Amy Frogge on “School Choice”

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge takes on the notion of “school choice.” Here’s what she has to say:

Let’s consider for a moment the notion of “school choice.” This phrase is a political term that has been used to promote school privatization (through vouchers and charter schools). We hear the phrase frequently these days because it is spread by political PR machines to pave the way for money-making schemes through public education. This seemingly innocuous term appeals to many parents and citizens who are unaware of education policy debates and just believe that this term means allowing parents to choose great schools for their children. Of course, no one is opposed to giving parents options, but that’s not what “school choice” really means in the context of education discussions now.

As education historian Diane Ravitch documents in her most recent book, “School choice, it should be remembered, was the goal of Southern governors in the decade after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of 1954. For many years, the term ‘school choice’ was stigmatized because most people, familiar with the backlash to the Brown decision, understood that ‘choice’ was a strategy devised by Southern governors to preserve racial segregation. The racist origins of school choice are well documented.”

Because the history of this phrase is largely forgotten, the use of this term from disparate groups makes for some strange bedfellows in the political world. On one hand, there are there are those who support “choice” from the perspective of need. These folks, primarily people of color, live in marginalized communities that have suffered decades of disinvestment. Their schools, which are segregated, underfunded, and often overcrowded, serve the neediest children without adequate support to meet the needs of those children who have experienced trauma and difficult life circumstances. When these families exercise “choice,” they are contributing to greater equity in the school system, and I am sympathetic to their circumstances. Charter schools appeal to these families, who see charters as a way to escape their neglected neighborhood schools.

On the other hand, “school choice” is also promoted by more affluent, white parents who would prefer more segregated public schools. This agenda is being driven by billionaire white men, who like to utilize (paid) people of color as the face of their movement. The white parents supporting the segregation agenda sometimes openly push to keep black children out of classrooms with their own children. In a bizarre twist, these white parents often end up advocating for “choice” alongside disenfranchised African-American parents who have suffered discrimination.

Ultimately, the real “school choice” debate should come down to equity, or in other words, ensuring that every child gets a fair shot at a great education. When children are bussed off to schools outside their zones or when families select schools across the city, the underlying question is whether those “choices” increase or decrease equity in the school district overall. I have long advocated for families on the west side to try their zoned schools, because this increases equity and also because our schools are very good, despite the bad rap they sometimes receive. I have long opposed charter schools because they decrease funding for schools serving the neediest students, because they increase school segregation, and because they are unregulated, which leads to fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars. These, again, are equity issues.

But here’s the underlying problem: MNPS has not undertaken the work necessary to create effective pathways for ALL children to be well served. Opening the door wide to random “choice” may provide good options for some families, but leaves many more- almost always children in poverty- behind. I am hopeful that we will finally begin this work with Dr. Battle, who, having grown up in Nashville, truly understands the disparate needs of different areas of the city. The school system and the city, not parents, should be held responsible for ensuring greater equity across our district, and we should invite parents to help us in our work. The feeding frenzy we have created around the MNPS lottery system and certain schools only serves to decrease equity. The ideal is to have well-resourced schools in every neighborhood that are well supported by parents and their communities.

In the end, it’s really about the common good. “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that we must want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.” (John Dewey) We must welcome all children regardless of their circumstances, provide greater resources for schools serving children with the greatest needs, encourage parent involvement, ensure that all of our schools are safe learning environments, and build community through our neighborhood schools, no matter where they are located. That’s the real secret for success.

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Frogge vs. Broad

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge takes to Facebook to expose the Broad/Ed Reform agenda of privatization. Her post follows:

Dear Nashville (and others),

Please pay attention to those with whom you choose to align yourself on education issues. If you are supporting anyone funded or trained by California billionaire Eli Broad, you can bet you’ll end up on the wrong side of history.

