Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Violation of the election rules

Ever since I saw Al Gore's face on the Rolling Stone cover during the 2000 elections at my polling place I've been very aware of the little things that oughtn't be while voting. Today, I had hoped that my voting experience would be smooth. I was hoping that pointing out that the placard with Gov. Bredesen's face and name advertising Books from Birth should be removed from the voting area was going to be the worst of it. It wasn't.

It was about noon and I was voting at the Madison Library. There was a line of some 25 people trying to be patient. Most of us had hoped to avoid the long lines by voting early but we made the best of it.

After about 10 minutes of waiting in line I turned the corner and at the head of the line was a late 30ish, heavier white woman of average height with long curly red hair wearing a white T-shirt with "Vote NO on Amendment 1" bold as brass on it. I could hardly believe it! How did she manage to get into the building with that on and then stand in line so long without anyone saying anything to her? This was a clear violation of campaign rules and yet there she stood: a billboard for her cause inside the polling place, steps from the machines, right next to a poll worker and facing the rest of the voters in line.

I pointed at her and said she wasn't allowed to have that message on in here. That of course, made everyone else in line look at her and she seemed surprised that I'd called her out. I said again "You can't have that on here. You need to leave." Without saying anything she slipped into the room with the actual voting machines and headed to the table to go through the process. She had a magenta sweater over her arm but she was making no attempt to put it on to cover her campaign signage or apologize for forgetting she even had it on. I could only conclude that her display was an intentional violation of the campaign rules.

I slipped past the line, past the election worker who was handing out "I voted" stickers and stood next to Ms. No. I looked at the election worker at the table and told her that Ms. No was violating the rules and needed to remove her shirt or cover it up. The election worker agreed and Ms. No said she would but made absolutely no attempt to put her sweater on. I asked her when she was going to comply. I insisted that she had to leave the room. I asked for the person in charge and the poll worker pointed out Peggy West who was busy helping another voter. Ms. West said she'd take care of it but she continued with the voter instead of coming over immediately and taking care of this egregious violation of the rules. We were going about in circles-- my asking Ms. No when she was going to follow the rules and she saying she would without ever doing so.

Ms. West finally did come over and explain to Ms. No that she wasn't getting any further until she complied with the rules and Ms. No again said she would. Ms. West took up my mantra of "When?" Still Ms. No was making no attempt to cover up. Ms West wasn't happy with my 'help' and said she could call someone. "Fine with me", I responded.

She turned her attention to Ms. No and yet again Ms. No responded that she would cover it up but didn't even begin to do so. Ms. West looked at me and told me to leave the room. I figured I'd done about as much as I could at that point and did get back in line. It wasn't until after I left that Ms. No finally began to put her sweater on. By the time she finished processing and stood in line for a machine she was covered.

How is it that the sticker man didn't call her on this? That's nearly as incredulous as Ms. No's brazenness in violating the rules. My car with its bumper stickers was parked outside the 100' line but her T-shirt gets a pass? No. This shouldn't have happened. It's normal for me to discover campaign literature every time I vote. I know it's a big job. I know it's tough to get poll workers as it is. Part of the problem is the system requires a loooong day commitment and not enough of us have that much free time. I believe half day's would be better and would expand the pool of people available. Something better must be worked out. We've got to hire people that aren't afraid to challenge the violators and ensure that the process remains as untainted as possible.

When I got back to the line the conversation was about "How could (Ms. No) do that?" To some people the ends justify the means I suppose.

Monday, October 30, 2006

It doesn't matter

This quote from Metro Nashville Public School Boards Chairman Marsha Warden is in today's Tennessean:

Marsha Warden, school board chairwoman, said its operations were transparent and would continue to be. However, the board is looking to be more sensitive to personal issues for employees and parents, she said.

"In no way, we intended to limit anyone's access to the performance of the district, and certainly the director's evaluation is a direct measurement of how we are doing as a district," Warden said. "I just don't know how many people have their personnel evaluation publicly scrutinized."

It doesn't matter how many of us have this sort of scrutiny. The fact is Pedro Garcia (and others) took the job knowing we had these minimal sunshine laws in this state and their personnel information would be and should be public record. If they objected to the 'scrutiny' they should not have taken the job.

The only people I'm concerned about is the children who are witnesses to the conduct of their teachers and the staff. I hate having them in the witness chair with all those adults surrounding them asking them over and over what happened, did that really happen, are you sure? But it's for their sake that we've got to ensure this process is as open as possible so that we know what to look for and who to be looking at. For their sake--accountability, full and legitimate accountably--does matter and is worth fighting for.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Blair, here's a suggestion...

Well, the incentive pay plan for Alex Green & Inglewood Elementary schools is dead--thanks to the MNEA's insistence on running the effort.

The City Paper quotes Blair Wilson, the public face of the donors, as saying:

“Exactly what we’re going to be doing, I can’t tell you,” Wilson said. “Are we still interested in pay for performance? Yes. Are we still interested in all other types of plans that could be for public education? Yes.”
My suggestion is that you consider a partnership with the Education Consumers Clearinghouse and/or Save Our Students.

ECC already has a Value Added Achievement Award. Amqui Elementary School Principal Brenda Steele was last year's local recipient. I've known it's head, ETSU Professor of Human Development and Learning John Stone for over a decade and have appreciated his group's information and insight.

Metro Councilman Eric Crafton represents the Save Our Students group. As promised earlier this year they'll be reviewing and collating the latest DOE information about our school systems as it's released in the next few weeks in order to compare it with last year's information. So far this volunteer effort has provided very valuable information about our schools system and they could certainly use some money to continue their effort.

We can't reward excellence in education if we don't know where it is. Both of these groups can help us determine who is doing excellent work and the Anne Potter Wilson Foundation can provide the financial rewards.

Public School business must be public

The Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education is suggesting to the Tennessee School Boards Association that they pursue legislation that would allow more of the BOE business to be conducted away from public accountability. This must not happen.

Today's City Paper quotes former BOE Chair Pam Garret as saying:

“There are some things that I felt like, and I think we all agree, would be better off in private, like the hiring of the director, the evaluation of the director,” Garrett said. “For some districts the issue of purchasing property would be considered something that would be better off to be confidential.”

The board is asking to exempt meetings to consider employee dismissal, compensation, discipline or performance, as well as collective bargaining matters, from the law. This could effect certain aspects of union negotiations.
All of the above are decisions that are vital to the running of the district. These decisions will commit the district to paths that will have long term and far reaching impact and absolutely must be conducted with full accountability to the public that is paying for the system, the parents with children in the system and to the voters that determine who will oversee the system. To take make this information private is completely wrong and mocks the term "public education".

