Money for Roads but Not Schools?

House Speaker Beth Harwell is talking about using the state’s revenue surplus to fund road projects — but has made no mention yet of how the General Assembly might begin to fund the $500 million+ being sought by school systems across the state in a lawsuit over funding adequacy.

According to the Tennessean:

The Nashville Republican noted that state tax collections continue to exceed expectations, estimating the state could receive $400 million more than anticipated. With talk of a potential gas tax increase floating around the state, Harwell said that extra one-time tax money should fund some of the many shelved state road projects.

Certainly, investing in infrastructure is wise. But, so is investing in schools.

And since the state’s BEP Review Committee says Tennessee is about $500 million behind in funding its schools and since school systems are suing demanding adequacy in light of unfunded mandates like Response to Intervention (RTI2), it would make sense to use some of the new money to begin investing in schools.

Of course, Harwell’s #2, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, has already expressed his displeasure with school systems seeking proper funding.

The point is this: There’s money to fund some infrastructure projects AND to begin investing in schools — and it can be started without a tax increase.

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


 

 

The Road to Looney

This morning, the MNPS School Board voted 8-1 to make Williamson County Director of Schools Dr. Mike Looney the preferred finalist for the vacancy left by Dr. Register’s retirement on June 30th.

The process will move forward with a comprehensive background check on Looney and a visit by the board to his district (a short trip). If all goes well, a final offer could be made as early as next Thursday.

The meeting moved along pretty quickly this morning, with member after member noting how impressed they’d been with Looney’s interviews.

But, the road to making Looney the finalist wasn’t quite so smooth.

Just a few weeks ago, the district’s Chief Academic Officer, Jay Steele, was named the Interim Director of Schools.  Then, he wasn’t, and Chris Henson was placed in the role.

Then, the Board received a list of four finalists that included the controversial John Covington.

After Covington was eliminated from the pool following initial interviews, the Board proceeded with full-day interviews and community forums featuring the three remaining candidates.

By all accounts, the Board was impressed with how well-prepared Looney was and how specific he was about what needs to happen in MNPS.

So, this morning, Board members moved quickly to name Looney as the preferred finalist.

The process isn’t over, and Looney has issued a statement making reference to an allegation given voice by Board Member Tyese Hunter.  But, despite a bumpy process, it appears MNPS has a strong choice to be the district’s next leader.

Here’s Looney’s statement:

“I am honored to learn that Metro Nashville Public Schools has narrowed its search for the Director of Schools, and I am a finalist. Unfortunately, in the last hour of the meeting, a false allegation complicated matters by calling into question my integrity. I communicated to Board Chairwoman Gentry that my first priority is to set the record straight. I look forward to this being done in an expeditious manner. Meanwhile, I intend to converse with Williamson County School Board members about the implications of my selection as a finalist. I am especially thankful for all of the good work our families and employees are doing in Williamson County Schools. It is greatly valued. Out of respect to both School Boards and in order to facilitate getting closure on the false allegation, I will refrain from commenting further at this time.

-Dr. Mike Looney, WCS Superintendent

Read Board Member Will Pinkston’s thoughts on priorities for the next MNPS Director of Schools

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

The Looney Leap

Will MNPS hire its next Director of Schools from neighboring Williamson County?

Andrea Zelinski reports:

…after a day-long series of interviews, meet-and-greets and community forums, board members found themselves laughing at Looney’s jokes, digging his sense of urgency and engaged in the direction he wants to take the district. 

Last month Anna Shepherd was adamant that a candidate from the neighboring, largely white and wealthy district couldn’t understand MNPS’ complex and diverse student body. But after Tuesday’s marathon of meetings, Looney coming from tony Williamson County is “not as troubling” as she thought it would be, she told Pith.

The Board interviewed Barry Shephard today and is slated to make a decision on a favorite for the job by tomorrow.

It’s possible the Board could start the search over or reset it in some fashion, attempting to find additional candidates to consider.