Eli Broad created and funds a blog called Education Post. The folks who run it would like for you to believe they are just activists for low-income families and minority children- but in reality, they are dripping with dirty money. Education Post’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1 million for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Board member Chris Stewart, known online as “Citizen Stewart,” was paid $422,925 for 40 hours a week across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” As author/blogger Mercedes Schneider concludes, “In ed reform, blogging pays juicy salaries.” (For the record, I have never earned a penny for any of my social media posts, of course.)

Paid Education Post leaders regularly try to infiltrate online Nashville education discussions (Nashville is a national target for charter expansion), and Education Post also pays local bloggers to write posts. Local bloggers Zack Barnes and Vesia Hawkins are both listed as network members on the Education Post blog.

Many of the big players in Tennessee were “trained” by Eli Broad through his Broad Superintendents Academy, which recruits business leaders with no background in education to be superintendents- with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools). The current Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, is a “Broadie.” Two former heads of Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District (a ploy to expand charter schools without local approval) were Broadies: Chris Barbic and Malika Anderson. Former superintendents Jim McIntyre (of Knoxville) and Shawn Joseph (of Nashville) were also affiliated with the Broad network. Shawn Joseph claimed both McIntyre and former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, a member of Education Post’s network, as his mentors.

The school “reforms” pushed by Broadies all center around profit-making through public education: standardized testing (money for private test companies), computer learning (money for IT companies and cost-savings on hiring teachers), charter schools, vouchers, scripted curriculum that can be monetized, etc. Broadies typically see teachers as expendable and believe teaching can be mechanized.

Since charters and vouchers have become an increasingly unpopular cause, the latest angle is for Broadies to increase the number of (sometimes rigged) vendor contracts for programs and services, as well as consultants, with school districts. Former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance went to federal prison for rigging no-bid contracts in a kick-back scheme. In a similar scheme, his mentee (Nashville superintendent) Shawn Joseph was caught inflating no-bid contract prices (in violation of state law) for vendors connected with the recruiter and Broadies who placed him in Nashville through a rigged superintendent search. (See comments for further information.)

Billionaires like Eli Broad who fund school profiteering efforts like to hire/fund people of color to act as front-men for their efforts. This provides the appearance that the push for “school choice” (i.e., charters and vouchers) is grassroots. When these folks are questioned or caught in the midst of wrong-doing, they are able to cry racism. Meanwhile, everyone has their hands in the cookie jar of funding meant to serve children.

The ploys used in school profiteering are particularly nasty- the worst of dirty politics. The goal is usually to smear, humiliate, shame and discredit anyone who is an effective critic of the school privatization agenda. Lots of money is spent on PR for this purpose. (I’ve even been attacked on this Facebook page by a paid “social media specialist” for my opposition to charter schools.)

You’ll notice that the atmosphere tends to become particularly dysfunctional and circus-like when Broadies are in charge or involved. You’ll also notice that Broadies like to push the narrative that locally-elected school boards are too dysfunctional to lead (even when the Broadie in charge is causing all the dysfunction!). This is because Eli Broad and those affiliated with him want no public oversight of public education spending.

So- when you witness education conversations on social media, be sure to figure out who is funding those claiming to promote “school choice” or to advocate for children in poverty. Follow the money, y’all. Always!

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Frogge on Superintendent Searches

Metro Nashville school board member Amy Frogge offers her thoughts on the process that led to Nashville hiring Shawn Joseph:

Nashville just got taken for a ride. Here’s how it happened:

Back in 2007, Superintendent Joseph Wise and his Chief of Staff, David Sundstrom, were fired from their jobs in Florida for “serious misconduct.” Wise is a graduate of LA billionaire Eli Broad’s “superintendents academy,” which trains business leaders as superintendents with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools).

After losing their jobs, Wise and Sundstrom founded Atlantic Research Partners (ARP) and began making millions from Chicago schools. ARP then acquired parts of SUPES Academy, a superintendent training company, and merged with the recruiting firm, Jim Huge and Associates. SUPES Academy, however, was shut down after Chicago superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to federal corruption charges for steering no-bid contracts to SUPES Academy, her former firm, in exchange for financial kickbacks. Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance was also involved in this scandal.

