“Our schools are suffering from political neglect and from this point forward we must hold our mayor accountable for promises made to make education a priority. And if the Office of Mayor becomes vacant, I implore the next mayor to make our children job No. 1.” Tennessean Op-Ed
I wrote those words in the middle of the night one month ago, a week after Nashville’s then-mayor admitted to a “consensual” affair with a member of her security detail and promised the public that no other improprieties were committed. The news of the mayor’s two-year affair brought about an entirely new level of distraction to the city’s affairs in general, and to education, in particular. So, as someone who makes education her business, I was pissed that the children of Nashville would be kicked further down the priority list as residents play judge and jury in the case of sex, lies, and taxpayers dollars.
But that was then…
Since that journal entry-turned-blog-turned op-ed, Nashville has been turned on its ear. Nashville’s meteoric rise into rockstar-dom, with its rockstar mayor, and rockstar amenities has entered a harsh and rapid descent. In the weeks since that op-ed was published, more details about the scandal emerged but the mayor, seemingly unflappable, continued to conduct business as usual.
Life Happens Fast
At the end of last week, the school district released information about the budgeting process that confused many around the city. So Monday morning, Nashville education advocates wrangled with the news of the school district’s budget shortfall and money shifting. The usual suspects in Nashville education talk took to Twitter and Facebook to express confusion with the district’s money messaging. Questions and links to past articles and budgets were tossed about. Friends direct messaging each other asking WTF? We all went to sleep Monday night thinking we’d get the answers at the school board’s budget and finance committee meeting scheduled for the next day at 4 p.m.
Tuesday morning. Wow. Before my daily dose of caffeine, I was greeted by the news that our mayor would resign at a 10:00 a.m. press conference after a court appearance to plead guilty to $11,000 in felony theft.
Sorry schools, we’ve got another issue that demands our full attention.
All in one day, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, the nation watched the first female mayor of Nashville plead guilty in court, pledge her love to Nashville in her final speech as the CEO of this city, and head to booking to take her last official photo as mayor — a mugshot. If the day wasn’t full enough, we had the good fortune of witnessing Vice Mayor David Briley, grandson of former mayor Beverly Briley (civil rights connection) sworn in as the new Mayor of Nashville.
It was a busy day. A sad day, for sure. Even for me — a campaign staffer working against Megan Barry’s campaign 2 years ago.
Congratulations, Mayor David Briley.
OK, Schools, Your Turn — AGAIN
Despite all the life happening outside of education, education and its funding issues didn’t miss a beat.
Last week, in his blog titled “Psssst… By The Way, We’re Broke”, Nashville education blogger Thomas Weber included a letter from the director of schools to Metro School teachers explaining the current money situation. Dr. Shawn Joseph starts the letter with the discomfort of this year’s budgeting process, lets teachers know that he’s been listening to their concerns just before lowering the boom.
“Our unexpected enrollment decrease this year means we will receive $7.5 million less in state funds than we budgeted for this year.”
In the week since the director of schools published this message, the Tennessean has written a couple of articles to explain the missing $7.5 million and the redistribution of Title I dollars from schools with less than 75% poverty to schools with more than 75% poverty. It’s oddly unsettling that the narrative from last year’s budget process is vastly different from today’s storyline.
Here’s what I wrote this time last year:
The $902 million budget for school year 2017-2018 has received little backlash, which could mean one of three things: either the district has done an effective job communicating and engaging the public, or charter schools have taken top billing – again, or everyone is just silly happy about the proposed salary increases.
Oh, the memories.
What the hell happened in one year?
Thankfully, I’m not the only one asking this question. There seems to be a consensus of surprise by the district’s surprise at the decline in student enrollment. Metro Schools typically does a great job with student projections and adjusting appropriately, so “unexpected enrollment decrease” is a hard pill to digest.
The cloudy communication from the school district opened up a gap for anyone desperate to make sense of the shocking money situation to find something, anything to blame. Someone tweeted the enrollment decline was due to women having children later in life, others made gentrification the culprit, and charter schools got the usual treatment. Privately, many were going after Dr. Joseph and central office.
I’ll be wading through the budget documents over the next few days and will be watching the budget meeting and public hearing next Tuesday. To be continued…
Meanwhile, keep ya head up, Nashville.