I understand that some of these issues are delicate. I understand what it's like to have people discuss you and your performance with little regard to the fact that you can hear them and that may scare a few potential employees off. I know that we may pay a bit more for land because someone was paying attention to the proceedings and realized the value of their property. Disciplinary proceedings are very difficult but we don't need to have secret trials determining whether people come or go. The public is owed the information about the conduct of it's employees and employees are owed the safety of a public proceeding. Going secret with these discussions comes at too high a price.

Part of the problem is the attitude that our board meetings must be sedate, polite and entirely business-like, that there should be no public disagreement or fireworks. Policy Governance rules and demands order in the interpretation of some--perhaps at the cost of legitimate in depth discussion. Somewhere we bought into the lie that healthy disagreement and airing of views is shameful. It's only so if the participants lower themselves to personal attacks and not the facts of the matter.

It's my opinion that the BOE and MNPS are still doing a poor job of communicating exactly what they are about to do and have done as it is. They don't need more hiding places for the people's business.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Welcome Firefox 2.0!

I like the updated Firefox browser. There are several improvements that I'm already a fan of and didn't even know I 'needed' them.

I like having the tabs contain the X for closing it. That X for the current tab is easier for me to see than the orange bar at the top of the tab in 1.5.

I like scrolling from side to side for more tabs. I hated that the tabs just got smaller and I couldn't read which tabs they were. It wasn't unusual for me to have 30 tabs open at the same time and unless there were fav.ico's to give me some clue I had to just keep clicking from tab to tab to find the one I needed at the time.

I like being able to move the tabs around. It'll be easier to research and blog when I can put the items I'm referring to all in one section.

I was a bit panicked at the beginning when after the installation I was told that Session Saver wouldn't work. That add-on has been a life safer more than once for me and the thought of not having it was pretty stressful. Thankfully it's been included in 2.0 and Guru's Blog told me how to enable it.

I REALLY like having spell check available in my browser.

The only thing that Firefox doesn't seem to do yet that IE does is let me e-mail a page to myself. But perhaps I just haven't found that extension yet.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Now they're cooking with gas

Yes, yes, yes. Finally, some plans that make much more sense for the east side of Riverfront park.

Today's Tennessean reports that 'less splashy' plans (get it--river, water, splash) are now being seriously considered. I'm very glad to read this. $40 million is still a lot of money but it's better than $1.8 BILLION. At least we're headed in the right direction.

The proposals include replacing the asphalt parking lots around LP Field with a grass turf strong enough for cars to park on during football games and other events at the stadium. Trees could be planted between the rows of parking spaces, creating an urban grove that could be used for events when the parking lots are not in use. (snip)

Other ideas include building an amphitheater at the eastern edge of Public Square Park and connecting it to Riverfront Park with a floating walkway. Across the river, parkland could be expanded with an observation deck, a water park for children and an esplanade.
But Councilman Mike Jameson, whose district includes downtown and east Nashville, said he fears the proposals could distract from the larger effort to remake Nashville's waterfront.
CM Jameson should be the first one shouting that our city's finite resources should be focused on remaking the poor performing schools in his district and the crime rate instead.

Is Tn Homeschooling Up or Down?

The buzz in Tennessee's homeschooling world this morning is a report that originated in Murfreesboro's Daily News Journal which was sub-headed "Parents increasingly opt for homeschooling children" is being picked up and passed on with a different twist by other local media.

WSMV and WKRN focused on the decrease in the number of homeschoolers registered with the LEA and headlined their piece "Statistics show decline in state home-schooling".

I don't believe homeschooling is down at all in Tennessee. What may be down is the number registering with the local education agencies (LEA). I've no doubt that bothers some people.

DNJ reporter Robinson-Blair quoted some statistics from the Tennessee Department of Education

Figures released from the Tennessee Department of Education indicate the state had 5,365 homeschool students in 2004. That number jumped to 6,418 in 2005 but dropped to 4,525 in 2006, according to the state.
There is some background information that is not included in this story and three things really do need to be mentioned for context.

1. During that big jump Dr. Randy Hankins was in charge of the TN DOE office for homeschooling. He communicated with the homeschooling community in a way quite unlike any other in his position ever had. I'm sure some of his peers considered him too pro-homeschooling. He expressed to me several times that public schoolers and homeschoolers were not enemies but should be working together to ensure the education of the children. I believe his attitude and professionalism made homeschoolers feel more welcome and safe in registering with the LEA.

2. The TN DOE has been pushing since just before Dr. Hankins left in the spring to clean up their homeschooling numbers. I don't know why. I do know that recently a report came out from that office suggesting the legislature take another look at the homeschooling regulations. From page 6 of that report's .pdf:
The General Assembly may wish to consider whether more information is needed on home school programs and students, including information on compliance with state laws. The General Assembly may wish to consider whether the Department of Education should have the responsibility to monitor compliance with and ensure enforcement of the home school laws. Additonally, if it determines that more information is needed on the home school program, it should amend state law to give the department authority to collect such information.
Publicily calling for more oversight of homeschoolers will drive them to private entities.

3. At the request of the TN DOE local LEA's have been cleaning up their files and several have been asking for more information than is legally required, Davidson County included. It's difficult enough for homeschoolers to trust the public school system, but throw in the fact that they're already asking for more information than required and it's no surprise if families decide to take a different route.

Yes, it's a frustration for bean counters when they can't track and study us. But as long as we're complying with the law and our children aren't filling up the police blotters or welfare rolls--it's really not any of their business.

Everything I'm hearing and experiencing leads me to believe that homeschooling is still growing in our state. It's becoming more diverse ethnically, religiously, politically and especially growing amongst families with special needs children. Perhaps that growth is a problem for those who make their living in a different education choice--but protectionist tactics isn't the best way to deal with competition.

Monday, October 23, 2006

School uniforms

Also on Tuesday's agenda under "Board Development" is a committee Report on Standard School Attire--code for school uniforms I suppose.

What I'm hearing from parents is that school uniforms are cheaper, harder wearing, make life easier for families in the morning and parents are nearly all for 'em. They may not be fans in the beginning but it doesn't take long to convert them.

School staff's are also big fans as it does encourage better behavior amongst the students and those that don't belong are quickly identified.

What's yet to be heard is a legitimate discouraging word about uniforms. The only one that comes to mind is the whine that children will lose their freedom of expression via fashion. Sorry. Children don't really have a right to freedom of expression. They do have time away from school to express themselves. I'm more concerned about whether these children learn to read and write.

Fashion, and not enough fabric, have become too much of a distraction and it needs to be reigned in. Trying to decipher the current dress codes can be too subjective but there's not much confusion about a white polo shirt and khaki pants (legimately belted at the waist please).

Magnet school notices

Tuesday evening's consent agenda for the MNPS BOE includes their response to Metro Council Resolution RS-2006-1518 which the agenda says reads:

"A resolution requesting the Metropolitan Board of Public Education to send Magnet school selection/acceptance letters used to fill vacancies by certified mail."
The administration says this will cost $19,811 to implement and the Garcia administration is recommending the Board say no. Since the Council didn't send a check along with this resolution I do think the BOE is wise to decline the suggestion. Done this way it comes across as an unfunded mandate. Now the Council might want to consider sending the BOE a check for $20,000 to be used expressly for this purpose to counter that criticism and show citizens that they are concerned about seeing the problem solved.