Wise and Sundstrom also had their hands in other pots. They created a new entity called Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), which charged education vendors to arrange meetings with school superintendents and simultaneously paid the same superintendents to “test out” the vendor products.

Now the story shifts to Nashville: In 2016, the Nashville Public Education Foundation pushed the school board to hire Jim Huge and Associates to perform our search for a new superintendent. The search brought us three “Broadies” (superintendents trained by the Broad academy), a Teach for America alum with no advanced degree and no degree in education whatsoever, and Shawn Joseph, who was planning to attend the Broad Superintendents Academy at the time he was hired.

Jim Huge lied to the school board, telling us that the only highly qualified and experienced candidate, an African American female named Carol Johnson (who had served as superintendent of three major school systems, including Memphis and Boston) had withdrawn her name from the search. This was not true. Ultimately, the board hired Shawn Joseph.

When he arrived in Nashville, Joseph brought his friend, Dallas Dance, with him as an advisor- only about six months before Dance was sentenced to federal prison in connection with kick-backs for no-bid contracts in the SUPES Academy scandal. Joseph also brought in former Knoxville superintendent Jim McIntyre, another “Broadie” who had been ousted from his position in Knoxville amidst great acrimony, to serve as an advisor. Joseph began following a formula seen in other districts: He prohibited staff members from speaking to board members and immediately began discussion about closing schools. Like Byrd-Bennett and Dance, Joseph also began giving large, no-bid contracts to vendors and friends, some of which were never utilized. Some of the contracts were connected with ERDI, and Joseph’s Chief Academic Officer, Monique Felder, failed to disclose that she had been paid by ERDI (just like Dallas Dance, who committed perjury for failing to disclose part-time consulting work that benefitted him financially).

You can read the rest of the story- and much more- in the attached article. But the long and short of it is that the very same people who rigged our search to bring Shawn Joseph to Nashville are also the same people who stood to benefit from no-bid contracts with MNPS. These folks were also connected with illegal activities in other states.

In the end, Nashville suffered. “Among [the] negative outcomes are increased community acrimony, wasted education funds, and career debacles for what could perhaps have been promising school leaders.

In the case of Joseph and Nashville, controversies with his leadership decisions strongly divided the city’s black community, and taxpayers were stuck with a $261,250 bill for buying out the rest of his contract. As a result of the fallout, Joseph lost his state teaching license, and he vowed never to work in the state again.”

More from Jeff Bryant>

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Amy Frogge on Vouchers

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge talks about a key vote on Governor Bill Lee’s voucher plan — a vote scheduled for Wednesday, March 27th.

HEADS UP, everyone! THIS IS IT. Vouchers will be up for a key vote this coming Wednesday, March 27th, at 8 am in the full House Education Committee, and this is our best chance to stop them in Tennessee. IT IS SUPER IMPORTANT THAT WE ACT NOW.

Here’s information on the bill: HB 939/SB 795 would create a new form of vouchers in Tennessee called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs have been described as “vouchers on steroids.” This proposed legislation is targeted not toward “children trapped in failing schools,” but toward wealthier families, with virtually no regulation or public accountability. Vouchers would be available in any district containing at least three schools in the bottom 10% of schools in the state, but vouchers would be made available to ALL students in that district, including those enrolled in high-performing schools and private schools. Families making up to around $100,000 per year would be eligible for the voucher, and private schools would not be required to accept the voucher as payment in full. This means that more affluent families with children already enrolled in private schools could use the voucher to help offset their current payments for private school. It will also allow students to cross county lines with their vouchers, which could wreak havoc on many rural school districts.

Local school districts will have to pay for the bulk of these vouchers. (For example, in Davidson County, the state would pay only about $3,600 toward the cost of the voucher, while Davidson County would be required to pay about $8,100 per voucher.) On top of this, the state would withhold a 6% management fee for the voucher program. The governor has claimed that a limited amount of funding will be available to school districts to help offset the cost of the vouchers for three years, but this money could be revoked at any time- and worse, vouchers will create ongoing recurring costs that school districts will be unable to cover for an indefinite period of time.

