MNEA Makes School Board Endorsements

The Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) released endorsements for the upcoming School Board elections. Here’s more from a press release:

“In the District 2 School Board race, we were very impressed with two candidates but ultimately voted to support T. C. Weber because of his knowledge of our district and understanding of what can and should be done in our schools,” according to MNEA-PACE Chair Stephen Henry. School Board Chair Anna Shepherd, who is running unopposed in District 4, received the MNEA-PACE endorsement because of her dedication to our schools and her district. MNEA Vice President Theresa Wagner notes that Tyese Hunter is receiving the teachers’ endorsement because she “outshined her opponents in her interview.” Hunter who is running for reelection has worked tirelessly as the school board’s budget and finance committee chair to get more funding for our schools and is keenly aware of the funding needs of our students and the impact of Nashville’s “prosperity” on our employees. MNEA-PACE voted to endorse former MNPS teacher Gini Pupo-Walker because of the outstanding work she has done with immigrant populations over the years and her deep understanding of our schools. She is clearly the best candidate in that race.

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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.

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

Keep the education news coming!

 

Amy Frogge on Reading Recovery and the MNPS Budget

Metro Nashville School Board Member Amy Frogge talks Reading Recovery and the MNPS budget in a recent Facebook post:

Here is Dr. Joseph just last year, on May 22, 2017, praising Reading Recovery before the Metro Council. (The clip starts around 22:47.) Dr. Joseph calls Reading Recovery “one of America’s most well-researched reading interventions” and states: “If you have not had an opportunity to see Reading Recovery in action, we will strongly recommend that you come visit one of our schools and see the magic that those teachers do with that one-on-one highly intensive reading program.”

The Director praised Reading Recovery when he interviewed for his position. He lauded Reading Recovery during last year’s budget hearings. He chose to include Reading Recovery in this year’s budget proposal. He fully and wholeheartedly supported the Reading Recovery program UNTIL this past Monday when- with no notice whatsoever- he suddenly called to cut the entire Reading Recovery program, including 86.5 teachers. The board acquiesced, in a vote of 6-3.

So what changed between the first iteration of this year’s budget proposal and last Monday? Jill Speering, a long-term champion of Reading Recovery, called for an audit.

I’ve now learned that Dr. Joseph was actually firing Reading Recovery leaders during the thirty minutes immediately prior to our meeting Monday, before the board even took a vote. This means that he already knew he had the votes to kill the program. The board has never before been asked to make a substantial change like this at the eleventh hour, on the very day of our final vote, after we have reviewed two other budget drafts. The timing of this change couldn’t have been worse. Now, because school budgets have already been set, there is no money for each school to hire back Reading Recovery teachers for next year, as the Director has promised, and there are limited positions open for the teachers to take.

I welcome any timely and transparent board discussion about the efficacy and cost of any of our programs. We are overdue for a robust board discussion of our literacy plan. But this was political retribution, with children and respected teachers caught in the middle. Res ipsa loquitur.

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


 

Volunteer Strike?

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail offers thoughts on the current national climate with teacher strikes or other actions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. She takes a moment to explain (from a teacher’s perspective) why this is happening and if it might happen in Tennessee.

Here are her posts:

If you are not a teacher, here are some things you might not know about why so many teachers are striking right now:

1. Most public employees, including teachers, have had their salaries frozen since 2008. In Nashville, step increases that are meant to keep up with inflation and encourage teachers to stick with the job were reintroduced only last year, and only then because MNEA stood up and fought for it. Even so, with the reintroduction of step raises (such as they are- in Nashville it takes a teacher with a MA 10 years to earn $50,000), teacher salaries are now barely above what they were 10 years ago, while cost of living and health care (because our legislature refused to expand medicaid) has sky-rocketed. In Oklahoma, many teachers were seeing the cost of their health insurance exceed their paycheck. This is why you are seeing teachers demand significant raises, not because we are greedy or want gold-plated glue sticks.