I do think the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System has done a very poor job of communicating with parents of magnet school applicants and the Council's suggestion is a good one. Garcia's administration hasn't made reasonable changes to the entire magnet notification process that could vastly improve the communication between participants and ensure that all the available magnet slots are utilized. For the Board to just turn down this suggestion without a plan of their own in place is going to look bad in the community and come off as further evidence that they don't really want to improve the process.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

MNPS BOE Agenda Packet for October 24,2006

I never did receive the agenda packet for the last meeting so I was plesantly surprised when this week's arrived in the mail. I've uploaded a .pdf of the 61 page document to my website.

There was, however, a bright purple page announcing:

This is the last Board Agenda that will be U.S. mailed. The agenda will be posted on the MNPS website at http://www.mnps.org/Page23.aspx when it is delivered to the Board of Education.
Full agenda packets will be available in the Board Administrator's office at 2601 Bransford Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee, 37204 if you prefer to pick one up.

I've written asking if the agenda uploaded to that website is merely just the agenda or if it's going to be the entire agenda packet. I'll let you know what they say. I think they should create an e-list subscription of folks who want to receive that entire agenda packet in .pdf format.

Highlights from this 10/24/06 agenda include:

Both the 9/26/06 and the 10/10/06 minutes are included for approval.

The 10/10/06 minutes include an overview of the Science & Math School at Vanderbilt for MNPS students to begin in the Fall of 2007. This would be a one day a week session according to the minutes.

"Big Picture School, geared toward students who are potential drop-outs, high-risk students, etc." was introduced at the 10/10/06 meeting and this upcoming meeting includes the awarding of a contract "to provide the necessary expertise and services to enable MNPS to open a Big Picture School in 2007." Cost is somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. I'm not fond of $50K in monetary slop. The new Director of the Office of Reform and Innovations will evaluate this on a monthly basis to determine it's usefulness.

The 1Point Solutions (no surprise their website is down) scandal, political scandal, scandal touches our MNPS staff and so the BOE will consider moving that service to Fringe Benefits Management Company. Maybe someone should check their political contributions record before approving this contract. [UPDATE: maybe there won't be much consideration by the BOE as this item is on the consent agenda. That means unless one of the BOE members pulls it there will be no public discussion Tuesday evening.]

The school calendar is up for discussion and the balanced calendar isn't dead. Interestingly the SEIU and the Steelworkers have indicated their opposition to a balanced calendar but failed to appear at a meeting about it. According to Dr. Garcia's District Calendar EE-14 report:
Representatives from SEIU and the Steelworkers were invited but did not attend the meeting in which agreement was reached on the balanced calendar. In a previous meeting, SEIU and the Steelworkers indicated their opposition to a balanced calendar based on the time without pay being spread throughout the year rather than all in the summer. Their concern is about the loss of earnings during the summer for less than 12 month employees. the administration, MNEA and the parent [representative] unanimously recommended that the Board adopt the balanced calendar for 2008-2009 due to the many advantages in all aspects of the calendar.
Both a traditional and a balanced calendar are provided for review.

And it is a new day. Former BOE member George Blue's self-evaluation system is being replaced by a debriefing asking: What did we do well? What could we do better? What would you wish we do at our next meeting?

Again a .pdf version of the 61 page agenda packet can be found at KayBrooks.com here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Do I trust Bill or not?

I usually use Firefox for Internet browsing. However, there are a couple of sites that won't play with Firefox (Microsoft Office templates for one) so I'm forced to use Internet Explorer on occasion. Microsoft IE7 is now out. It seems really odd to be getting this warning while downloading IE7 from the Microsoft site:

"...this file type can potentially harm your computer. If you do not trust this source, do not run or save this software."

So the question is--do I trust Microsoft or not? And considering their new Genuine Advantage program, I'd say we trust each other about the same.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Safety stats

The assault on the school bus a week ago is still being investigated.

The district does have a District Standard Operating Procedure (DSOP) concerning school bus discipline, which states that school bus drivers are to “report infractions to the principal on the School Bus Incident Report.”

These reports are then kept at the individual school and the school district does not keep a record. City Paper
Here's a suggested policy--all reports are forwarded to the district, records will be kept and the police will be called. We can't ask these drivers to turn their backs on these students and not cover their backs for them.

Probably the best line in the August campaign came from Charles Townsend, a bus driver, running to represent the 5th District. He makes it clear to the children on his bus that 'you ride my way or walk yours'. Perhaps we should promote Mr. Townsend and see if he can make that clear to all the riders on our busses.

We're still not being given good numbers on the safety of our schools and busses. This has got to change. See CompStatting Schools and In loco parentis loco.

MNEA voting practices

MNEA voting: I really didn't expect the MNEA vote to turn around. The best news out of last evening's meeting may be this:

The ordeal has raised questions about MNEA voting methods which have no procedure in place for record keeping.

Shannon Strahan, MNEA representative from Two Rivers Middle School, introduced a proposal that would record who votes.

“Our faculty didn’t really have a stance one way or another on the diversified pay, but we were concerned that we needed proper procedures in voting,” Strahan said.

Her proposal was referred to MNEA’s nominations and elections committee.
City Paper
I sincerely hope that improvements are made. It's the right of the citizens of Nashville to know that these votes, which impact our children, are as clean, solid and verifiable as possible. I would think union leadership would also want to ensure the integrity of the voting procedure. Further they've got to find a way to let the rest of us know just how many people are actually making the decisions that impact so many lives that have no vote at all.

Porter's explanation

Here's MNPS BOE member Gracie Porter's (District 5) explanation for her abstention on the vote to give Superintendent Pedro Garcia another 3 years to run the system:

-----Original Message-----
From: gracie@gracieporter.com [mailto:gracie@gracieporter.com]
Sent: Thursday, October 19, 2006 8:08 PM
To: Kay Brooks
Subject: Re: Garcia vote

As you may have heard, the school board meeting was filled with emotion and conflicting views. The board was far from being in agreement on all issues. The public and many special interests were also watching this vote to see how this new board would handle Dr. Garcia's contract.

I'm not satisfied with how Dr. Garcia has responded to the needs of our district, but I wasn't ready to show him the door. I hoped that this new board might be able to make some progress if we invested another year in building a relationship. If we were successful, we could extend Dr. Garcia's contract. If not, then we would face some difficult choices.

