS board decided that when others go low, it will go even lower.

 

Some took to social media to further attempt to discredit Speering because she was not in attendance at last night’s board meeting. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that all aren’t aware that Speering recently had open heart surgery. She attended all committee meetings during the day. My supposition is that she chose to protect her health and decide to go home instead of facing a hostile crowd. That’s not cowardice, that is just good sense.

Leadership is a lot like MAP testing, it’s an intuitive assessment. What that means is that you start off with a challenge that is perceived to be at your level. How you answer that challenge determines whether you move on to harder challenges or not. Get the question right and the assessment continues. Get too many challenges wrong and the assessment ends. Last night was a leadership challenge for Dr. Joseph. One that will not lead to the next level.

 

READ MORE about what’s happening in MNPS from TC’s perspective.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

#Winning


I wrote in May about SCORE prize winner New Vision Academy and some problems they’d run into prompting an investigation by MNPS.

Now, the Tennessean reports the charter school is facing state and federal investigations:

New Vision Academy charter school is under federal and state investigations, which expand on the existing Metro Nashville Public Schools investigation launched earlier this year.

New Vision is being investigated for financial irregularities and compliance with federal laws regarding building accessibility for students with disabilities. The middle school is in a former church building on Havenhill Drive in South Nashville.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Voice of the Voiceless


MNPS School Board Member Amy Frogge is on a mission to give voice to school system employees who feel powerless.

Here’s the latest in her series of posts allowing employees to use her platform to provide insight into the internal happenings at MNPS:

This is day six of using my voice on behalf of those who feel powerless and unheard.

I’d like to pause here and clarify that the statements I am sharing are unsolicited, and nearly all of them come from MNPS employees I have never met. They are complete strangers to me. Imagine how desperate you must be as an employee to risk your job by reaching out to a board member you’ve never met, knowing that your boss (the Director) has prohibited communications between you and the board. The gravity and sheer quantity of the complaints I’ve received this year is incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before as a board member. This district is in crisis.

I thought long and hard before sharing so many negative comments on my page, because I have worked for years to support and promote our schools. But I have come to the conclusion that the acute need for a change in leadership far outweighs all else at this point. My intent is not to drive off potential parents, but to rally support for our struggling teachers, leaders and schools. We MUST do better for our children.

Here are the words of our MNPS employees:

1. “It’s very sad that this administration is so worried about self-glorification [instead of keeping] the main focus [on] the students and making sure we have the staff to make their educational journey a success. Its not going to get better til they’re gone. Keep up the work.”

2. “Please do what it takes to save Reading Recovery! I find it reprehensible that we claim to push literacy, but Dr. Joseph is going to cut such a vital program. I also find it sickening that he would reinstate the social workers and cut RR. He needs to give up the vehicle and driver.”

3. “It’s the worst it’s ever been.”

4. “Dr. Joseph is clearly not advocating for those ‘lighthouse schools’ that we desperately need to keep our babies from falling further and further behind. We are trained. We [teachers] are here, we are passionate about what we do and the reason we do it. We are a thriving city. There is money somewhere. . . . I already sensed a racial tone and it bothers me.”

5. [Regarding the transportation department head, brought in by Joseph, who oversees bus routes]: “All [he] cares about is cutting the budget, not getting the students to school and home safe in a reasonable amount of time. The sad truth is that with every county needing drivers they’re running some off to other counties.”

Stay tuned for more.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

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