Thursday, January 31, 2008

BOE is unsure--I'm not

It's the sub-headline that tells the real story regarding the MNPS BOE and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean's 'partnership' to find a new superintendent for Metro schools. That sub-headline at the Tennessean is:

"Board members seem unsure about next step in process"
And that's exactly it. We've hired 9 people to run the district, they rubber stamped pretty much everything former superintendent Dr. Pedro Garcia wanted, they were propped up by the business establishment and the unions and haven't been held accountable by the electorate, it was assumed that since they had legal and education experience they were qualified and so here we are. They are unsure about how to hire one employee. Like nearly everything else they've decided to 'hire' out the hard work which will then allow them to avoid accepting all the blame later. They'll let the mayor help, they'll call in the Tennessee School Boards Association and before the final decision is made they'll have created a community group to advise them. What are these folks getting paid to actually do? When things are cruising along they wield that rubber stamp pretty well, but let the system wobble a bit and they just aren't up for the task. One of them needs to grow a backbone and start leading.

From BOE member's Karen Johnson blog:
"...the School Board in a 7-2 (Marsha Warden, Steve Glover, JoAnn Brannon, Mark North, George Thompson, Gracie Porter and Ed Kindall -7) (Karen Johnson, David Fox -2) vote moved the following motion from Board Member George Thompson "I move that we request the involvement and participation of Mayor Karl Dean in helping to identify a candidate for interim director of schools to be selected by this board....then at the appropriate time the Mayor would further be involved to participate with the board in a search for a permanent Director that will be hired by the board."
Karen Johnson offered an amendment to include 'all stakeholders' in this motion. It was voted down:
The amendment failed by a 5-4 vote (Marsha Warden, Steve Glover, Mark North, JoAnn Brannon, and David Fox -5) (Karen Johnson, Ed Kindall, George Thompson, Gracie Porter -4)

From the City Paper:
[Mayor Karl] Dean later added that he believes the interim director position should be filled quickly, and that he believes the best process would be for Dean himself to find members of the community willing and qualified to fill the temporary position. The board could then make the final decision.
This is just a bad idea. first of's not his job. He's got enough on his plate. It is the BOE's job and they need to earn their paychecks. What quickly hiring someone will do is give the appearance of stability and progress in time for the August BOE election.

At this point in time the MNPS staff doesn't need the distraction of taking on a new person and training them in the finer points of running the school system. Something like this will slow them down and eat up valuable resources at a time when we don't have them to spare.

For now, Chris Henson needs to focus on the budget. I suggest the other 'cabinet members' can step up and finish out the school year and begin planning for the next. They've been around long enough to have done this several times, this isn't reinventing the wheel. They can do this. Likely, without the heavy hand of the former superintendent they'll have a great opportunity to shine and show us just how successfully they can work together and actually get the job done.

This season of change is a great time to see which of the BOE members is up to the task of actually running the system and has earned the right to stay on the BOE. Pay attention and remember this August. Remember, all but North, gave former superintendent Pedro Garcia a hefty raise and voted to renew his contract, Porter once, the rest over, and over and over again.

From left to right:
Ed Kindall on the BOE 23 years since 7/9/1985,
George Thompson, more than 12 years: 4 months on the BOE in 1991 and then back on 8/1/1996,
MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden on the BOE since 8/24/2004 ,
Gracie Porter elected in August of 2006 and
Mark North since spring of 2007.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's 2 to 1

Yesterday's mail contained letters from Experian confirming they've placed a security freeze on our credit accounts after the theft of our Social Security Numbers from the Davidson County Election Commission. Why Experian and Equifax had no problem with the form letter from the Election Commission and the blanket theft report and TransUnion did still remains a mystery. Last week their phone representative insisted that a supervisor would call me call, no message, no letter so far.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hillary's Blue

Since last evening I've been getting robo calls from Blue Solutions (615-254-2200) inviting me to a Hillary Clinton townhall meeting "Solutions for America" at TSU. I got half a message one time and just hang ups after that. An invitation less than 24 hours before the event...I guess I was supposed to have my calendar cleared, just in case.

And solution for America is Fred how did I get on their calling list?

We're not stuck yet

When Fred dropped out I posted about my intention to still vote for him. Bob Krumm voted for Fred yesterday. I'm glad he did. He explains why and I am encouraging folks to follow Bob and me in this same path.

"If you’re a Tennessee Fredhead who hasn’t yet voted and you want to send a message, deliver that message through a trusted delegate. I encourage you to vote for Fred and then select the same delegates: Bryson, Casada, Norris, Ramsey, Campbell, and Krumm."
It looks like having people you trust on the convention floor during this election cycle will be more important than it has been in some time. Don't just stop at touching the screen for Fred. Finish the ballot.

Update: Instapundit points to someone else with the same idea: Daily Pundit.
UPDATE: Add Rob Huddleston to the group still voting for Fred and encouraging others to do the same.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

TransUnion says no

I've just gotten off the phone with TransUnion. After writing them a very specific letter with 5 pages of documentation with the information they require I got back a 9 page form letter telling me what my rights are and how to put a freeze on our accounts. I called them back and it turns out that they blew off my letter because the police report doesn't specifically say I'm the victim of fraud and they won't put a freeze on my credit report without my paying their $7.50 fee. What? They expect 337,000 people to get personalized crime reports from their local precincts? I actually have to have been harmed before they'll do this? The best "Jenna" could offer was to have a supervisor call me back. Right. To her credit she didn't lose her temper when I lost mine.