I was prepared to vote for a one year extension to Dr. Garcia's contract, but not for three years. My first vote reflected that view, but when the second vote came up, it was clear the majority of the board was going to support a three year contract. If I had voted no, some might have interpreted that as a rejection of Dr. Garcia. Voting yes could have incorrectly suggested that I agreed with a three year contract. An abstention was the only way to communicate that I thought another options was needed. My vote allows me to explain my position and I thank you for giving me that opportunity.
My immediate response back was:
Thank you for this partial explanation. I wasn’t a witness to the vote, and it’s not available online, so I would appreciate your patience here—

Why couldn’t you have stated you were voting no on 3 years but would vote yes for 1?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

She abstainied!

The surprise is not that Pedro Garcia got three more years to be superintendent of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools but that District 5 voters were represented by an abstention. Gracie Porter who won support from the District 5 voters thanks to her close connections to the MNEA, the SEIU, AFL-CIO, 'Democracy in Tennessee', the Chamber of Commerce, along their manpower and money got very little representation last evening when push came to shove. Instead of voting no on the 3 year contract extension she abstained. She got 2709 votes and we got none on this issue.

Since there is no explanation on her website I've e-mailed her for one.

Gracie needs to remember that her contract with the people of District 5 lasts only until August of 2008 and 2,197 people chose someone else to represent our District. Votes like this aren't going to be helpful if she intends to stay around at least as long as Garcia.


K. BROOKS 4 200 0 612 816
L. H. HART 4 183 0 582 769
G. PORTER 11 649 0 2049 2709
C. L. TOWNSEND, SR 14 172 0 426 612
WRITE-IN NP 0 5 0 3 8


21 of 21 Precincts Reporting
Totals from Metro Election Commission

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Incentive: Who is Blair Wilson?

Apparently, a fellow with money who knows people with money.

Googling reveals very little:
PENCIL donor
NAPE donor
Donor to new school board member David Fox to the tune of $500.00 at that point.

Thankfully, the City Paper reveals a bit more in this morning's article about the return to negotiating this incentive plan.

“In the absence of getting feedback from the representative assembly, the only specifics that we would want to change is that we would want to revert to the bonus amount that the board agreed to but then Mr. (Blair) Wilson refused to accept,” [MNEA negotiator Eric] Huth said.

Wilson, one of the four private donors from the Anne Potter Wilson Foundation, said the current plan was organized on purpose to reflect the potential to go district wide and secure private funding.

“We envision this plan as a first step, not as an end in itself,” Wilson said. “If the pilot is successful, hopefully we could do a plan that would encompass all 70 of the Metro elementary schools funded with private dollars.”

“I just don’t think it’s a program that we should try to institute in one or two schools if we don’t think we can replicate it,” Wilson said. “That’s the way we came about these numbers to get something that we thought could be replicated and privately funded.”
Mr. Wilson isn't the bad guy in this picture--no matter how Huth spins it.

Unfortunately, the teacher's union has a track record of making sure that everyone gets a slice of bread even if they didn't plant the wheat, grind the wheat, or knead the dough. And until that changes--we won't see any real changes in our schools either.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Incentive briefing notes from Inglewood meeting

On Tuesday, August 22, 2006, hours before my term as a BOE member expired I attended the briefing on the Nashville Alliance Award Initiative given at Inglewood Elementary School. I've found my notes and I thought I'd share with you what those teachers and staff members in attendance were told. I do this to add first hand information to the discussion about what was known and what teacher concerns were.

References to committee mean the joint BOE and MNEA committee created to hash out the exact incentive terms.

I'll start by saying we met in the gymnasium of Inglewood Elementary and it was fairly full. The chatter I overhead between staff members indicated a great deal of positive interest in the proposal.

Other than Principal Brown and her staff those in attendance included:
Pedro Garcia, Nashville Superintendent of Schools
Jamye Merritt, MNEA President
Eric Huth VP MNEA and their chief negotiator
Kay Simmons, Executive Director Nashville Alliance for Public Education
Vince Cummings, SEIU rep (who was upset that he [and by that he meant the union] hadn't been invited.)
Diane Long of the MNPS Information Office (formerly of the Tennessean newspaper).
Mr. Blair Wilson

Jamye Merritt spoke saying that the first meeting regarding this incentive plan was scheduled for the next morning at 8:00 a.m. There was a starting document and they hoped to end with something better. "We want to do what's best for teachers." And she said that Dr. Garcia indicated the incentive would be 'for doing what you already do."

Mr. Blair Wilson was introduced as the money person. (I sat right next to him. While I wanted to thank him and speak more about the effort I only had time to give him my card as he was asked to speak to someone else before they needed to leave.)

Kay Simmons made some comments about the purpose of the NAPE being to align private support for public schools. This incentive pay would be called the Nashville Alliance Awards Initiative.

Pedro Garcia spoke for a bit about the history of the Alliance, the money that had been raised and the renovation of Randall for staff development. He then got back to the business at hand saying that originally the incentive plan was only going to include one school. However Mr. Wilson agreed to fund two schools. Garcia went on to say that the committee makes decisions but it all must be approved by Garcia and Mr. Wilson. They hoped to have a final agreement by October 15. Garcia said there was "nothing different you have to do." It's based on student achievement [with] a maximum of $6,000 per person by grade level.

Merritt: MNEA isn't abandoning incentive pay across the board for all teachers.

Question: How will growth be measured?
Answer: Merritt: Not yet determined. Committee will determine. You are the people it's going to effect.

Q: How was Inglewood Elementary chosen?
A: Garcia: We looked at schools on the target list and close to good standing category.
A: Wilson: And with a strong leadership team

Q: If we don't improve?
A: Garcia: No implications other than NCLB.
A: Merritt: This is a three year commitment. Is your question "Is there a stigma if progress not made?"
A: Simmons: Details not worked out. Not intention to have stigma. No public announcement with results. "Your neighbor won't know."
A: Merritt: Payroll information is public.

Q: How will support people be considered?
A: Merritt: MNEA will consider only certificated person.
A: Garcia: Everyone in school will share in success.

Q: If it goes really well will it go to all Metro schools?
A: Garcia: Just not that much money available. We need more community participation.
A: Wilson: "Personal goal" of his to do it. Unless it's successful it won't be expanded.

Q: How often will committee update us?
A: Garcia: Deadline is October 15.
A: Merritt: Be happy to come back and explain and at a community forum also.

Q: Are these committee meeting open? Sunshine Law?
A: Merritt: Meetings during the day but it's open. [I understood her to be saying that teachers may not be able to attend as the meetings will be during their regular work hours.]

Q: Will there be pre-assessment and post?
A: Garcia: You have to have some. We do that anyway. Idea is to not do anything extra.
A: Wilson: Baseline will be the previous year. "Kids are tested enough." Not seen as a program to help teachers but to help kids.

Q: What if we work hard and the scores don't go up? The community will know, it'll be in the paper.
A: Garcia: "My belief is that it will happen."
A: Wilson: We're not seeking publicity until the scores go up.

