Nashville Teachers Vote for Conferencing

Teachers in Nashville overwhelming voted to enter into contract negotiations by way of Collaborative Conferencing according to a press release from the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA).

According to the release, 85% of teachers selected MNEA as the bargaining agent, meaning no other organization will represent Nashville teachers at the bargaining table. Under the rules for collaborative conferencing, any organization representing teachers that earns the support of at least 15% of teachers can play a role in the bargaining process.

MNEA President Erik Huth described the vote as an “overwhelming” victory for teachers and MNEA and noted that his organization has represented Nashville teachers for over 50 years, pre-dating collective bargaining.

According to MNEA, the next step in the process is training for both board members and teacher negotiators.

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


 

 

Buggs Responds to Mailer Issue

Amanda Haggard at the Nashville Scene explains that in School Board District 5, a mailer sent by the MNEA is creating a bit of confusion:

At the end of this past week, voters in District 5 got a mailer from Metro Nashville Education Association calling on voters to “re-elect Christiane Buggs.” There’s only one very important problem there, though, which is that Buggs has never served on the school board.

The mailer resulted in the two other candidates running in D5 calling on Buggs to take action to correct the mistake.

Here’s the official response from Buggs:

Metro Nashville Education Association’s (MNEA) PAC recently sent a mailer to some voters in support of my candidacy to represent our district on the MNPS Board of Education. The mailer inaccurately states that I am an incumbent running for re-election. MNEA has released a statement citing their honest mistake and taking full responsibility for the obvious error.
Late last night, two of my opponents, made demands regarding this mailer and the perceived advantage it might offer me in this race. I respectfully decline to entertain their demands.

 

As a teacher, I am charged with leading by example. My ultimate goal is to work with community members and leaders to improve public education in my beloved city, not respond to politically motivated and petty demands from my opponents. We as teachers train our students on how to deal with bullying. I will not be bullied by two of my opponents into committing violations of campaign finance laws as the demand letter requests. I will never stoop to bullying others, and I will not accept bullying in any form.

 

As a professional, I am empowered to grow and develop. I have read the campaign laws and understand them clearly. These laws explicitly prohibit collaboration between MNEA and my campaign in any way, and in turn much of what the letter demands. As is clear on the mailer, my campaign had nothing to do with its production or distribution. I had no prior knowledge of the mail piece or its design. However, I am honored to have the support of MNEA and the many teachers they represent. I appreciate them holding themselves accountable.

 

I am saddened for my opponents they feel threatened by an error that is plain to every voter in our district. I can only surmise they think the voters of our district are too dumb to know the difference. I know the voters are smart enough to recognize the error immediately and will now know how my opponents feel about them.
Being a member of the Board of Education in Nashville requires an intimate knowledge of classroom supports that will improve student outcomes, a clear understanding of many laws, and managing a budget of $843 million. I am the only candidate with this knowledge, understanding, integrity and ability, and I will continue working to gain the support of our district’s voters.

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


 

 

 

Education, Inc. Coming to Nashville

A coalition of education advocacy groups will be hosting a screening of the film Education, Inc. on September 1st. Here’s the press release:

Students, parents, teachers and public education advocates are gathering Tuesday, Sept. 1, for a screening and discussion on the trend of corporate takeovers of American public schools examined in the documentary Education, Inc.

Screening of the film begins at 6:00 pm followed by a panel discussion at Vanderbilt Wilson Hall 103, located at the intersection of Terrace Place and 21st Ave. (Metered parking is available around the space.) Panelists include: Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston, Nashville school teacher Amanda Kail, and Nashville parent Chelle Baldwin.

Several groups from Tennessee have come together to sponsor the event: Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence and Vanderbilt Students Engaging in Education Dialogue (SEED).

“As public schools nationwide struggle for funding, complicated by the impact of poverty and politics, corporate reformers see opportunity to take away local controls of our community schools,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence (TREE). “It’s important we stop and take a look at what’s happening here in Tennessee.”