Heads up folks. Oh, and if you decide to call TransUnion use the Dispute number (1-800-680-7289) where actual people answer the phone instead of the Fraud number where you're stuck in a never ending automatic circle.

Equifax didn't have a problem with any of our documentation at all and I got letters from them yesterday saying our accounts were frozen and they provided PIN numbers for when we want to make any changes. Simple one page confirmation letter. No request for any payment or additional information.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Foxy idea

Yesterday's real surprise wasn't what the Chamber thinks needs to be done about MNPS or even Fred's dropping out. It was David Fox's out of the blue statement that the BOE he was elected to serve on should be, instead, appointed by the mayor. How are his fellow BOE members not supposed to be insulted by this?

According to the usual media sources, Fox made his statement to a gaggle of reporters after the Nashville Chamber of Commerce's Report Card report. I hung out a bit afterward and there was no 'gather 'round folks' at all. This was a very low key announcement. Maybe he wanted to take advantage of the reporters being there without taking away any of the Chamber's thunder. Well, that didn't work.

Fox wrote:

To have a truly effective superintendent requires a truly effective board of education. And now, after a few decades of electing school board members, we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that people with the appropriate expertise and experiences are governing the school system.
Ooookay. Does this read elitist to anyone else? I agree that we need an effective BOE and I agree that if they're effective the superintendent will be effective. But I'm concerned about what Fox (or any mayor) will consider 'appropriate expertise and experience'. For the most part we've got lawyers and teachers on the BOE. How's that working for you? Oh, you want " people who have experience successfully leading or governing big organizations through challenging times." Define successfully, big and challenging.

How's this mayor appointed board going to sit with those that balk at non-users of the public education system running the system? He made a non-public school choice. I don't fault him for making the choice but there are those out there that did/do. Some of them were apoplectic about about a BOE member not having had their children in the system. What are the chances that those with 'appropriate expertise and experience' didn't make the same decision the mayor did?

The problem is that the unions, the chamber and the system got, for the most part, the members and superintendent they wanted. Maybe that's where we need to make some changes.
MNPS is a large, complicated organization. More than 10,000 employees, a budget approaching $600 million, fast-shifting demographics among its customer base, pervasive governmental regulations. Transforming this system into a district that provides a high performing school for every student requires a skill set you just can’t get through public elections.
And how is this different from the mayoral position or the council, or congress? Who should appoint them to ensure they have the 'appropriate expertise and experience?" The reality is it's up to voters to decide what is 'appropriate expertise and experience'. They're going to blow it occasionally, and it's a messy process, granted. Taking this power out of their hands is a very wrong move.

This only works when the elected mayor is one you agree with. The disconnect from the voting public, parents and taxpayers will be huge. An appointed board will be accountable to the mayor and not the citizens whose money and children will be subject to this board. You think your BOE rep isn't responsive now? Just wait.

The biggest understatement in the coverage comes from the City Paper:
These efforts may not make Fox popular with the other eight members of the Board of Education.
They thought MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden's direct order to Garcia was a problem. What are they going to do with this? While I don't agree with Fox's suggestion...I'm thrilled he rocked their world.

The Education Mayor: Aligning leadership, experience and accountability
David A. Fox
January 22, 2008

Right now, all eyes are focused on who the next director of schools in Nashville will be. Speaking only for myself and not for the school board, I don’t think that’s where everyone should be looking.

To have a truly effective superintendent requires a truly effective board of education. And now, after a few decades of electing school board members, we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that people with the appropriate expertise and experiences are governing the school system.

Beyond that, as the Chamber’s Education Report Card today points out, “the governance structure of our school system represents a misalignment of funding authority, policymaking responsibility and managerial effectiveness.”

MNPS is a large, complicated organization. More than 10,000 employees, a budget approaching $600 million, fast-shifting demographics among its customer base, pervasive governmental regulations. Transforming this system into a district that provides a high performing school for every student requires a skill set you just can’t get through public elections.

On the school board, we must have people who have experience successfully leading or governing big organizations through challenging times. You can assemble a board populated with those rare skills and experiences only through a careful appointment process.

You know the omnipresent bumper sticker: “Education is the most important thing our community does?” I believe that really is more than just a feel-good slogan. And if I am right about that, then most Nashvillians should be ready now to embrace the changes needed to see to it that our most qualified citizens are on the school board…governing with experienced hands this institution that is so vital to Nashville’s future.

It is exceptional good fortune that our city is led by a mayor whose educational mantra is “I want to be as involved in schools as I possibly can be.” Mayor Karl Dean is a rarity among elected officials – a man who seems eager not just to have some authority over public schools but also to take responsibility for their results.

Were he given authority by the state, Nashville’s mayor could use the influence of his position to draft our community’s most qualified residents to form a successful and diverse Metro Nashville Board of Education. And the mayor’s profile in the city could help keep public education one of Nashville’s highest priorities.

In order to ensure that each student in Nashville realizes his or her ability to excel at levels not previously imagined, I request that as soon as practically and legally possible, Governor Bredesen empower the Mayor with authority over Metro Nashville Public Schools and support legislative efforts to give Nashville’s mayor the power to appoint all members of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education. Nashville Scene (warning: adult site)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm disappointed

He's still getting my vote. I'll be examining the Republican convention delegate names very carefully.