Q: Were Arkansas teachers [where a similar program was studied by MNPS, MNEA and the BOE] able to tell you what they did differently and what we can do?
A: Merritt: They worked as a team.
A: Wilson: Great idea. Principal Brown can call Arkansas and see what worked.
A: Merritt: School was already showing gains. If it doesn't happen it won't be because you didn't work hard.

Q: Did they use reward programs for children?
A: Garcia: We haven't seen anything at the elementary level.

Ending comment from Garcia: I'm really sorry that you were disappointed by not having met [AYP]. It doesn't mean you're a bad faculty. It doesn't mean anything to me. You're working hard and doing everything you need to do.

Not your grandfather's union anymore

Gail Kerr provides some important information about the teacher union's status in her column this morning.

The MNEA has been the official bargaining agent of teachers since the 1960s. By state law, the salaries and benefits of all teachers are determined through a bargaining process with the union.

A 1978 state law said that teachers unions can be decertified by the school board if their membership falls below 50%. But the MNEA is exempt from that law — it was grandfathered in.

But that doesn't mean the MNEA is invincible. It can be challenged by a majority of its members, which is highly unlikely. Or the school board can decline the next contract.

That's right. All the school board has to do, after negotiating in good faith, is decline the contract if the union won't budge on issues like the bonus incentives. That would trigger the 1978 state law, and other unions or bargaining groups would compete for the power to lead the teachers (granted, that could also trigger the teachers to take action).

Taking this tack the BOE will, at the very least, give teachers the opportunity to affirm that MNEA is the representation they want instead of the one they have to live with because it worked for their grandfathers. It's past time for a vote of confidence for this union. If the vote for MNEA--great, they've got what they want and we'll work with them. But once every 40 years is not too often for this union to be held accountable to its membership for its actions.

I've cruised through the code and it looks like Gail is referring to TCA 49-5-604
49-5-604. Rights preserved.
(a) Those rights and responsibilities of boards of education, directors of schools and professional employees as contained in this title are not statutorily modified or repealed by this part.

(b) This part shall not operate so as to annul, modify or preclude the renewal or continuation of any recognition heretofore entered into between a board of education and a professional employees' organization. Upon the termination of an existing agreement, subsequent professional employee organization recognition shall be governed under the provisions of this part; provided, that the time schedule established in § 49-5-605 shall not be applicable and recognition with all accompanying rights shall become available immediately upon the completion of the other required recognition procedures.

[Acts 1978, ch. 570, §§ 8, 17; T.C.A., §§ 49-5507, 49-5516.]

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Progressive church and state

An interesting phrase from the Nashville Scene's Best of Edition. Under "Best Political Rescue Operation of the Year: The August School Board Elections" penned by Lisa Robbins comes this:

"This August, the electorate rode to the schools’ rescue, with a little help from a Texas church (good luck, Rev. Lisa Hunt)"
Just what sort of help did that Texas church provide in influencing the election in Lisa Hunt's old school board district? Or is that sentence merely worded badly?

[You're forewarned: content at the Nashville Scene is frequently of an "adult" nature. ]

Buena Vista smells

Buena Vista Elementary School has a strange odor, according to this morning's Tennessean. And hs had since the school was built in 1931.

A mystery odor described as a sewage or sulfur water stench has permeated parts of Buena Vista elementary school near Germantown off and on for three years.
The problem was first reported when the redbrick school built in 1931 and located at 1531 9th Avenue N. reopened in 2003, after renovations and an expansion.
And this interesting tidbit was provided at no extra charge:
A pre-K-4 "enhanced option" school with an extended school year, it has 315 pupils — one white, the rest black.

WKRN blog overview correction

For the second time in this fledgling WKRN effort at a weekly blog overview I've been quoted. Thanks WKRN.

However, in this weeks' edition what I wrote and what Brittany Gilberts says I wrote are not the same. Thankfully my words are on the screen as she reads so I caught it. So, for those folks who were only listening let me make a correction.

What Brittany said I said:

"She says that only 40% of the teachers in the Metro union were allowed to vote..."
What I wrote and what was on the screen:
"40% of the Metro teachers aren't union members and didn't even get a chance to vote on this proposal..."
We don't actually know how many of the union members were or were not allowed to vote or actually voted. We do know that only 60% of the teachers in Metro Nashville are union members. Understandably, the other 40% don't get to vote in MNEA elections.

She begins the section on the MNEA vote at :53 and the misquote begins at 1:07.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Merritt to BOE 10/9/06

The MNEA has posted to their web site President Jamye Merrit's comments to the BOE Tuesday, October 9, 2006. I'm replicating them here:

MNEA President’s Statement to Metropolitan Board of Education
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Dr. Jamye Merritt, President
Metropolitan Nashville Education Association

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am here tonight in light of Mrs. Warden’s inquiry to us insinuating that somehow MNEA mismanaged the vote on the teacher bonus pay and the inaccurate media coverage it generated.

I want all of us to be clear that the vote was conducted in the same way all official votes of the MNEA membership are conducted. It was a fair and secret ballot vote.

And with today’s technology, more information was sent and available to our members than ever before. I don’t believe the real is here was lack of information.

I regret that not every member exercised his or her right to vote, but that’s a decision MNEA has no control over.

Nor was the problem reluctance to participate in an experimental bonus plan. You, and we, are currently working with Peabody College on a similar idea involving a 10 million dollar federal grant.

So what was it? Two things stand out in my conversations with teachers.

One, teachers don’t trust this administration to do what it says it will do. There’s a great deal of skepticism out there about the motives and direction of this administration at every step. Couple that with the secrecy about where this money is coming from, who’s involved, and what they’re after, and you have a “no” vote.

My refusal to release the actual vote count and the schools voting is based on our constitution and bylaws which require a secret ballot vote. I believe that making that information public would compromise our integrity. I also have no doubt that it would result in reprisals against individuals and schools by the administration.

The second, and perhaps more serious concern is, why is our elected school board being ordered around by someone who showed up with a sack full of money? Shouldn’t the board and teachers be the ones developing plans to increase student learning and THEN seeking funding for them? Is the school board running the schools, or is the Nashville Alliance now in charge?

With respect, I suggest this board establish a policy on how it will accept and handle private or secret donations.

MNEA hopes that this is not the end of our negotiations around the matter of legitimate diversified pay plans. As we negotiate in the future, MNEA will bring proposals on diversified pay that built on our members’ input and our research. Our goal will always be to give every Metro student a great public school.

To that end, I’d like to propose an idea for the use of the $400,000 donation. Since the donor’s interest was supposedly in raising student test scores, and since it’s the students who must do the learning and test taking, and since the teachers at Alex Green and Inglewood can hardly work any harder than they already are:

MNEA suggests that you and the Alliance develop a Student Awards plan and give the money to them.

Thank you for your attention, and on behalf of Metro’s teachers, thank you for the service you give to our community.