2. In states without strong teacher unions, state funding for public education has been continually slashed. In Oklahoma, many districts have been forced to go to a 4 day school week. Here in Nashville, a city with a booming economy that outpaces national averages, parents and teachers find themselves having to fight not only for school employee raises and basic supplies, but for funding school lunch programs and filters to remove lead from school drinking fountains. How can this be? Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation for per pupil funding, and our state legislature which is so generous with its offers of guns and “In God We Trust” signs, only gives us about 60% of the money we are allocated in the state budget. So 60% of already drastically underfunded = hungry kids drinking leaded water in the “It City”. And guess who mostly makes up the difference for public school kids, who provides not only school supplies, but clothing, food, medical care, transportation, and even emergency housing? Teachers. Out of our own pockets. With our low and stagnant wages. This is why you are seeing teachers who have never attended a political rally before suddenly fighting so fiercely. We ARE doing it for the kids.

3. When teachers say we want “respect”, we don’t mean more cheap tchotchkes that say “we  teachers”, or more politicians to say, “thank you for all you do for our kids blah blah blah”. We mean that we want evaluation systems that are fair. That we want our professionalism to not be measured by tests that are deeply flawed and poorly planned (TN’s state tests have had major problems 3 years in a row, including one year that the test had to be abandoned mid-session). That we want leaders who have proven themselves in the classroom first, not hatched out of some neoliberal think-tank dedicated to robbing public schools for the DeVosses of the world. That we want to have the time to design lessons, grade, and teach without interruption by more unfunded mandates. It means that teachers who choose to work with low income students, students with disabilities, and immigrants should have the time, resources, and even more importantly, the trust that we know what we are doing, so we can fill in the foundational skills our students need in order to grow so that they can function on grade level, or beyond! It means giving us class sizes and case loads that are manageable. It means that our districts should consult us as experts in the field on curriculum design and proper assessment before throwing away millions on more pre-packed crap that will end up collecting dust in the closet somewhere. It means valuing veteran teachers with teaching degrees from respected universities enough to pay competitive wages and offer paths to leadership. Seriously, you can keep the tchotchkes.

4. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Trust teachers. We are fighting not only for our own babies, but yours. We stand up for EVERY kid in our community, and we see first hand what happens when communities refuse to do the same. If we say there is a problem, we mean it. Support your local teacher union. Advocate for your neighborhood school. Question why the schools that serve mostly poor kids often look so neglected. Demand that the political candidate of your choice fight to support public schools. Vote like every kid in your state is depending on you. Teachers should not have to put our whole careers on the line to show how badly things have gotten, but we will. So listen. And join us.

On whether there may be strikes in Tennessee:

I have had several people ask me about the possibility of Nashville teachers going on strike. Here is what I will say: Sometimes a walk-out doesn’t look like a picket line. It looks like the 100 or so vacancies our district can’t fill. It looks like increasing numbers of teachers leaving in their first and second years. It looks like veteran teachers deciding to leave the career they loved because they can’t take anymore of the insanity and nonsense wrought by testing. It looks like unstaffed after-school programs because most teachers have to work second and third jobs. It looks like less and less experienced teachers in the classroom, because no one else will put up with it.

Every time a teacher leaves, the students of that teacher lose ground. I’ve seen classrooms become revolving doors of inexperienced and overwhelmed teachers, giving way to subs or overloading other classrooms. Our kids deserve better.

Here is the thing. Teachers really can’t go on like this, and we are having less and less to lose. I think it is HIGH time that the city of Nashville, not just Dr. Joseph and the BOE put school employee raises as a number one priority. The 2% “raise” we are currently being offered barely covers inflation. It still takes teachers with an MA 10 years to reach $50,000, at the same time the administrators at Bransford make more than our city’s mayor. Something has got to give.

 

 

Teachers, what are your thoughts?

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


 

Of Lunch and Lead

March isn’t quite over, but two incidents this month at Metro Nashville Public Schools demonstrate a clear need for improved communication from the district.

First, on the issue of lead in drinking water and the use of filters to help solve the problem:

But district spokesperson Michelle Michaud, in an interview with CBS This Morning, claimed it would cost $8,000 dollars per school just to replace the filters.

“It’s a huge cost to the district, hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Michaud claimed, adding: “That’s a price of two teachers salaries.”