I'm not sure what to think. Maybe it was that his mom is seriously ill. Maybe it's because the best person to run the country isn't always the best campaigner. Maybe we'll really have to wait for the convention for this to be settled. I'm not giving up. Voting for Fred is the only way I know to let the convention delegates know what I really want. I'm not settling yet.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Here's an idea

Speaking of 21st Century schooling:

For the children of Grapevine, Ark., a rural town 60 miles outside Little Rock, the long, bumpy commute to school on bus No. 46 is anything but ordinary. That's because they are solving math and science problems with teachers and university professors live via the Internet. It's what Vanderbilt University medicine, biochemistry, and pathology Prof. Billy Hudson describes as a virtual schoolhouse on wheels.


More souped-up school buses with high-speed Internet access may be on the way. The Hudsons are applying for two federal grants to expand the program to Tennessee and add other amenities to the buses such as individual lighting, power outlets, and projection screens.
US News
Here's a great idea. Redeem the bus ride time AND keep them occupied so they don't get into mischief in the meantime.

Corporations are embracing online conferencing. We need to tap into that for schools that don't have enough students for an AP class for example, or tutoring. A student who was expelled for a zero tolerance infraction could still participate in classes. It could make snow days a thing of the past.

And so we begin anew

Garcia is gone. The search starts for a new leader for the MNPS system. If ever there was time for prayer...this is one of them.

I don't have any problem leaving the system in the hands of Chris Henson in the meantime. From the moment I met him he has always been friendly, helpful, gracious and very professional. I never got the impression from him that I did from others that I was the enemy in the camp. I don't think the BOE members should be in a big rush to fill this position. First order of business is to create a budget for the upcoming year...and there isn't anyone else better equipped to help them do that than the man that's been doing it, the new interim Director of Schools Chris Henson.

We also need to consider that this August 5/9ths of the board is up for re-election. Should the very folks that gave Garcia a raise last year (or extended his contract for 3 years the year before) really be the folks to bring in a new superintendent? My concern is that they believed what Garcia had been telling them all along. Will they also believe and fail to properly vet the information any new candidate will provide? A tool we have now that they didn't really have back in 2001 when they hired Garcia is the Internet. It's going to be easier than ever to check a candidates qualifications and BS factor---if the BOE actually takes the time to do their research.

My advice to the mayor...don't jump on this too quickly. Certainly, let the BOE know your opinion, offer whatever resources you have available but don't do their job for them, don't protect them from themselves. They made this bed, they need to lie in it a while. They don't need to create a separate search committee that they can later blame for not getting it right. They need to roll up their sleeves and earn the money they're being paid.

This from this morning's City Paper:

The troubles of the school system became directly linked to the city’s political life as well. First, in 2006, the Metro School Board saw a huge turnover in its ranks at the ballot box. The board members turned out of office were largely those who opposed keeping Garcia. The successful, insurgent board candidates were backed by major players in the city’s business community who built a protective political wall around Garcia.
As one of those turned out of office I appreciate this paragraph. And when the political players who have been orchestrating the makeup of the BOE and protecting Garcia start up again to present their favorite for his replacement, will the city pause to consider their track record?

Whoever replaces Garcia must recognize that we live in a new education world. One that is filled with more and more options and people with means and will are leaving the system. Will the new director recognize the changing educational delivery system landscape or will the be stuck in the old way of doing things? If they value brick and mortar and placating the adults running the system more than the needs of the students and their education consuming parents don't bother coming. If they realize that the public system is no longer the monopoly it was and is actually in competition with other education choices and is prepared to retool the system to meet those realities, lets talk about how they would bring Nashville into the 21st Century.

Karen Johnson has original documentation regarding Garcia's departure.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Garcia is gone

The City Paper reports this evening that the MNPS BOE has accepted MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia's resignation, thus making any further discussion of his performance or a vote moot.

The Metro School Board today has accepted a resignation package for Director Pedro Garcia, giving him $216,000 in compensation.

The amount is equal to one year of salary.

The board made the formal decision of the package in just minutes at a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. today at the district’s central office, 2601 Bransford Ave.
They also report that he didn't get the San Diego gig. Former Williamson County Superintendent Terry Grier (now in North Carolina) got that job.

Friday, January 18, 2008


From this morning's City Paper:

Between now and Saturday Nashville School Board members will complete the process of evaluating Director of Schools Pedro Garcia, complete a written evaluation, and then publicly hear the results of their efforts. When they do, their individual scores will become public record — but their scores also will be anonymous.
This is wrong.

The Tennessee School Board Association is facilitating this evaluation. It became obvious several years ago that Garcia's performance was so divisive that the BOE couldn't do this on their own. Now they're going to use TSBA's usual operating procedure, and their own Policy Governance as a cover for their own accountability to voters.
The board’s governance process policy states, in multiple points, that only the board as a whole — rather than members as individuals — can exercise authority over the director. In one portion, the policy states that, without explicit authorization from the entire board, all board members’ “interaction with the director and with staff must recognize the lack of authority vested in individuals.”
Karen Johnson:
Board member Karen Johnson said she thinks it’s right that the official evaluation be only a cumulative document, but that she plans to post her individual scores on her blog,
George Thompson:
Thompson said he does not believe it is right that board members can keep their evaluation scores to themselves.
Unfortunately he doesn't have something as public as a blog or website, like Johnson to use for publication.