My suggestion to the MNEA members that don't trust the administration is to follow the advice of Ronald Reagan that worked so well in taking down communism: "Trust but verify". Do all of this out in the open so that everyone knows what's going and and everyone is accountable.

Regarding the vote: we're not asking for names or a breakdown by schools or any other identifiers, we're asking for totals. How many of those members voted which way? The parents, taxpayers and voters of Nashville are paying for this system. I believe they're less concerned about a donor with a sack full of money running the schools than a union and administration that isn't completely open with them about how things are run.

Further the board and the teachers have been running this sytems for quite some time now--and look where we are. Perhaps someone with some ideas and a sack full of money ought to at least be given a fair hearing.

Incentive revote?

The City Paper has late breaking news that the teacher's union and the BOE are going back to the negotiating table to discuss the incentive plan for Alex Green and Inglewood Elementary that was voted down a week ago by an unknown number of union employees.

In a letter mailed Thursday, Merritt agreed to sit back down with the school board as soon as MNEA chief negotiator, vice president Erick Huth, could schedule a meeting.
I suggest they both find some time this coming week so they have some legitimate answers for their membership for their Thursday, October 19 meeting. That'll probably mean Mr. Huth is out of class again. I hate that for the children. (He really needs to commit to one team or the other.)
Gary Hughes, a Two Rivers Middle School teacher and MNEA member, is challenging the union’s vote and has told Merritt to expect discussion on the issue at the body’s upcoming Oct. 19 meeting.

“She knows it’s coming because I told her that I was going to force this issue at the meeting next Thursday,” Hughes said.

Hughes wants the MNEA to take another vote after properly informing all members of the organization about the grant proposal.

“I’ve suggested that we have another vote after all the MNEA members have been educated on this issue,” Hughes said. “The problem was there was no education on this issue.”
Thank you, Mr. Hughes. I appreciate your leadership in this.

I would hope that part of the education process would include actually hearing a presentation from the Nashville Alliance for Public Education and the BOE so that these teachers are getting more than the MNEA viewpoint. I would also hope that they'd consider the wishes of the non-MNEA personnel that will also be impacted by the MNEA vote.

Hat tip: Ben C.

Sour apples

I liked the headline on this Nashville Eye column in today's Tennessean: Teachers must reach past union and take this apple. It seems a very accurate and reasonable suggestion. Bo Roberts, identified as a Nashville marketing consultant, writes:

There have been abuses during the unions' storied history, and I would undoubtedly place this action [voting against the incentive pay a week ago] squarely in that category.
C'mon teachers, show us where there are true devils in these details. You may quibble about small points, but what you have really done is throw the "philanthropic baby" out wit the incentive-laden bathwater."
And regarding MNEA negotiator Eric Huth's cold comments to Marsha Warden, BOE Chair, Mr. Roberts wrote:
"I believe the ice may be thinnest of all for his position. It's far better to do what is best for the kids than it is to stand on procedural stuff squabbling over a power issue."
Of course, the Tennessean must attempt to be 'fair and balanced' and so the three star Letter to the Editor was from what has to be a union spokesman who repeats the same 'trust' talking points that seem to be getting in the way of caring for the children:
Dr. Garcia undermined that trust by going to Alex Green and Inglewood back in the spring and making promises to those faculties that had not been negotiated.
The MNEA carried out this vote according to long-established voting procedures. Metro's teachers have spoken.
No, dear, Metro's teachers have not spoken. An undisclosed number of the 60% of Metro's teachers who belong to the union spoke. And the staff members who would also have benefited got no vote at all.

Assault on school bus

This is just unacceptable. This is why I think we ought to have a second adult on school busses. A camera is insufficient. It's hard enough to keep your eyes on the road and drive safely without having to keep one eye behind you to ensure the children are behaving properly. From the City Paper:

A newly hired Metro School bus driver has been suspended and a police investigation has been launched after an 11-year-old special education student was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fellow student on a Metro School bus last week.
The following morning, the father went to J.T. Moore to speak with the principal, Deloris Burke. According to the father, his complaints fell on unconcerned ears and his calls to Metro School’s Central Office went unreturned for days.

“I called down to the Central Office and I couldn’t get anybody,” he said. “I just wanted somebody to get the principal or the assistant principal’s attention.”
“Probably they’re just afraid of doing anything that damages the criminal investigation and that’s just part of the training,” [MNPS Spokesman Woody] McMillin said. “There’s only so much you can do and only so much information you can provide. The police department is pretty strict on us.”

Maybe, but surely someone should have explained that to these parents immediately--not days later. Not one of their phone calls to the central office should have gone unresponded to for days. Didn't the training include ensuring that parents walk away with the knowledge that staff cares, is responsive and has put a situation like this at the top of the To Do list.

Communication and customer care, folks.

UPDATE 10/31/06:

The driver, after having been placed on administrative leave is now in a 90 day probationary period according to the City Paper.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Innovation & reform (again) and (more) grant money

This press release from Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Pedro Garcia (you'll remember that his contract is up for renewal).

Today, I am creating an Office of Reform and Innovation.

This office will be charged with the development of strategies and new programs that will result in improved graduation rates, improved attendance and discipline, increased academic achievement, and reductions in the achievement gap between subgroups of students.

The initial focus will be on high school and middle school programmatic needs for reaching these results. This department will have broad authority to work across the existing organization to secure resources and to develop action plans for implementation in our schools across the district.

Specific duties during the first year include:

  1. Overseeing the Small Learning Communities Grant recently awarded by the United States Department of Education
  2. Planning and implementing a Big Picture School in Nashville for 2007-2008
  3. Developing and implementing other optional schools that will serve to meet the needs of the community and improve graduation rates
  4. Facilitating and participating in discussions in the Nashville community around strategic plan development
  5. Developing and implementing plans for the creation of career academies and other small learning communities in our comprehensive high schools
  6. Working with Alignment Nashville on these new programs and aligning our goals with the work of the non-profit agencies in Nashville
  7. Developing relationships with businesses in Nashville in support of innovative new programs in our schools
  8. Discussing with labor organizations any implications of innovative programs that are being explored and removing any barriers to progress early in the planning process
  9. Working with community groups at-large and exploring new ways that the community and the district can work together in support of district programs in our schools
  10. Working with identified resources to explore and apply for alternative funding sources for new and innovative programs in our schools
  11. Advocating, in cooperation with the Board and other school officials, for changes in state education laws that will facilitate the implementation of new innovations in our schools
  12. Developing specific change management strategies that proactively define steps the district needs to take for new programs to be successfully integrated in our schools

Mr. James Briggs will serve as the director of this office. As the Director of the Reform and Innovation Office, Mr. Briggs will be the primary contact with Alignment Nashville and work across all of the areas above in researching, planning, and implementing change initiatives. An additional staff member will concentrate on the career academies and SLCs with specific focus on the detailed strategies, policies, and plans for the creation of successful career academies and small learning communities in Nashville’s high schools.