Once the door to vouchers has been opened, it cannot be shut. Under this legislation, vouchers would become an entitlement for upper middle class private school parents and homeschool parents.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1. We need as many people as possible to attend the hearing. It will be in House Hearing Room 1 of the Cordell Hull Building.

2. Contact members of the committee NOW, and encourage your friends to do so. (Obviously, constituents of these members will make the greatest impact.)

Mark White, Chair 615-741-4415
rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov

Kirk Haston, Vice Chair 615-741-0750
rep.kirk.haston@capitol.tn.gov

Debra Moody 615-741-3774 rep.debra.moody@capitol.tn.gov

Charlie Baum 615-741-6849 rep.charlie.baum@capitol.tn.gov

David Byrd 615-741-2190
rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov

Scott Cepicky 615-741-3005
rep.scott.cepicky@capitol.tn.gov

Mark Cochran 615-741-1725
rep.mark.cochran@capitol.tn.gov

Jim Coley 615-741-8201
rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov

John DeBerry, Jr. 615-741-2239 rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov

Vincent Dixie 615-741-1997 rep.vincent.dixie@capitol.tn.gov

Jason Hodges 615-741-2043
rep.jason.hodges@capitol.tn.gov

Chris Hurt 615-741-2134
rep.chris.hurt@capitol.tn.gov

Tom Leatherwood 615-741-7084 rep.tom.leatherwood@capitol.tn.gov

Bill Dunn 615-741-1721 rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov

Harold Love, Jr. 615-741-3831
rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov

Antonio Parkinson 615-741-4575
rep.antonio.parkinson@capitol.tn.gov

John Ragan 615-741-4400
rep.john.ragan@capitol.tn.gov

Iris Rudder 615-741-8695
rep.iris.rudder@capitol.tn.gov

Jerry Sexton 615-741-2534
rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov

Kevin Vaughn 615-741-1866
rep.kevin.vaughn@capitol.tn.gov

Terri Lynn Weaver 615-741-2192
rep.terri.lynn.weaver@capitol.tn.gov

Ryan Williams 615-741-1875
rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov

John Mark Windle 716-741-1260
rep.john.windle@capitol.tn.gov

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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.

 

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Frogge on Martha O’Bryan, Charters

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge talks about the Martha O’Bryan Center:

The Martha O’Bryan Center, led by Marsha Edwards of Brentwood, TN, “has rapidly transformed its focus from providing safety net services for the poor to growing its network of charter schools for more affluent families.”

“Martha O’Bryan was founded in 1951 to combat poverty issues.” Historically, the nonprofit has helped families with rent payments and utility bills, operated employment and tutoring programs, and provided a daycare. However, the non-profit seems to have lost focus on its mission in recent years.

Why? The non-profit has been operating in the red for the last couple of years, and “[t]he move to charter schools created a steady revenue stream. Unlike its other programs, which are dependent on fundraising and grants, charter schools come with a built-in revenue stream in the form of tax dollars from the state and local government that are attached to every student who enrolls.”

In 2016, Marsha Edwards illegally coordinated with Stand for Children during our school board elections, in violation of federal law. (“Federal tax law strictly forbids nonprofits like the Martha O’Bryan Center from getting involved, ‘directly or indirectly,’ in elections.”) Edwards sought to remove some school board members (including me) from the board.

In another questionable deal, MDHA selected “Martha O’Bryan as its partner for the charter school [as part of the Envision Cayce overhaul] without a formal bidding process, even though East Nashville has several charter school operators.” Martha O’Bryan will receive $28 million for this project, while our other district schools struggle. This was a back-room deal. The school board had no say in this agreement. Although we have no need for more charters in East Nashville, which is oversaturated with schools, Martha O’Bryan will open yet another charter there. Ironically, it’s located right next door to a charter school operated by KIPP, causing friction among charter proponents who have long argued for more “competition” between schools.