The story goes on to note these numbers aren’t accurate (the cost is much lower). However, it’s noteworthy that the response from the person paid to communicate the message from MNPS is that providing safe drinking water for students is too expensive.

Fast forward to this week, and the discussion of a plan to scale back the offering of free lunch. Here’s what a district official had to say:

“Based on what we are seeing on numbers, we are below that point where it makes financial sense,” Stark said. “We can’t do the program across the district the same way we have been doing it.”

So, to be clear: MNPS believes it costs too much to provide free lunch to all kids (the total cost absorbed by MNPS would be less than 1% of the entire budget) and that providing water filters to eliminate lead in drinking water is too expensive. That’s the message communicated: Our concern is cost. It’s right there in the first responses made in both scenarios.

Here’s an idea: Make safe water and access to meals a top priority. Budget for it. Ask Metro Council for the additional funds if necessary. When your first response to issues like these is “we are worried about money” that sends an unfortunate message.

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


 

Lunch Money

The Tennessean reports on Metro Nashville Public Schools scaling back the offering of free lunch to all students.

Nashville schools is set to scale back a popular program that provides free lunch to all of its students.

The district currently provides free lunch to all students, regardless of income, but now plans to limit the program to 74 schools next year, while families at other schools must file paperwork to receive free-or-reduced lunch rates.

Why?

The district first began using the program in 2014, but must reapply for grant funding every four years, Stark said.

During that time, the number of students within the district recorded as needing federal assistance has dropped — from about 60 percent to just under 50 percent, Stark said.

The lower percentage of students eligible means the federal government won’t cover as much of the cost to provide free lunch to all students, Stark said.

The cost to MNPS to absorb the shortfall and continue offering the program across the board is $8 million. That’s less than one percent of the entire system budget.

Angst?

Nashville schools will still continue to provide free breakfast to students next year, Stark said. The money to fund that program comes from other sources, he said.

“We are hoping that can alleviate at least some of the angst,” he said.

Interesting that the concern from the standpoint of MNPS is parent angst, not student hunger.

Also worth noting: This announcement came on the same day that legislation to prevent “lunch shaming” sponsored by John Ray Clemmons of Nashville failed in a House committee. That bill would have prohibited separating students who had an outstanding meal debt at school. Clemmons cited a story about one Tennessee school where students with unpaid lunch debt were made to eat a peanut butter sandwich in the principal’s office.

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


 

A Lesson in Communication

Teacher and blogger Mary Holden got to teach a lesson in communication in real time yesterday as MNPS dealt with the predicted bad weather and an early dismissal.

Here’s a bit from her take on the situation:

Communication has long been an issue for MNPS. Perhaps they don’t have the right people in charge? I mean, the district’s public information officer – the public face of the district – was recently on the news discussing how we don’t have enough money for water filters in some of our schools where there is lead in the water. LEAD IN THE WATER. And we can’t pay for filters?! She came across as callous and tone deaf.

I don’t know. All I do know is that it is frustrating. I’m left with a bunch of questions…

Are there not communication protocols in place for this kind of event? Shouldn’t there be at least one official district email for all employees in a situation like this to prevent the spread of misinformation? As soon as a decision is made like today’s early dismissal, shouldn’t there be an immediate callout AND email to parents and teachers with all the necessary and specific information needed? Shouldn’t every avenue of communication be pursued at the moment the decision is made – instead of just one tweet??

READ MORE about Mary’s day and how she turned it into a teaching opportunity.

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


 

Elrod Announces Campaign for Nashville School Board

From a press release:

– Rachael Anne Elrod formally announces her candidacy for the District 2 seat on the Metro Nashville Board of Education.

“I’m raising my hand and running for school board to improve our schools so every child can thrive, and because I want every teacher to have the resources and support they need to succeed,” said Rachael Anne. “Our schools are made up of wonderful students, demanding parents, hardworking staff, and passionate teachers, and through listening and working together we can accomplish the goal of making our public schools the best they can be.”