The creation of the Office of Reform and Innovation will mark an important milestone for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, moving the district into the implementation mode of reform. To be successful, a small and elite group such as this is needed to drive results with the authority to move across the organization and challenge existing paradigms. Key to the success of this group will be the focus on action plans for programs to be implemented across the district and on the management of the significant change that these new programs represent. Due to the critical nature of this work, Mr. Briggs and the Office of Reform and Innovation will work under my supervision.

In addition, I am moving the Department of Assessment and Evaluation to an independent department reporting directly to me. As you know this department has been reporting to the Chief Instructional Officer. I believe with the increased focus on accountability nationwide, it is important to establish an independent department that has the authority to work throughout the district on accountability and reporting issues.

I believe both of these initiatives respond to the needs in our schools and reflect the desires of our community. They dedicate resources to the important task of school reform and position us for the needed changes and improvements we must make in our schools

How this is significantly different I don't know. We're already attempting much of this. Will putting it under its own office really going to bring better results? I guess we'll see.

Moving the Department of Assessments & Evaluation out from under Sandy Johnson (Chief Instructional Officer) will be welcome news to many people.

Also issued was this press release:

MNPS Receives $5.2 Million Grant For Innovative Small Learning Communities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 12, 2006) – Metro Nashville Public Schools has been notified by the U.S. Department of Education it will receive a grant of $5,206,420 to create Small Learning Communities in eight of its comprehensive high schools. The innovative approach, which focuses on creating Freshmen Academies for ninth-grade students, Career/Thematic Academies for grades 10-12 students, and an advisory program that pairs each student with a member of the school faculty or staff, was made possible by efforts involving Congressman Jim Cooper, Mayor Bill Purcell and Alignment Nashville.

"We believe Small Learning Communities are a model for 21st Century schools,” said MNPS Director Pedro E. Garcia, Ed.D. "No two students are alike and Small Learning Communities provide a perfect setting for helping each student reach their full potential. We're very thankful for the work of Alignment Nashville, Congressman Cooper, Mayor Purcell and others who are supporting this important effort and for helping us obtain the federal grant to make it possible."

In awarding this grant, one of the largest awarded nationally, the U.S. Department of Education cited the existence of Alignment Nashville, a community-wide effort to help our schools become successful learning environments, as a major reason for their funding decision.

"Our nonprofit community, government agencies, colleges and universities and the business community must participate in a coordinated and collaborative effort with our schools, if our schools are to be successful, and Alignment Nashville is all about creating and managing that effort," said Sydney Rogers, Executive Director of Alignment Nashville.

Participating high schools in the five-year program include: Antioch, Glencliff, Hillwood, Hunters Lane, Maplewood, McGavock, Stratford, and Whites Creek. Approximately 14,000 students will be affected by the program each year. The primary objective is to develop small, safe and successful learning environments in Nashville's public high schools, with rigorous, relevant and relationship-driven programs. A portion of this grant will be allocated for professional development for teachers.

A high school reform planning grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the Carnegie Corporation, awarded earlier this year, played a key role in developing Nashville's Small Learning Communities proposal. The USCM planning grant funded the strategic planning process and a site visit to study a model program.

"Improving our high schools is a top priority for our school district and our city," said Mayor Bill Purcell. “This new grant is an important piece of what will be a community-wide effort to make sure all of our students graduate with the skills they need.”

The purpose of Alignment Nashville is to create a system to bring community organizations and resources into alignment so their coordinated support for the priorities of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has a positive impact on student achievement and public school success.

We had smaller neighborhood schools. They were replaced by large, efficient and sleeker modern facilities which broke up neighborhoods, distanced citizens from their neighborhood schools and required millions in transportation expenses (for taxpayers and parents). Now we're creating smaller schools within those behemouth facilities.

It's been discovered that the transition from middle school to high school is critical in that often it's in the 9th grade that students begin the slide toward dropping out. The theory is that if we create more intimate 9th grade 'academies' we'll have a better chance at keeping these children in school.

Oh, and this year's buzz words are "rigor, relevance & relationship".

And why post the entire press release? Have you ever noticed that the MNPS puts most of their stuff in .pdf format--press releases, agendas, minutes...? Search engines cannot read .pdfs. The MNPS search feature is fairly worthless. So if you want to find something--you've got to know what you're looking for. We can do better.

Another homeschooler on a BOE

Sound the alarm, another 'homeschooler' got around the filtering system and has been appointed to a school board! Interestingly, he was appointed by the board itself. From the Star Tribune:

As a local businessman, volunteer firefighter and dad of two, Lee Jensen seemed like an easy choice for this small Polk County [Wisconsin] town's school board. But he's also a dad who has home-schooled his kids for a decade.

Jensen's recent appointment to the board that oversees Frederic's public schools has upset many of the town's residents, who packed a Sept. 18 meeting to ask Jensen why he took the job, and ask school board members why they appointed him.

"I don't think that he has the best interests of the students in our school district in mind," said Colleen Geisen, who intends to run for a seat on the board. "I think he's maybe on the board for other reasons. I think he's concerned about morals and values in the public school system."

She thinks she's going to win this race by being against morals and values in public schools?
Chairman Kay Friberg said Jensen's appointment makes sense. He said that residents had complained about high turnover on the board, and that Jensen brings long-term stability. Friberg also said a diverse board makes better decisions.
Obviously, people named Kay are clear thinking leaders concerned about getting the job done.

The upset in Frederic is all the more unusual because another home-schooling parent served on the board a few years ago.


The district is also wrestling with a declining enrollment, now about 575 in all grades.

One cause of concern about the schools: loss of revenue from the children whose parents have chosen to educate them at home. Each of those children would be worth an estimated $5,800 in state aid if they were enrolled in public schools.

I told the MNPS board and I've been telling you all--we've got to listen to those who have left in order to know how to improve the system.

And from one misguided parent:

"I don't want him to be making decisions on my kids when he's not sending his kids there," she said.

I've heard that several times. Well, then I suppose no taxpayer without children in the system, no voter without children in the system, no councilman, mayor, governor or president without children in the system should have any say in it. Unfortunately, that'd remove the 'public' from the system and you'd have to pay for it all yourself just like eveery other private school family.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why I'm 'not responding' to your e-mail

I absolutely hate getting these. I've yet to comply.

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:


You wrote me asking for help. I responded within minutes with advice--at no charge. And I'm supposed to spend more of my finite time filling in a silly form at Earthlink so you can get the answer? No.

Good luck on that problem, btw.

Still unfathomable

Liz Garrigan of the Nashville Scene puts a bite on the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association's unbelievable vote this week against receiving incentive pay. She begins by revealing a conversation between God and the MNEA president where He takes her to task and then Liz takes over.