“Former employees [of Martha O’Bryan] say the increased emphasis on charter schools has come at the expense of other programs and damaged the Martha O’Bryan Center’s standing in the neighborhood it has served for so long. . . . [F]ormer staffers say . . . the center cut core programs and workers were laid off or resigned, some after decades of employment.”

“’The mission and vision that was promoted, it was not the mission and vision anymore,’ said Nina Lockert, who ran the child care center at the time of its closing. Lockert said parents felt disconnected from the nonprofit and viewed it as ‘not actually benefiting the community it was in.'”

Follow the money.

MORE>

 

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MNPS and A Few Good Men

Nashville resident David Jones takes a moment to compare the MNPS School Board to the movie “A Few Good Men.” In short, he’s arguing that some on the board “can’t handle the truth.” He raises concerns that have been brought up by board member Amy Frogge but have yet to result in a change of course.

Here’s his letter:

There’s a melancholy scene in “A Few Good Men” in which two officers are found guilty of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine and are dishonorably discharged. Exasperated, Pfc. Louden Downey asks, “What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!” A somber Lance Corporal Harold Dawson explains, “Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

Nashville schools currently find themselves at a crossroads. Though sitting in a city so vibrant and prosperous, MNPS has been clouded with controversy and disappointment. While many were hopeful when Dr. Shawn Joseph took over as director in 2016, that hope soon eroded and was replaced by fear due to the actions (and inaction) of the director.

Over the past two and a half years, teachers, parents, and students have watched as Dr. Joseph not only has turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of his coworkers, but has been complicit in covering up their crimes as well. When Dr. Sam Braden, principal of JFK Middle School, was accused of multiple charges of sexual harassment, it was Shawn Joseph who promised he would work to make those files confidential in the future. When Arnett Bodenhamer, a former teacher and coach at Overton High School, attacked a student, it was Shawn Joseph who overruled the suggested firing and allowed Bodenhamer to continue teaching in MNPS. When an allegation of sexual harassment was made against Mo Carrasco, executive director of priority schools, it was Shawn Joseph who ignored MNPS rules and bypassed human resources, instead going straight to Carrasco. And to top it off, Shawn Joseph has failed to report at least 20 instances of misconduct to the state, which is required by state law.

Shawn Joseph’s refusal to do what is right has created a culture of fear in Nashville schools. Teachers are now scared about what might happen if a colleague sexually harasses them. Teachers have even expressed that they might not report harassment because not only will their complaint not be taken seriously, but they might face retribution from Shawn Joseph if they file a complaint against one of his friends.

Yet in a time when teachers are fearful, employees are being harassed, and leadership is absent, our board members do nothing, pretending the problem will get better while it only gets worse. Like Harold Dawson explained, our community looks to the board to fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves. If our board truly puts children first, they should be demanding accountability, protection, and responsibility.

Instead, we’re given excuses. At a time when our schools desperately need leaders, at a time when teachers are scared their harassment claims won’t be taken seriously, at a time when a large portion of our students fail to read at their current grade level, at a time when priority schools have doubled and funding has all but disappeared, we’re left with enablers—enablers who give Shawn Joseph free rein to waste money, protect the powerful, and exploit the most vulnerable.

It’s time to put an end to this charade. We deserve better. We demand better. It’s time the Board of Education starts fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves. It’s time the board votes to remove Shawn Joseph as director and puts us back on a path to success.

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


 

Amy Frogge Speaks Out

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge speaks out about the behavior of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph:

Take a moment and watch this interaction between Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and a female reporter. It’s important to note that this reporter was actually invited to the MNPS press conference, where she asked a perfectly reasonable (and pretty predictable) question: What would you tell the parents of children in priority schools?

Joseph is quick to put this female reporter in her place with a rude and unprofessional response. Rather than answering her question, he turns the tables on her, trying to bully her. After the press conference, Joseph’s fraternity brothers followed this reporter into the parking lot to harass her, telling her that her questioning of Joseph was not appropriate.