Tune in tomorrow…

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


 

 

Since You Asked

 

In a recent article outlining a list of priorities for the next Director of MNPS, Board Member Will Pinkston said:

We also need a top-to-bottom review of our teacher compensation system to understand how we stack up against competing and similarly situated U.S. school systems, such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Denver and Louisville.

Here is some information on how the MNPS pay scale compares to pay scales in the cities Pinkston mentions. I used the salary paid to a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and looked at starting salary, salary at year 10, salary at year 20, and the top salary paid on the current schedule.

Here’s what it looks like:

Start                    10                          20                      TOP

MNPS                     $42,082                $44,536                 $54,800              $55,757

Louisville              $41,756                $53,759                 $69,514                $70,636

Charlotte               $37,946               $46,008                $53,954                $58,525

Austin                     $46,401               $48,837                $55,477                 $70,751

Atlanta                   $44,312               $54,167                 $62,075                 $66,467

Denver                   $38,765              $47,136                 $53,838*

*Denver has a teacher compensation system known as ProComp and the highest step is 13. Teachers in Denver earn the base pay indicated plus are eligible for incentives and base pay increases based on professional development, advanced degrees, and measures of student outcomes.

Here are a few takeaways from the raw information:

1) Starting pay in MNPS is on par with the cities Pinkston identifies as similar to/competitive with Nashville.

2) Long-term pay increases in MNPS don’t keep pace with those in other, similar districts. Taking Denver as an example, a teacher who received NO ProComp incentives and maintained only a bachelor’s degree would make at Step 13 very close to what an MNPS teacher with similar education makes at Step 20. In all other cities examined, the top step is higher (from $3000 to $15,000) than it is in MNPS.

3) Just three hours north of Nashville in a city with similar demographics and cost of living, a teacher can earn significantly better pay over a career. While a teacher in Louisville starts out making slightly less than a new Nashville teacher, by year 10, the Louisville teacher makes $9,000 more than her Nashville counterpart and by year 20, that difference stretches to $15,000. The lifetime earnings of a teacher in Louisville significantly outpace those of a teacher in Nashville.

4) Nashville’s teacher pay is higher than most of the surrounding districts — making it a competitive choice for teachers seeking to teach in middle Tennessee. However, for Nashville to become a destination for teachers wanting to build a career (or continue one) in urban education, Nashville may need to do more to improve its overall compensation package.

5) This analysis is a starting point — it’s raw data from district websites about base compensation plans. It does not take into account relative cost of living (except as noted in the comparison with Louisville) and other factors that may make teaching in Nashville an attractive proposition.

 

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

And Then There Were Three

The MNPS School Board has narrowed its search for the next Director of Schools. The Board heard from four finalists last week on Thursday and Friday. After those interviews, the board eliminated John Covington from the mix and will proceed with interviews of the remaining three candidates.

Read the applications from the candidates

Read what Board Member Will Pinkston thinks the next Director should prioritize

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

 

So, About that Reference…

It’s usually a good practice when applying for a job to let someone know if you’ve listed them as a reference. This way, they’re not surprised if they receive a call about you … and, you can be sure they’ll say something positive if they are called.

Turns out, this basic principle eluded MNPS Director of Schools candidate John Covington. Among his references, he listed the head of the local American Federation of Teachers affiliate. Impressive — if the head of the local teachers union would give the director a positive review.

Funny thing is: She wasn’t asked by Covington. Not by him. And, apparently, not by the search firm MNPS paid at least $40,000 to conduct a search.

Here’s what she said when she was asked: She wouldn’t recommend him for the job.

Here’s a release from the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) outlining the issue and demanding a refund of the money paid to the search firm:

The Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) is asking for a refund of the fee paid to the firm responsible for vetting candidates for the next MNPS Director. The association followed up with references supplied by controversial candidate John Covington and major questions have now arisen about the work and actions of the recruiting firm.