Steve Glover:
Glover said he would be willing to share his scores with constituents who inquire. But he reiterated that he believes it is correct that individual names be left off the evaluation,...
Ditto on the blog/website.

It shouldn't be a surprise. They're not reliably including their names in the regular Executive Expectations reports evaluating Garcia, why should we expect them to include them now?

They used to. Here's a snip from a report from 5/23/06

and from the most recent EE available dated 12/11/07.

I think we need to encourage every board member to ensure their scores on Garcia's performance are made public. Move to have them included in the BOE minutes. Make them available via the MNPS website somewhere. The people of this district, the BOE employer, deserve to know where each one of them stood at this very important time. To hide this vote, months before most of the Board is up for re-election comes across as covering their own backsides to protect their seat.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Focus on the message

I attended most of the Save Our Students State of Schools report to the Metro Council's Education Committee on Monday evening. Unfortunately, I had to leave about 45 minutes into that meeting to rescue my husband whose car had broken down in Greenbrier. I did really want to hear the rest of Councilman Eric Crafton's presentation.

Before the SOS presentation was a discussion of Crafton's Resolution 2008-137 . What I got out of the discussion was that the Governor has the authority to remove a superintendent of schools (and the entire school board) but there doesn't seem to be any specific 'line in the sand'. That's a problem. How bad do schools have to be before the Governor steps in? No one seems to know. It appears it's entirely subjective.

So here's what I saw and heard regarding the SOS presentation:

We were told that the BOE members and MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia were unable to attend this meeting as they were attending Nashville Mayor Karl Dean's education meetings instead. Since the SOS presentation was made at the regular meeting of the Council Education Committee I expect it was an unavoidable conflict of schedules. There were several people from Garcia's Cabinet in attendance though to include Chris Henson, Business & Facilities; Ralph Thompson, Student Services; and Woody McMillan, Public Information. Sharing the second row pew with Thompson & McMillan was Ralph Smith MNEA staffer.

There were less than a dozen councilmen there, some left early, some spent a good bit of time talking to others during the presentation (and should have been more quiet) some were in the hall. Crafton began by saying:

"3 1/2 years ago...I started hearing that our schools were woefully underfunded, but that they were making tangible progress. But this just didn't ring true with what parents and other constituents were telling me... So I decided to do some unbiased, independent research to see if in fact we were underfunding our schools and see if real progress could be measured."

"I started by sending over 10
simple questions to Metro's school administrators. The only response I got was that they were too busy preparing their budget that was coming up later that spring to answer my question. So I founded the Save Our Students organization..."

"Why do I bring this information before you? Because I truly believe that both our education system and our children's futures are at an irreversible tipping point if we don't make dramatic, meaningful, measurable
changes. Without change, our children will suffer. Irreparable harm will be done."

And he made the specific point that the:
"information is not being represented to usurp the School Board's authority, but rather offered in a spirit of cooperation and a shared interest in our children's success."
Regarding money:
"In my opinion however, it is fiscally irresponsible for the Metro Council to send 35% of Nashville's budget...around $600 million a year, to the School Board without expectations of measured achievement and without providing some oversight."
And so out came the slides. Unfortunately the larger screen was not working and so we had to peer at the much smaller TV screens instead.

I remember several years back Garcia stating very clearly that his goal was to have the best school district in the nation. Folks, we don't even have the best district in the state. These red and blue slides follow the same class from 3rd (blue) grade to 8th (red). They fall further and further behind as they advance in grade level. This is all on Garcia's watch, by the way.

Average Percentile 2002 3rd grade 2007 8th grade
Math 44 36
Rdg/Language 45 41
Science 37 33
Social Studies 40 36

Regarding that same class there was some growth but the growth didn't keep pace with the growth of the rest of the state so we fell behind the rest of the state. Read these slides. Is a 1.3% growth rate (while sliding back .5%) good enough? No. I remember Mebinin Awipi (formerly on the MNPS BOE) say that at these rates there is no way we're going to achieve NCLB benchmarks. He was assured the growth would greatly increase. It hasn't.

Blogger won't let me add the reading graphic. I'll do so when they've figured out the problem.


And do you think MNPS children are qualifying for lottery scholarship? Think again. There is a reason we have a huge excess of funds. Those two tall spikes above the red line are Hume Fogg Magnet and Martin Luther King Magnet. Hillsboro almost makes the qualifying red line. Take out Hume Fogg and MLK and the average SAT score was 17.94. I added a bright green line to the SOS slide to show that point on the chart. Removing the rest of the magnet high schools doesn't really impact the average much. It then becomes 17.86.

There are 35 slides altogether. They included demographic breakdowns, funding and even personnel ratios. Most of those won't render well in this small space. I'm asking if they're all online somewhere and will post a link as soon as I hear back.

SOS suggests we do several things to make improvements. They include what they call a Student Lifeline Program where student progress is tracked using computer software and more money is put into reading a math tutoring; increase magnet opportunities and provide academic magnets in every area of town as well as create a disciplinary magnet; and a revised No Pass No Play provision which would suspend students falling behind from non-academic extracurricular activities and provide a tutor so they can catch up.