Joseph’s frat brothers had been asked to stack the press conference to show support for Joseph, lending a rather tone-deaf atmosphere to the event. Although the press conference was held to address the fact that the number of “failing” schools has more than doubled under Joseph’s watch, Joseph began the conference by saying, “Can I get an amen?!” The conference, which should have been quite serious, was strangely filled with cheers for Joseph himself. (Joseph, through fliers distributed with his photo on them, often requests that his frat brothers show up to board meetings and other events to cheer him on or to go after anyone who questions him.)

Certainly, people have bad days, and I would perhaps just disregard Joseph’s testy interaction with this reporter under another circumstance. But I have seen this sort of behavior repeatedly from our Director. While he can be very nice toward those to do not question him, he changes his demeanor toward those who raise questions about problems in the district. (It took me a long to time to see the problem, since I was very supportive of Joseph for the first year and a half of his tenure.) He particularly does not tolerate questions from females (no matter how professional or polite) and uses bullying tactics to avoid answering them. This sets a poor tone for the district, as it is his job to answer questions.

Joseph has tried to put my in my place (by threatening lawsuits, by telling me what I can and cannot say on the board floor and by inviting his frat brothers to meetings to call me out). He has tried to put Jill Speering in her place by cutting Reading Recovery (her favorite program that she championed for decades), thereby suddenly firing 87 Reading Recovery teachers, many of whom were Jill’s friends, with no plan in place to repurpose them. And Joseph is already starting to go after Fran Bush, the newest board member to question him. Joseph loves to use race as a weapon to protect himself, quickly labeling anyone who disagrees with him a “racist,” but I think he will find this tactic increasingly difficult to utilize as more begin to speak up.

This is the behavior of a bully, plain and simple. Joseph has banned employees from speaking to board members. And just yesterday, he actually banned employees from writing anything negative on social media about the district or its leadership. These are crazy times.

Since I have begun speaking up against problematic practices in the district, I have received hundreds of thank-yous from MNPS employees and parents, including flowers and gifts. Not a day goes by that I do not receive a call or message from a grateful employee. The usual message is: “We are hanging on by a thread. Please, please keep it up!” I have suggested that others must start using their own voices to address problems, but employees- and amazingly even parents- respond, “Oh, no- we know how vindictive he is!” Teachers, bus drivers, and other staff members know they will lose their jobs for voicing problems (they’ve seen what Joseph did with Reading Recovery as vengeance against Jill), and parents actually fear that Joseph will take funding from their schools or try to punish their children in some way if they speak up. Something is seriously wrong when we have arrived at this place.

Jill, Fran, and I am more than happy to keep standing up and to serve as a voice for the voiceless. I have stood up to bullies before; I have no fear and absolutely nothing to lose. I always outlast them. But for things to truly change, Jill, Fran and I cannot continue to be the only voices speaking for the community. We are doing all we can, but we need help. Please consider speaking up, even if you must remain anonymous and ask someone else to serve as your voice.

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


 

Frogge Backs Fitz

Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge explains why she’s backing Craig Fitzhugh for Governor in a Tennessean column:

Fitzhugh “is not in favor of taking public money and giving it to private . . . charter schools,” thereby reducing school funding. He strongly opposes wasteful spending on excessive and meaningless standardized testing. He supports fully funded schools and always stands up for the best interests of our children.

Fitzhugh and his entire family all attended local public schools. His wife, daughter, and sister-in-law are all teachers. Craig is an attorney, veteran, and CEO of the local bank where he grew up.

A native son of Tennessee, he remains deeply committed to his community, where he’s lived nearly his entire life. He even drives home every Friday when he’s working in Nashville to announce the local high school football games!

Fitzhugh has bipartisan support, because people know that he is an honorable man who is truly committed to public service.

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


 

Frogge on the MNPS Budget

Nashville School Board Member Amy Frogge yesterday outlined some concerns she has as the school system’s proposed budget faces tough choices ahead:

MNPS will receive a $5 million increase this year, rather than the $45 million increase requested by the board. Mayor Briley is doing his best with limited funding, as this article explains, but there just isn’t enough money to go around.