Rich family steps up, wants to do something good, negotiates a merit pay pilot program with the local union, even cedes to a few of the union’s unreasonable demands for the sake of getting the program in place and hopefully propagating it all over the city. The union leadership—angry, obstructionist, useless as ever—grudgingly sends the idea through to its membership for a vote. But because it represents so few Nashville teachers, and because the leadership clearly didn’t explain what was at stake, the vote sends the proposal circling the drain. This, despite the fact that the teachers at the two schools in question—Alex Green Elementary and Inglewood Elementary—overwhelmingly supported the plan. Bottom line: about $2 million of free money is rejected, and teachers and other employees who would have received between $2,000 and $10,000 annually for student improvement will instead get bupkis.


Among Merritt’s explanations in the media, which she says have offered “inaccurate coverage,” about why her membership rejected the proposal: 1) It wasn’t enough money. She must be unfamiliar with the mathematical truth that $2 million > 0. And 2) The donor is anonymous, and the union questions the motive for the generosity.

[Warning: the Scene piece does contain some harsh language and I never know if the ads will be appropriate for general audiences so you're forewarned.]

Apparently, it's not possible, in the world these educrats live in, for fellow citizens to sincerely care about the children in their city and be willing to offer assistance. They invented all sorts of motivations for my being willing to serve and now this donor must have some nefarious purpose. What is in their heads and hearts that they have such a hard time believing people just want to help?

Nathan Moore has also written a couple of good posts regarding this nonsense from his point of view.

According to [MNEA President Jamye] Merritt, the people of Nashville, who fund the schools, are to be kept in the dark by “union rules” when a proposal that gives them (and their children) more for their tax dollar bites the dust because of an undisclosed number of union hacks in an election process that not even Jimmy Carter would certify. I mean, we can’t even get turnout? More union shenanigans...


Well, of course they’re [MNEA] not going to tell us about the vote. And they’re not going to tell us how much the initiative was advertised and marketed in some schools and not in others, because, well, any advance in meritocracy makes a union more superfluous. Teacher's union rejects free merit pay

I wasn't able to view the BOE meeting last evening. Is anyone out there able to upload Ms Merritt's remarks to the school board to YouTube? I think a lot of us would be interested in see that 3 minutes.

UPDATE: AC weighs in also:

While the idea of unionism, protecting the interests of labor, is a good one, in practice unions often end up hurting their workers more than they help. The point could not be better illustrated.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More on incentive pay

Well the papers are filling up with comments from both sides.

From the City Paper:

Aex Green Elementary School principal Sheila Woodruff said she and her teachers felt robbed when they learned the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association voted down a $400,000 dollar grant over the weekend.
No doubt. I'm feeling a bit robbed myself. And regarding the ballots:
Woodruff said many faculty members at Alex Green were under the assumption that they would be allowed to vote on the program themselves, not the members of MNEA.

Erick Huth, MNEA vice president, said they distributed ballots to association representatives who then took them to each school in the system. Only teachers who were MNEA members were allowed to vote.
So we had union reps handing out the ballots and maybe gathering them up? Or did the union reps leave the ballot with the teacher, without any editorial commentary, and the teacher returned sealed ballots to the union office? If the union rep waited for the ballot what words may have been exchanged between the delivery person and the voter?

And a school board member may have a backbone:
School Board member Steve Glover said the MNEA is simply flexing its muscles.
“This proves to me what I had suspected for some time, that without a doubt, the leadership of MNEA is about the leadership of MNEA,” Glover said. “They’re not about our kids. They’re not about helping those kids that need the most amount of help.”
And Kay Simmons of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education reveals just how much money some teachers threw away:
Simmons is disappointed because the program was designed to be a pilot program, with the potential to funnel more than $1 million into these schools.
From the Tennessean:

Jamye Merritt, the Metro Nashville Education Association president, said that voter turnout was low but that union rules prevented disclosure of how many of the more than 3,300 members voted.

"It's not germane to this issue," Merritt said of the turnout number.

It is when your membership feels disenfranchised. The integrity of the voting process is under question here.

Other teachers at the schools selected for the pilot program said it was unfair that teachers from other schools were able to decide whether or not to accept the bonuses.

"It's unfortunate that the vote went out to all MNEA members," said Karen Elliott, a third-grade teacher at Alex Green Elementary, who voted for the measure. "I don't see where it was a decision that the whole body was to make."

It is unfair. That's something only the union membership can really do anything about.

In an interview Monday, Merritt said the decision not to accept the bonus plan was partly a result of mistrust among teachers toward the school board.

"I think you have to look at it as trust," she said. "The teachers don't feel appreciated or that there is a commitment to them" by the school board.

This was the same whine I heard at the negotiations table that I had so little patience with. At that time union reps opined that Pedro Garcia's handling of Maplewood High School teacher reassignments demonstrated his distrust of the union. Now the union is preventing fellow teachers from receiving extra money (surely a sign of appreciation and commitment) based on their feelings being hurt. Are we adults or not?

The ballots went out to every union member in the district on Sept. 26, with a notation guiding members to the union's Web site, where they could read the proposal, said Eric Huth, union vice president.

Teachers had until Oct. 6 to decide how they would vote and return the ballots to the union office, Huth said.

Let's see that union page. No other meetings? No other documentation? No opportunity to meet with the Nashville Alliance for Public Education in order to get a clearer understanding of the situation and build that 'trust'?

Do we know if all the ballots made it to the office and were included in the count?

The Tennessean has an online poll. As of 7:44 a.m. it shows

Is a performance-based incentive program the right way to reward teachers for improved performance?


Total Votes: 403

BOE Chair Marsha Warden wrote MNEA negotiator Eric Huth the day after the vote (Saturday).

Marsha Warden asks:
I am disappointed and curious. How is it that the MNEA voted this measure down? How could it be perceived as being harmful to the interests of teachers in Metro Schools?
And Huth responds on Sunday:
MNEA has fulfilled the duties proscribed under the EPNA, and I shall not question the results. (snip)One might consider that in any election (including, but not limited to the national election of 2000) that the democratic process is not always smooth, but it is what it is. One's hopes, dreams, wishes, aspirations, and desires do not trump the democratic process. (snip)You may also wish to consider the extent to which your questions interfere with MNEA's representational rights. The ice is thin.
And what may be the most interesting number of all:
Under collective bargaining rules, the proposal had to be approved by a majority of members of the Metro Nashville Education Association, the union that represents roughly 60 percent of the district's 5,600 teachers.
That mean 40% of the teachers in Metro aren't union members and didn't even get a chance to vote on this proposal. I think that's a substantial number of our employees without a voice in an important matter and that concerns me. I suspect that a good number of those 3,300 union members are going to be rethinking the value of that membership. Again, I suggest they consider Professional Educators of Tennessee if they even need any sort of bargaining agent at all.