It's heartbreaking to read through these statistics and know there are children and families behind these numbers. So many lives without what they need, educationally. Crafton was right when he said:
"I know that sometimes I may be considered a bit controversial. But in this case, whether you like me personally or not, I urge you to listen to the message, not the messenger. "


"As some children's only opportunity to rise above their current station, it (MNPS) must work."
The lives of these children and our community is too important to ignore the message because of the messenger.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bad timing

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce will present their annual Report Card on Metro Schools on Tuesday, January 22. Unfortunately, this comes AFTER this weekend's BOE members retreat to discuss MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia's job performance.

It will also come before the BOE has their own presentation of the Save Our Students breakdown of...well...MNPS's breakdown in meeting the needs of Nashville students. We were told the BOE and Garcia attended another of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean's education meetings instead. This SOS presentation was made before the regular meeting of the Council Education Committee. More on this in a following post. Here's a teaser from their PowerPoint.

So the BOE will go into retreat and discuss Garcia's performance without some important third party information about our school system. I'll say it again, the BOE needs to get and be willing to believe third party information and criticism of the district. Further, it shouldn't be just from groups that have financed their election.

I'll also note that the Chamber has been doing their Report Card for 15 years, but they've only provided five years worth of archive. Granted, it's more than they used to provide. I'm assuming they won't use grades again this year. Too depressing and too hard to finesse.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Whose money is it?

I agree.

"Bredesen and his fellow Democrats, on the other hand, view your money as the “common good” and “common wealth” to be used in ways that are beneficial to society as a whole, as determined not by you the taxpayer, but by them." TNGOP
I'd throw in a couple of Republicans too. It certainly seems the only explanation. Families tell legislators we need to keep more of our money and we can decide on our own what charitable efforts to fund. But that's not good enough. It really does come across as they know better than we do how to spend what was OUR money.

Here's the video of Gov. Bredesen's amazing comment (Hat Tip: TnGOP):

Here, again, is what Gov. Bredesen said:

“One of the great things about being governor is you get to take taxes away from people and then give it back to them and they’re happy to have it back. Is this a great job or what?”

“Frankly, Gov. Bredesen, the people of Tennessee would have been very happy to get some of their tax money back last year, when the state had a $1.5 billion revenue surplus,” said Bill Hobbs, communications director for the Tennessee Republican Party. “Instead, governor, you raised taxes by $242 million, and agreed only to a token cut in the sales tax on food. " TN GOP

And I was up there last year risking life and limb during a thunderstorm saying "Give it back" and pointing out our grocery taxes last year came to $956.30 and asking them to Cut the Food Tax. But Gov. Bredesen and the legislature didn't 'give it back'. They decided that $1.3+ Billion in extra revenue had better places to go than the Brooks family (and your family).

The only money we got back was $10 from the Republican House Caucus. We eventually got an anemic 1/2% reduction in grocery sales tax that just this month went into effect.

The Governor didn't "take taxes away from people and then give it back to them". He gave it to his staff in hefty pay raises. He gave it to former land owners along the upper Cumberland, he's about to give it to contractors for his very exclusive party bunker.

This isn't a great job. This is a very poor job.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What's up with Nevada?

Something's going on in Vegas, and it's not staying there, to be sure.

We start with the January 2008 edition of "School Reform News" and the article titled "Nevada Teacher Works to Oust NEA". Seems a 'renegade teacher and a rival union are leading charges against one of the NEA's largest local affiliates'. The renegade teacher was working with the Teamsters to decertify the Clark County Education Association but they've since parted ways and another group, Association of American Educators has stepped in and created Professional Association of Clark County Educators (PACCE).

And then we have this NY Times article titled "Teacher's sue to block hotel workers' union in Nevada caucus". Seems the hotel workers can't leave work to caucus and so special districts are being created to accommodate their participation. Not fair, says the teacher's union---which has some top officials that are backing Clinton. The Culinary Workers have endorsed Obama.

Education association? There's an education to be had here, but I don't think it's mentioned in the scope and sequence though.

Johnson's Garcia Poll Concludes

BOE Member Karen Johnson has closed her poll on MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia.

Her poll asked simply: Are you pleased with Schools Director Dr. Pedro Garcia's performance?

Yes 73 33%
No 106 48%
Somewhat 43 19%
Total 222 100%

That 33% solid yes seems pretty shakey compared to the unsure and noes that add up to the other 67% . She also reports that all the BOE member evaluations are in the hands of the Tennessee School Board Association's facilitator who will reveal all on Tuesday, January 22 at 5:00 p.m.

At the top right you'll see our comparatively small number of voters (we have lots more readers than this, folks) are of the opinion it's time for Garcia to go. There's still time to vote. It'll stay open through the 20th (Sunday). Another week to gather information and cast your vote.

Mind your surroundings

He just doesn't get it, does he?

“One of the great things about being governor is you get to take taxes away and later give it back and people are happy,” Bredesen said. “Is this a great job or what?” WKRN

Well, I've no doubt the Ladies Hermitage Society is very happy but what about the rest of us? Our very wealthy governor seems completely disconnected from those of us who work hard for a living and sacrifice essentials in order to pay taxes. "You GET to TAKE taxes away..."

Yes you do and have, Governor, and you shouldn't be so happy about it. When you take it, it comes from families---lots of whom are struggling every single day to make ends meet.