Education, Inc. was produced by documentary filmmakers and public school parents Brian and Cindy Malone. The Malones made the film to inform and
engage local communities across the country. They have made the film available for house parties and community screenings by simply purchasing a DVD. Their hope is that students, parents, citizens and public school advocacy groups will use the film to help start an important conversation about the role and value of public education in America.

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

MNEA Backs Barry

After having endorsed Bill Freeman in the primary, the Metro Nashville Education Association is now backing Megan Barry in the Mayoral Runoff.

Here’s the press release:

The Metropolitan Nashville Education Association announced today its endorsement of Nashville mayoral candidate Megan Barry in the September run-off election.

“Serving as Nashville’s mayor, Megan would be a strong advocate for our students, educators and public schools,” said Erick Huth, MNEA president. “At a time when so many outside forces are trying to destroy public education in our community, it is important to have someone in the mayor’s office who shares our belief that supporting a system of strong public schools is the foundation for a strong, successful Nashville.”

MNEA chose to endorse Barry over her competitor David Fox who has been a vocal proponent of turning Nashville’s public schools over to charter school operators and has a history of outsourcing custodial positions to private companies.

“Nashville needs a strong, progressive leader like Megan to ensure we do not become the next New Orleans and have all of our public schools handed over to charter operators,” the MNEA president said. “She understands what Nashville students and educators need to succeed and we believe she will be committed to making sure those needs are met.”

“Megan is the clear choice for Nashville’s next mayor for anyone who believes in their local public schools and wants to see the city further its commitment to providing a quality public education to every student in Nashville,” Huth said.

 

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

A Call for Accountability

Tonight’s MNPS Board meeting will include a call for accountability and transparency in the operation and oversight of the district’s charter schools. The call comes just over a week after the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) released poll results they said indicate voters in Tennessee want charter reforms, especially around the issues of financial accountability and operational transparency.

 

In fact, MNEA Vice President Erick Huth is among those slated to speak. Huth’s remarks are expected to be on the Annenberg Institute’s recommendations for effective oversight of charter schools. Some may recall that prior to his selection as Director of Schools for MNPS, Dr. Jesse Register worked at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which is located at Brown University.

 

The Annenberg standards include:

  • Traditional school districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children
  • School governance should be representative and transparent
  • Charter schools should ensure equal access to interested students and prohibit practices that discourage enrollment or disproportionately push-out enrolled students
  • Charter school discipline policy should be fair and transparent
  • All students deserve equitable and adequate school facilities.  Districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure facility arrangements do not disadvantage students in either sector
  • Online charter schools should be better regulated for quality, transparency and the protection of student data
  • Monitoring and oversight of charter schools are critical to protect the public interest; they should be strong and fully state funded

Also speaking on the issue of accountability and transparency is MNEA President Stephen Henry.

In addition to the poll results, two different recent reports indicate that unabated growth of charter schools could carry significant costs to MNPS.

First, a report by MGT of America noted:

“… it is clear that charter schools impose a cost on MNPS – both directly and indirectly.  It is also clear … that the loss of operating funds caused by the transfer of revenue cannot likely be made up through a reduction in capital or facility costs.  Therefore, approving future charter schools does potentially meet the “bar” described in  Tennessee Code Annotated 49-13-108(b) which encourages local boards of education to consider fiscal impact in determining whether new charter schools may be “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.”

More recently, the Operational and Performance Audit of MNPS found:

“The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

Additionally, the Center for Popular Democracy issued a report noting that due to their susceptibility to fraud, charter schools warrant specific oversight.

It’s not clear whether the MNPS Board will move to adopt the Annenberg standards. At this point, it appears to be a discussion item among concerned citizens and community groups who are bringing their request to the Board.

Tonight’s meeting is at 5:00 PM at the Central Office on Bransford Avenue.

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

Voters Want Charter Reforms

 

That’s the message the Metro Nashville Education Association wants to get out as Nashville’s Mayoral candidates head to a forum focused on education this evening.

MNEA pointed to results from a poll of Tennessee voters conducted for the Center for Popular Democracy as evidence that charter reforms are a key education issue warranting attention.

The poll found that charter reforms focused on transparency and accountability received overwhelmingly favorable responses from Tennessee voters.

Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.