“After reviewing the difficulties and questionable actions of John Covington when he worked in Kansas City and Michigan, we wanted to follow up on some of the references supplied by him in his application,” said MNEA President-elect Erick Huth. “One name jumped out at us in particular, Andrea Flinders, the president of the Kansas City teachers’ union was listed as a reference by the candidate. So we called her.”

Huth noted that Covington was responsible for shuttering dozens of schools and eliminating teaching positions across the district, causing great turmoil. The school district lost its accreditation shortly after Covington left in a surprise decision. There are lingering questions about why he left—he denied having another job offer and then was appointed to a state takeover entity in Michigan in short order after his abrupt and disruptive departure from Kansas City.

To Nashville teachers, having an education organization president as a supporter of Covington was a false note. It turns out that is exactly what it was.

“We called the president of the Kansas City local about the reference and she laughed, thinking it was absurd,” said Huth. “She had not been asked by Covington to be a reference and had not been contacted by the search firm to verify her name being used. She was clear she would not recommend him for the job. This raises even more questions about the validity of the search and the documents supplied to the board.”

Huth cannot understand that with the prestige of Nashville nationally, and the clear interest within the system and outside the state about the school system, that there were only four finalists, and one that clearly has not been properly vetted.

“I think it calls into question the integrity of the process,” said Huth. “It is one of the basic tasks of a search firm to call an applicant’s references, and the firm failed to do even this basic step. Also, there was a marked difference to what the firm said about Covington, and what the record shows and what was reported in the media. What else do we not know?”

Huth believes that with growing questions about the process, its hurried schedule, and the questionable information supplied by a finalist, it is prudent to restart the process with a new firm with more transparency and thoroughness. It also will provide an opportunity for new elected Metro leadership to be a part of the process.

“We are about to elect a new Metro government, the ones who keep our lights on and pay for our classrooms.  It is important we get the right person to lead our schools and can work with the new mayor and council. It is only common sense,” Huth concluded.

MNEA believes it is clear the taxpayers of Nashville did not get what they expected from the search firm, and I think it is right the school board demand a full refund. The firm, HYA Executive Search, received more than $40,000 for the service.

Read about the finalists and their applications.

Read Board Member Will Pinkston’s thoughts on priorities for a new Director.

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

The Finalists

The MNPS School Board has been presented with a slate of four finalists for the Director of Schools position. The Board may select from among the four presented or choose another candidate not listed. Currently, it seems the plan is to pursue further study of the four named finalists.

The Tennessean writes of the candidates:

• John Covington, consultant with the Broad Center. Covington is a former educator who has 29 years of experience in public education. He has worked in Pueblo, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; and served as the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan. The authority is somewhat similar to Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Read Covington’s Application

• Angela Huff, chief of staff for the Cobb County School District. Huff, a Nashville native, oversees 110,000 students and a staff of more than 11,000 in the Atlanta school district. She has 31 years working in education as an assistant superintendent and principal in Cobb County, and she has also served as a teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Read Huff’s Application

• Mike Looney, Williamson County director of schools. Looney looks after a student population of 36,000, with almost 5,000 staff, in the neighboring Nashville district. He has 21 years experience as an educator, and under his leadership in Williamson, the district has been named one of the best in the state.

Read Looney’s Application

• Barry Shepherd, a retired Cabarrus County (N.C.) Schools superintendent. As superintendent of the Concord, N.C. district, Shepherd oversaw a student population of 31,000, with a staff of 4,000. He started his 30-year career in education as a music teacher and speaks some Spanish.

Read Shepherd’s Application

Today’s unveiling of candidates follows two weeks of controversy over who would be the interim Director of Schools.

And, this morning, Board Member Will Pinkston offered his thoughts on the priorities the next Director should emphasize.

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

Leader of Failed KY Voucher Campaign Heads to TN

The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a pro-voucher group, has selected Mendell Grinter as its Tennessee State Director.