Ironically, he made that astonishing comment after providing $1 million of that tax money very literally taken from families to pay for the maintenance of another wealthy politicians aging estate--Former President Andrew Jackson's Hermitage. Amazingly, after the weeks he's had defending his wife's pet project, vastly expanding the governor's mansion to include an obscenely unnecessary party facility for the swells to meet and greet, he rejoices in taking our hard earned dollars...and does it at the site of another political mansion.

What was that line in "Batman Begins"? Oh, yeah, "Learn to mind your surroundings."

Hat Tip: Taxing Tennessee

Friday, January 11, 2008

Undercutting the Chair

Further evidence that no one is in charge comes from George Thompson in this morning's City Paper:

Board member George Thompson said it’s important to keep in mind that Warden, though she is board chair, was representing only herself in the e-mail.

“We have not authorized her to say anything, or to do anything,” he said.

Thompson pointed to a portion of the board’s governance process policy, which states that the Board of Education chair should “refrain from exercising any authority as an individual to supervise or direct the Director.”
He's exactly right, but of course the BOE hasn't authorized HIM to say this either.

So if you had hope that MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden's direct order
I expect you to review the questions asked at the meeting and present written responses to those questions to Ms. Smith, the members of the Metro Council, they Mayor, and the local press. I expect this to be done immediately.
in her email to MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia yesterday was going to be fulfilled, think again. What I would have liked Mr. Thompson to say is something along the lines of: "I happen to agree that this information must be provided to these people as quickly as possible and I'll present a motion at the next BOE meeting to instruct Garcia to do so." If he did, no one is reporting that.

The Board has a Code of Conduct and in Governance Policy 9.2 it states:
2. Board members may not attempt to exercise individual authority over the

a. Members’ interaction with the Director and with staff must recognize the lack
of authority vested in individuals except when explicitly authorized by the

b. Members’ interaction with the public, press or other entities must recognize
the same limitation and the inability of any Board member to speak for the
Board except to repeat explicitly-stated Board decisions.

c. Members will not publicly express individual negative judgments about
Director or staff performance outside the formal evaluation process. Any
such judgments of Director or staff performance will be made only by the full
This Governance Policy is part of the problem with the BOE and thus the entire system. I'm not saying we need to adopt a free for all BOE but this policy becomes a very convenient excuse as well as a crippler for real action. I knew if I had stayed on the BOE I was going to violate this policy eventually. It's too easy to characterize legitimate public discussion of issues as 'negative judgments'. Never mind whether those judgments are accurate or not.

Anyone wanting to take on the task of running for School Board this August should read this entire document. Frustrated citizens and parents should be familiar with it also.

George Thompson is up for reelection in August.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who is

Mayor Karl Dean has certainly returned from vacation. He's hot on this SSN theft and this afternoon has announced that Metro is willing to pay for ID protection. Thanks, but no thanks. I'm not comfortable having the government pick this service for me. As a taxpayer, I'm thrilled you got a good deal and I'm frustrated that this is coming out of tax money.

From CM Karen Bennet's (District 8 Inglewood) email this afternoon to her constituents which is quoting a press release from Nashville Mayor Karl Dean :

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville is contracting with Debix
Identity Protection Network to provide affected citizens a full year
of identity theft coverage from the date of registration and the
option to renew for a second year of coverage for $9.50, a steep
reduction from the consumer price of $99 per year.


Voters will receive a letter containing detailed instructions on how
to enroll with Debix no later than next week. An enrollment form and
an activation code will be included with the letter. Voters can use
the activation code to either mail in their enrollment form or
register for the service online at


Based on past experience, Debix expects 25 to 35 percent of affected
voters to take advantage of the service. Under the contract agreement
with Metro, Debix will receive $9.75 per account activation for the
first 20,000 enrollees and $9.25 for all others.

Debix protection includes:

· Fraud alerts: Every 90 days fraud alerts with all three
national credit bureaus are automatically renewed.

· Credit monitoring: Customers are notified in real-time via
phone and e-mail on up to three numbers every time a new account for
credit is being opened. Declined transactions are reported to the
police within 24 hours after confirmation that the transaction was
due to fraud.

· ID theft insurance: Each registered customer is provided with
$10,000 of identity theft coverage with no deductible and direct
access to an identity theft specialist. The insurance covers identity
restoration costs, lost wages and legal defense fees.

· Stop pre-approved offers: Customers are placed on the
National Do Not Call Registry if requested and opted out of pre-
approved offers of credit and insurance.

I've just initiated a freeze on my credit...why is Debix better? I'd like to know more about Debix and how they got this contract. Here's a NY Times piece from November 2007 about Debix's founding, along with some info about LifeLock and TrustID.
Debix has signed up 275,000 customers in the last two years by offering the service through companies and state governments that have lost their customers’ or citizens’ private data and now want to extend an additional layer of identity protection to victims

Consumer Reports (the real one)
weighed in on this in 2003. They said then "It's not typically worth the money." As of April 2007 they haven't changed their mind. They do have some great info though. They also point out:
Neither the Federal Trade Commission nor consumer groups including Consumers Union, the Identity Theft Resource Center, and the Privacy Rights Clearing House recommend or endorse credit-monitoring services. If you're tempted to sign up, however, you should know that credit-bureau monitoring services have the following limitations.
But scrutinize the terms of coverage for loopholes. For example, some insurers exclude coverage for losses that occurred prior to your purchase of the product. It can take months or years for ID theft to be discovered. So if a thief opened a fraudulent account in your name two years ago, you bought monitoring one year ago, and you don't discover the crime until next year when a collection agency hunts you down, your insurance protection and payout might be zero with some policies.
Be careful out there.

