Look, I don’t know what on earth is happening at 2601 Bransford Avenue (MNPS Central Office), but since we first heard from the director about the school district’s current budget and plans for the proposed budget, board-director relations and public opinion have been volatile, to say the least. After learning of the $7 million loss in state funding – discovered in February – our world has been turned upside down.
I know it’s not about me, but I don’t like being stuck in a position of wanting to defend a man who was unfairly targeted when he first stepped into his role as director and now holding him accountable for putting our kids at risk. It’s not cool to witness the mistrust and public displays of petty but the director’s communications around the budget led to the debacle we see today. At the same time, I want people to back off with the personal attacks and accusations — more on this later.
Let’s look at the events that brought us here:
- In a letter to faculty and staff, Dr. Joseph announced a $7.5 million shortfall and freezes all spending.
- School Board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge call for an audit.
- Dr. Joseph proposes reshuffling Title I dollars from high poverty schools to hyper-poverty schools.
- Dr. Joseph retracts Title I reshuffle proposal.
- NewsChannel 5 Investigates uncovers a robust increase in unauthorized purchase requests, contracts that were not approved by the school board. From $300k the year before Dr. Joseph arrived to more than $2 million in his first year. Further, some of these contracts were awarded to old friends of the director.
- School board member Jill Speering calls for an ethics investigation into the director’s contract behavior.
- Dr. Joseph caught on a hot mic warning school board member Amy Frogge about making “libelous” accusations.
- The director and school board plan an emergency board retreat without informing the public. In Tennessee, the Sunshine Law requires “adequate public notice” for a convening of an elected body of two or more. UPDATE: Chairwoman, Anna Shepherd informed me that the retreat was not an emergency-called convening and, in fact, had been on the calendar for six months before it was removed.
- More communication fumbling from the district’s PIO and the school board chair calls the investigative reports “fake news.”
- Dr. Joseph recommends blowing up the legendary $7 million Reading Recovery program the day of the vote on the district’s budget. The reading program was started here in the early 2000’s by Jill Speering.
- Later, an unflattering meme was posted displaying a divisive play on the “hot mic” conversation between Dr. Joseph and board member Amy Frogge.
I remember after only 60 days of Dr. Joseph being on the job, the media and Metro Schools insiders were already questioning Dr. Joseph’s work. I strongly believed he was unfairly targeted as no other directors of schools in recent years had received that kind of premature scrutiny and criticism.
I don’t regret using my small voice to support giving a man a chance.
But today is different. Today, a year and a half after those unfair darts lodged at the brand new director, there are some serious things at play. While I have no intention of joining the chorus of voices who never gave him a chance, silence would be a slap in the face to students and families. This thing is bigger than one man and while I want Dr. Joseph to be successful and the city needs him to be successful, we must ask ourselves if he is he still the guy to get the job the done.
With the breakdown in board-director relations and a dip in public opinion, is it still possible to move the district toward becoming the fastest improving urban school in America – with Dr. Joseph?
My support for Dr. Joseph remains with a few conditions…
- that canceled board retreat must be rescheduled (with the quickness)
- communications needs a shake-up, and
- it’s ok to admit when mistakes have been made.
Egos must go, apologies made, and maybe even throw in some hiring changes. Get this right before the next school board election.