For the first time in my school board career, I voted against a budget proposal. After weeks of receiving conflicting and inaccurate information from the administration, I lost trust in the budget process. The administration still will not answer many of my questions, which is unacceptable.

So where will the cuts come from?

They will not come from the charter sector. Under state law, charters must be paid, so the $5 million increase must first go toward the $14 million increase in charter school costs this year. While other schools may suffer, charter schools will remain fully funded.

Cuts are not likely to be made at the top levels of administration. While cutting paper from classrooms and proposing to cut seven social workers from schools, Dr. Joseph pushed for a pay raise for himself and his top administrators. In the wake of the budget shortfall, he chose to keep his personal chauffeur. Dr. Joseph also pushed to pay friends brought to Nashville extra, unexplained stipends and high salaries off the pay scale.

Under the current budget proposal, Dr. Joseph will earn $346,000 next year. This amount includes his salary plus vacation days and deferred compensation, but doesn’t include his benefits or any consulting fees that he may earn per his contract. (The administration will not disclose how much MNPS employees are earning in consulting fees, even though I have repeatedly requested this information.) Dr. Joseph has added top level administrators and will pay four of his five Chiefs $190,000 each next year. (The fifth earns approximately $170,000.) To provide context for these salaries, Dr. Register earned $266,000 per year and paid his top administrators $155,000 each. Jay Steele, who earned $155,000, was alone performing the same job that now is fulfilled by two Chiefs, each earning $190,000.

Cuts are also not likely to come from consultants. The year before Dr. Joseph and his team arrived, the district paid outside consultants approximately $5 million dollars. Next year, it appears the district will pay consultants somewhere in the range of $14 million to $30 million. Again, I can’t get a straight answer from this administration on proposed consultant costs, so this is my best guess. What’s clear is that consultant costs have increased substantially under this administration, which begs the question: Why must we pay outsiders so much to guide the district’s work while also increasing salaries for those already paid to lead the district? Do our current leaders not have the necessary expertise? When they were brought to Nashville, they were certainly billed as experts deserving of higher salaries.

Some of the cuts will surely come from Dr. Joseph’s firing of nearly 100 Reading Recovery teachers. Although Dr. Joseph promised a plan to “repurpose” these teachers, it’s become clear that there is no such plan, and in fact, schools don’t have any money in their budgets to re-hire these teachers. There are also limited positions available for these teachers. So ultimately, it’s most likely that our very best and most highly trained literacy teachers will leave. Many are already retiring or headed to other districts. Despite an ongoing teacher shortage, this doesn’t seem to bother Dr. Joseph and his team, who were actually caught celebrating the firing of these literacy experts after our board meeting.

Finally, the $27.2 million increase requested for employee compensation, including pay raises and step increases, seems impossible now.

This budget season has been a disaster- unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I hope the Metro Council is prepared to ask the hard questions.

 

A few comments:

First, the reason Mayor Briley is having a tough budget season is because the two previous mayors (with approval from Metro Council) spent heavily from reserve funds to balance budgets. Now, that savings account is depleted and absent new revenue, there’s just not any extra money. Yes, Metro Council needs to ask tough questions of the school budget, but they should also be asking questions about how Nashville got here.

Second, as Frogge notes, it seems likely that two things will happen: Some teachers will lose their jobs and there will be no raises. Both are incredibly problematic. Nashville is experiencing a teacher shortage that has resulted in a shift toward what I’ve called “virtual equality.” Nashville teachers are already underpaid, and not giving raises would only exacerbate this problem.

Third, one reason the MNPS budget is facing problems is a “surprising” drop in students. Somehow, this drop was both unanticipated and created a budget emergency this year.

By way of her post, Frogge points out some possible alternatives. It’s up to the School Board to make a proposal to the Metro Council based on these new numbers. The revisions Dr. Joseph proposes to the MNPS Board will say a lot about his priorities. Metro Council can’t revise the school system’s budget, they can only vote it up or down. However, a budget document that doesn’t address the concerns Frogge raises should be rejected and sent back to MNPS for improvement.

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