UPDATE: CM Emily Evans' blog entry regarding this is titled: "Mayor Announces Free ID Theft Protection". It's not free if taxpayers foot the bill. It may be at no direct cost to us...but the money has to come from taxpayers somehow. I encourage Metro to recoup the cost from Wackenhut or Specialized Security Services. Then you can call it free.

Testy, testy

Yeah, that'll work. A couple of weeks before your evaluation tell the Chairman that it's her fault. Apparently MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden is peeved that MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia missed the Council's Education meeting on Monday which then put her in the position of having to defend MNPS. That was something she wasn't prepared to do. The Tennessean tells us:

Garcia fired back an e-mail confronting Warden for her repeated threats to give him a bad evaluation. He also suggested that she take note of questions at future public hearings rather than give out incorrect information.
The Tennessean has copies of the email exchange between Warden and Garcia. You're going to want to read these. Scroll down to see them.

Warden wrote:
There was no financial information available at the
meeting. In consequence, there were a number of allegations of
impropriety that was made to which I cold not respond effectively.
Financial information was not the only thing missing. The most
important thing missing was you. You could have answered the questions
and demonstrated that Metro Schools did not misappropriate funds.
Just my opinion, but it seems to me that as Chairman of the BOE she should have had a handle on a lot of this.

And she gives him a direct order:
I expect you to review the questions asked at the meeting and
present written responses to those questions to Ms. Smith, the members
of the Metro Council, they Mayor, and the local press. I expect this to
be done immediately.
Garcia responds:
I take my job very seriously, but I also make it a practice to have representation from the Administration at every meeting. Sandy Tinnon used to be that representative, and presently those duties are handled by Woody McMillin. The Board has never directed me as to what meetings I need to attend.
Now I like Woody McMillan a lot and wouldn't want his job for all the tea in China, but he's not Sandra Tinnon, or Chris Henson or even Paul Changas, all of whom, I expect, would be better able to handle most of the questions.

I don't see any explanation from Garcia in his email as to where he was or why that was more important than the Metro Education Committee meeting.

He who laughs last

The Tennessean has this quote from MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia after he heard about Councilman Eric Crafton's resolution before Tuesday's Council regarding his status:

"If [Tn DOE Commissioner of Education Lana Seveirs] issues an opinion, then she's lost her marbles," Garcia said, chuckling. "My employers are nine board members and MNPS (Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools), and they can certainly get rid of me anytime they want to, as long as they get five votes."
If there ever was a time for humility--this is likely it.
According to data released by MNPS this week, Garcia failed just over half of the benchmarks on the quantitative portion of his evaluation. Two of the 100 benchmarks on this portion leave some room for debate, but of the rest, Garcia failed more points than he passed. City Paper
After the debacle that was the vote in the fall of 2005 the MNPS BOE made some specific changes in how they evaluate Garcia. There are specific numbers that will have to be recognized and honored if they're going to follow through with their plan. Only 25% of his rating is based on squishy, feel good relationship with the board stuff. If it's close, and we won't know until January 19, this is where it could fall. My suggestion is folks make sure their BOE members know how they feel about Garcia's performance and how to vote.

These folks are up for re-election in August. Their job performance should be linked to Garcia's. Remember, all but North, gave Garcia a hefty raise and voted to renew his contract, Porter once, the rest over, and over and over again.

From left to right:
Ed Kindall on the BOE 22 years since 7/9/1985,
George Thompson, more than 11 years: 4 months on the BOE in 1991 and then back on 8/1/1996,
MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden on the BOE since 8/24/2004 ,
Gracie Porter elected in August of 2006 and
Mark North since spring of 2007.

But why????

Today the State Building Commission will meet to 'discuss' the Bredesen Bunker. Considering the make up of the commission it's hard to believe that any serious discussion will occur. What's so very frustrating for me is that despite all the coverage I have yet to hear the answer to one simple question:

Why is this party bunker and the ongoing maintenance and staffing taxpayers will be committed to a better option than renting any other facility currently available in Nashville?

The best we're given is Mrs. Bredesen's: “I am a firm believer that it needs to be built,” and it's a completely inadequate response. Further she says:

“But I’m looking at this as, this is something we can do to fix a deficiency here and it’s going to fix it for the next 50 or 75 years.

“And to me, it’s worth going forward on this.”
We're talking about $19 million that's going to last, in her opinion, at most 75 years. That alone is a quarter of a million dollars every year until then. Every year that's twice what the house was worth. Bill Hobbs is exactly correct, someone needs to give her a calculator and show her how to use it. When Mrs. Bredesen touted the energy savings that will occur after rehabbing the house Hobbs pointed out:
At $15,000 a year in savings, it will take only 733 years for taxpayers to recoup their $11 million investment. Not counting interest and inflation, of course
If the Governor won't put a calculator (and a stop) to this bunker project, the State Building Commission must. Someone on that Commission, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) , must speak the truth and point out that we have a lot of serious needs in this state. One of them is NOT creating a party facility for 120 to sit down to dinner or 1,200+ to mix and mingle. How many Tennesseans could we feed a simple but nutritious meal for this same money?
[Rep. Frank Buck (D-Dowellton)] is angry because public funds never got legislative approval. "It's shameful that we've turned the purse strings loose to the Building Commission to spend this kind of money," Buck said. He'd like to see the General Assembly pass a quick budget amendment to prohibit the money from being spent until more study is done. Tennessean
Buck and Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) have written a letter to the Building Commission and the Governor asking them to put a stop to this. The letter says in part:
"With the financial constraints facing the state and plans to cut departmental budgets, it is fiscally irresponsible to continue with this construction."
There it is. That's the nut of the issue. We can't afford this AND no one has proven a need for it that comes anywhere near surpassing dozens, hundreds, thousands, of other needs.