Here’s the release from MNEA:

Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:
• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students
“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

  • provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances
  • require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts
  • ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements

“We need community leaders who will stand up for the strong public schools our kids deserve,” said MNEA Vice President Erick Huth. “This includes our new director of schools and our next mayor.”
The poll was conducted in January among 500 registered voters by GBA Strategies, a research firm based in Washington, D.C. It was funded, in part, by the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization dedicated to social justice issues.

Here are some of the poll results:

  Total Support %
Transparency & Accountability  
Require state officials to conduct regular audits of charter schools’ finances to detect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds 86
Require companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts 85
Preventing Harm to Neighborhood Schools  
Before any new charter school is approved, conduct an analysis of the impact the school will have on neighborhood public schools 78
Ensure that neighborhood public schools do not lose funding when new charter schools open in their area 78
Protect Taxpayer funds  
Require charter schools to return taxpayer money to the school district for any student that leaves the charter school to return to a neighborhood public school during the school year 78
Stop the creation of new charter schools if state officials have not shown the ability to prevent fraud and mismanagement 69
Prohibit charter school board members and their immediate families from financially benefiting from their schools 65
Prohibit charter schools from spending taxpayer dollars on advertising or marketing 54
Serving High Need Students  
Require all teachers who work in taxpayer funded schools, including neighborhood public schools and charter schools, to meet the same training and qualification requirements 89
Require charter schools to serve high-need students such as special education students, at the same level as neighborhood public schools 79

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

Report Card on MNPS

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its annual Report Card on Metro Schools yesterday. The group made 5 policy recommendations, including asking the MNPS School Board to wait until after the new Mayor is elected in August of 2015 before finalizing a Director of Schools.

Here are the recommendations from the Chamber press release:

  • The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card Committee should annually monitor the implementation of MNPS’ strategic plan through 2018.
  • MNPS’ pay supplement system should be reformed to financially reward teachers who assume a leadership position at their school.
  • MNPS should highlight issues which impede school-level autonomy to identify needed policy or statute changes.
  • The Metro Nashville Board of Education should take action to recommit itself to policy governance and professional development in order to establish steps toward developing consensus moving forward.
  • The school board should hire a new director of schools after the election of a new mayor in 2015.

Here’s how Report Card committee members explained the suggested delay on a Director choice until after the Mayor’s election:

“The director of schools reports to the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” said Committee Co-chair Brian Shaw. “But our committee felt it will be critically important for both the educational leadership and the political leadership of our community have strong working relationships, and the upcoming election for mayor and Metro Council is critical to that.”

“The school board has a tremendous amount of work to do to get to the point where they are ready to hire a new director, so we understand the need to go ahead and begin the search process soon,” said committee Co-chair Jackson Miller. “We believe knowing who our next mayor is before the finalists are identified eliminates a big question mark in the minds of the quality candidates we are trying to recruit.”

The Metro Nashville Education Association weighed-in on the Report Card, essentially agreeing with the core recommendations but adding that teacher input is needed going forward and that funding for teacher pay must be a priority. The MNEA agrees that a new Director should not be hired until the new mayor has been elected.

Here’s what MNEA had to say, from their press release:

  • In addition to the annual monitoring by the Chamber’s Report Card committee, the success of MNPS’ strategic plan, Education 2018, a plan to become the highest performing urban school district in the United States, will be dependent on the support of all of Nashville, especially its students, teachers, and leaders.
  • MNEA has long supported more pay for teachers who assume leadership responsibilities. However, its implementation will be contingent upon the district making it a funding priority.
  • Both nationally and internationally, highly success schools exist where there is teacher autonomy. Yet experience tells us that in the absence of an accountability structure and/or the will to create one, school-level, or principal autonomy, will lead to chaos and injustice.
  • In 2002 the MNPS Board of Education adopted policy governance. No member of the current board served during 2002, nor did any member vote to adopt this form of governance. The current elected board should either recommit to policy governance or choose a form of governance that best serves their needs, and most importantly, best serves the needs of Nashville’s students.
  • The hiring of the next MNPS Director of Schools should not occur without input from Nashville’s students, parents, teachers, and new mayor.

 

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