Grinter will work to revive interest in a statewide school voucher program that has met defeat in three consecutive legislative sessions.

The release announcing Grinter’s selection mentions:

Grinter previously served as the Kentucky State Director for BAEO where he led the creation of BAEO’s first Pastors Coalition. Under his leadership the Coalition led rallies, press conferences, community meetings, and received over 30 media placements.

Yes, the coalition led rallies, held press conferences, and even got in the news. What they didn’t do was generate any significant interest in passing vouchers in Kentucky. That’s right: Grinter led a coalition that didn’t move the needle on vouchers in Kentucky – voucher legislation, even with an interesting twist, failed to pass in Kentucky.

Of course, Kentucky also has no charter schools, so the landscape for advocates of education privatization is bleak there. What Kentucky does have is 20+ years of steady educational progress. And, with no vouchers or charters, Kentucky continues to outperform Tennessee on the NAEP.

Make no mistake, voucher legislation will be a big focus in 2016. And Mendell Grinter’s track record should be of some comfort to those who support public schools and oppose failed voucher schemes.

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

Who is Running MNPS?

Seems like a simple question. And, until last night, it had a simple answer. Dr. Jesse Register’s last day was to be June 30th. The interim role would then be handed to the district’s #2, Jay Steele, currently the Chief Academic Officer.  Steele would run the district for one to three months until a permanent Director of Schools was hired and in place.

But, it’s not that simple. Steele was appointed to the interim role on a 5-4 vote. That vote drew criticism from, among others, TN Ed Report’s own Zack Barnes.

Steven Hale over at the Nashville Scene has a good run down of what happened.

And now, the Board has appointed Chris Henson as interim director.

The appointment came in an emergency meeting called by Board Chair Sharon Gentry to address issues raised with the vote for Steele, including the open meetings complaint.

At last night’s meeting, Gentry admitted that she was at fault, at least in part, because after the motion to appoint Steele, she proceeded with the vote without calling for discussion.

Gentry also voted against appointing Steele – this would seem to be an indication that no decisions were made in secret, since the person who chose to move forward without discussion was on the losing side of the vote. Perhaps Gentry suspected she had the votes in favor of another candidate and called for the vote on Steele quickly in order to move on to her preferred interim director choice.

Gentry last night also suggested that one remedy for an open meetings violation was a new meeting and vote with a thorough discussion. Of course, as of last night, there was only a complaint, no guidance from the Comptroller regarding any violation.

And, as referenced in the Scene story and noted by J.R. Lind, the meeting was a procedural mess:

The emergency meeting appears to have been a procedural mess, as our J.R. Lind explains on Twitter. For instance, although the board members voted to reconsider their initial appointment of Steele, they never voted to rescind it.)

This marks the second consecutive meeting in which a major decision was mishandled by poor procedural leadership from Gentry.

Back to the original question: Who is running MNPS? As of today, it’s Chris Henson. As for the Board, that’s an open question.

 

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

MNPS, Annenberg, and Magnets

Last night, the MNPS School Board approved a set of standards to govern charter schools and agreed to also apply them to traditional district schools (though most already do apply).

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Breathe easy. No one is changing rules for magnet schools, at least when it comes to selective enrollment.

The Metro Nashville Public School board approved nearly three dozen new requirements for regulating charter and traditional schools Tuesday night, like requiring regular reports on student mobility, posting school budgets and publishing details for any contracts over $10,000.

But the rules include banning schools from excluding or discouraging certain students from enrolling, such as is done at academic magnet schools like Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School and Hume Fogg Magnet High School or the Nashville School of the Arts — all district crown jewels with entrance requirements. The board ultimately exempted academic magnets and performing art schools from the new enrollment standard.

There’s more detail in the piece, including Zelinski’s play-by-play of the meeting.

More on the Annenberg Standards:

Annenberg May Apply to Magnets

Does TN Need Annenberg?

MNPS and Annenberg

A Call for Accountability

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