 

Rachael Anne and her husband, Jeremy, have lived in District 2 for nearly a decade and currently reside in Crieve Hall. They look forward to seeing their three-year-old twin boys learn and grow in MNPS schools in the coming years. Between recent experiences with the school system, and ongoing conversations with parents, she knows the needs for system-wide collaboration, student-focused curriculum, improved classroom resources, and expanded Pre-K.

 

“Navigating our school system should not be difficult for families, whether a child is an English language learner, has special needs, or is just trying to get the most of their school,” said Rachael Anne. “It should be easy for every parent to understand a child’s options so they can receive services to not only do well, but to excel.”

 

Rachael Anne holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Austin Peay State University and taught first grade in Clarksville, Tennessee.

 

“Teaching my students was rewarding, but I went through some of the same frustrations just to do my job every day that MNPS teachers face,” said Elrod. “We have to support our teachers, who are the best and most important part of educating our children.”

 

Rachael Anne, 35, has extensive experience in corporate training and improving employee performances, where she was known for her problem-solving skills and results-driven development strategies.

 

“The people of Nashville have a unique spirit of innovating while building each other up and pulling together as a community,” said Elrod. “I want our schools to reflect the same values.”

The District 2 school board seat is located in South Nashville and currently held by Dr. Jo Ann Brannon, who has announced she will not run for reelection. To “Raise Your Hand for Rachael Anne,” visit ElrodForSchools.com or Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @elrodforschools.

 

Schools zoned for or located in District 2: Granbery Elementary, Shayne Elementary, Crieve Hall Elementary, Cole Elementary, Haywood Elementary, Tusculum Elementary, Croft Design Center, McMurray Middle School, Oliver Middle School, Valor Flagship Academy, Valor Voyager Academy, Cane Ridge High School, and Overton High School.

 

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


 

Teacher Voice Tuesday

A couple excerpts from blogs featuring teachers on this Tuesday.

First, from former (and now current) teacher Mary Holden, who blogs about her experience teaching and offers thoughts on her return in her most recent post:

I know what to expect. MNPS is struggling, as usual. We have some frustrating leadership issues, in my opinion. We have some scripted curriculum we are being directed to teach. We are being told there isn’t time to teach whole novels in English classes. We are being reminded frequently of the importance of the tests. We still have a culture of fear, where many teachers are afraid to speak out about issues. We still have an unhealthy obsession with data, data, data. We still have a HUGE over-reliance on tests and test data that is supposed to be used to inform our instruction.

READ MORE from Mary

Next, Scott Bennett offered a post on TC Weber’s blog about his experiences as an MNPS teacher. Here’s how it started:

When I left my teaching position there was no exit interview. No survey. No request for feedback from the district.* At the very least I was anticipating an email from H.R. I gave my notice and letter of resignation roughly 115 days ago, and I left my classroom on February 9th. So my departure wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Either they assume to know my professional opinions or they don’t want to hear them. Both are deeply troubling to me as teacher, a tax payer, a voter, and a parent. I’m not sure what kind of leadership doesn’t want feedback, but I’ve never met any great leaders who have insisted that they knew everything. Additionally, this district has difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. Some of that stems from the low pay, and some of it stems from the culture. If I’m a district leader and I can’t do much about the one, I’m sure as heck going to try and improve the other. As a teacher I’ve found that when students don’t care about the feedback I give, it is because they didn’t care about the assignment whether that is an essay or a presentation or a project. I end each semester asking about my teaching practices and how they can better align to student needs. I’m not sure what it says about an institution that doesn’t want feedback from it’s employees, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.

READ MORE of what Scott has to say about his time in MNPS and the challenges teachers face.

If you’re a teacher who’d like to share a story about your experience, email me at andy AT tnedreport.com — If you’d like to share anonymously, that can be arranged.

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


 

Open Seats

TC Weber reports that there could soon be as many as four open seats on the MNPS School Board.

He notes:

Pierce’s decision (not to run), along with an earlier announcement by District 6 Representative Tyese Hunter, means that at least two seats will change hands next go round. Word on the street has long been that District 2 Representative JoAnn Brannon also will not be seeking re-election. District 4 Representative and current Board Chair Anna Shepherd announced late last year that she intends to seek re-election.

READ MORE>

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