Another serious consideration is touched on by Oak Hill City Manager Bill Kraus.
...if an emergency were to occur inside the facility, which is expected to hold as many as 1,217 people, emergency vehicles would have difficulty maneuvering on narrow Curtiswood Lane, he said.
I've been told the road won't allow two emergency vehicles to pass beside one another if they had to hustle people out of the facility quickly. Do we really want the additional liability that could occur if someone doesn't make it out in time to save their life?

So we're back to WHY is this facility necessary? Why won't any other space in Nashville suffice? Why is THIS where we need to spend $12 million in taxpayer funds?

Here are the names of those in charge who should know the answers to those questions when they vote on this today. We need someone on this committee to be a leader and say, "No."

Governor Phil Bredesen, Chairman
First Floor, State Capitol,
Nashville, TN 37243
John G. Morgan**
Comptroller of the Treasury

First Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243

Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, Vice Chairman
House of Representatives

Suite 19, Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243

Dale Sims **
State Treasurer

First Floor, State Capitol,
Nashville, TN 37243

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey
Speaker of the Senate

Suite 1, Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243
Riley Darnell**
Secretary of State

First Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243

Executive Sub-Committee Members**
Dave Goetz, Commissioner **
Dept. of Finance & Administration

First Floor, State Capitol,
Nashville, TN 37243

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Overall C+ for Tennessee

Education Week's Quality Counts for 2008 is up.

First, we’re grading states on their performance outcomes as well as on their policy efforts. Second, we’re grading states on their efforts to better align policies across the various levels of education—from early-childhood education to postsecondary study and training. And, third, we’re introducing a greatly revised set of indicators on the teaching profession that looks more broadly at state efforts to attract, develop, and deploy talent in education, including some new indicators related to school principals.
Lots of bells and whistles on the left margin of this site for folks to use. The map of "Chances for Success" above is just one of several you can create.

Another Garcia poll

Karen Johnson and I (see poll at top right) aren't the only ones conducting a vote on Garcia's status. Look what showed up on the Metro Council Agenda for Tuesday:


A resolution requesting the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education to make a recommendation as to whether it is appropriate that the Metropolitan Nashville Director of Schools be removed by the Tennessee Board of Education.

WHEREAS, during the tenure of the current Director of Schools, the Metropolitan Council has shown tremendous support for Metro Schools by fully funding, if not exceeding, the Mayor’s recommended budget; and

WHEREAS, although the Council has no direct oversight as to the operation of the school system, the Council has a responsibility to ensure that the funds appropriated for public schools are used in the most prudent manner possible and that student achievement is progressing at an acceptable level; and

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Public School (MNPS) system was recently moved into the “corrective action” phase of the federal No Child Left Behind law by the Tennessee Department of Education; and

WHEREAS, as a result of dismal academic performance, state officials acted to remove the principal at Maplewood High School; and

WHEREAS, the 2007 TCAP results show that MNPS fourth graders scored below the minimum growth standard in math and reading, and sixth and eighth graders were below the growth standard in social studies by at least two standard errors; and

WHEREAS, the state high school Gateway test results indicate that Metro public schools’ progress is significantly below the average system in Tennessee in Algebra I, Biology I, and English II; and

WHEREAS, Metro public schools ranked at the bottom of the list of Tennessee school systems on the Math Foundations end of course exam, and have the highest dropout rates and lowest graduation rates in the state; and

WHEREAS, the average ACT score for Metro public schools’ students is a 19.08, which is below the minimum requirement for the HOPE scholarship and precludes our students from admission into 99 percent of the colleges in this country; and

WHEREAS, Davidson County property taxpayers fund the Metropolitan Schools at the second highest level of 135 school districts for the local portion of the per pupil expenditure; and

WHEREAS, Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-1-602 authorizes the Tennessee Commissioner of Education to recommend to the state Board of Education that the local schools director be replaced if a school system does not make progress to meet the minimum standards after being on probation for two consecutive years; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting and proper that the Tennessee Board of Education take the action necessary to determine whether it is appropriate that the MNPS Director of Schools position be vacated by the state Board of Education.


Section 1. That the Metropolitan County Council hereby goes on record as requesting the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education to make a recommendation as to whether it is appropriate that the Metropolitan Nashville Director of Schools be removed by the Tennessee Board of Education.

Section 2. The Metropolitan Clerk is directed to send a copy of this Resolution to Lana Seivers, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education.

Section 3. That this Resolution shall take effect from and after its adoption, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it.

Sponsored by: Councilman Eric Crafton

I have no doubt that Crafton's got his 'whereas' stats correct. It's not enough to be able to point to a couple of schools that are doing well. We're not getting our money's worth from this director. Our students only have so long in the system and too many of them aren't being taught to an acceptable level. Someone has got to step up and demand 'whatever it takes' to get this job done. If the school board won''s time for the purse-holders to draw the line.