Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gracie Porter 2004 Election Finances

Gleaning from the 2004 Campaign Financial Disclosure Statements of Gracie Porter , District 5 Representative for the Metro Nashville Public Schools reveals the tremendous investment that Democratic PAC's and the unions involved in the public school system made in ensuring Porter's election.

For those unaware, I was appointed by the Metro Council to fill the unexpired term of the former BOE rep in May of 2006. Just 11 weeks later was the general election and Porter and I, and two other candidates, all ran for the seat. It was obvious during the campaign that big guns were pulled out to keep me from retaining my appointment on the MNPS Board of Education. I think many people will be surprised at how much money and manpower these Democratic PACS and these unions expended to ensure that I wasn't around to ask questions, hold people accountable and provide answers to parents, taxpayers and voters.

Here is ample evidence that the foxes are guarding the hen house. No real progress will be made in Nashville schools until we break the conflict of interest that results when a BOE member owes their seat to the folks they are supposed to hold accountable.

This chart shows $18,300 from PACS and unions. That's 88% of her contributions coming from "Democracy" for America/TN, SEIU, MNEA, AFL-CIO, the Tn Democratic Women's PAC, and the Chamber of Commerce's Success PAC which fought hard to keep Pedro Garcia in charge of MNPS.

So, who do you think is going to ensure her reelection?

All of this is important to keep in mind as this is the final week to qualify to run for any MNPS BOE seat. Petitions must be picked up from the Metro Election Commission and returned before noon on Thursday, April 3. If you are unhappy with how MNPS schools are being run do something about it. Be or back a candidate that will hold the system accountable with your time and your treasure. It's not too late to get 25 fellow district voters to qualify a candidate.

Here are the current BOE members up for re-election in August.

From left to right:
Ed Kindall on the BOE since 7/9/1985, nearly 23 years,
George Thompson on the BOE in 1991 and then back on 8/1/1996, more than 12 years,
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.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Seems odd to be coloring eggs on this fine spring day in mugs with snowmen on them.

Have a GLORYous weekend.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Running from responsibility

This picture is of MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden turning her back on Nashville Channel 5's Phil Williams as he tries to get answers from our School Board Chair about what MNPS is going to do to ensure the safety of children, specifically special needs children, on school buses.

Our chief investigator Phil Williams went to the school board looking for answers.

"I'd like to talk to you about the sexual assaults," Williams told board chairwoman Marsha Warden.

Warden suddenly turned and walked away. "I'm sorry. I can't talk about that, OK?"

"Why not?" Williams asked.

Her answer: "They're minors."

Instead of facing him (and us via the camera), being a leader and addressing the issue or at minimum providing a political answer like "This is a serious issue and we're working on a solution", she runs away under the pretext that she's got to get a meeting started.

Williams didn't ask her about any child in particular. That's just the first excuse that came to mind. She'd be happy to talk about minors that have done well, won awards or are participating in some MNPS backed activity. What she didn't want to talk about is a very messy and serious issue that demands her full attention. Her first responsibility to these children is their safety. If there is a gag order from Metro Legal covering the entire issue of school bus safety, she should have been honest and said so. But if there is, it's one that needs to be broken. One lawsuit, which could take years to litigate should not shut down legitimate discussion of the whole issue.

Is there any wonder why she has 5 opponents in the upcoming election?

If you missed the report you can view it at NewsChannel 5.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kill all the School Boards

Some serious truth in the following paragraphs from Matt Miller at The This is what any candidate for school board is facing.

Incompetent school boards and union dominance. “In the first place, God made idiots,” Mark Twain once wrote. “This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.” Things don’t appear to have improved much since Twain’s time. “The job has become more difficult, more complicated, and more political, and as a result, it’s driven out many of the good candidates,” Vander Ark says. “So while teachers’ unions have become more sophisticated and have smarter people who are better-equipped and -prepared at the table, the quality of school-board members, particularly in urban areas, has decreased.” Board members routinely spend their time on minor matters, from mid-level personnel decisions to bus routes. “The tradition goes back to the rural era, where the school board hired the schoolmarm and oversaw the repair of the roof, looked into the stove in the room, and deliberated on every detail of operating the schools,” says Michael Kirst, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University. “A lot of big-city school boards still do these kinds of things.” Because of Progressive-era reforms meant to get school boards out of “politics,” most urban school districts are independent, beyond the reach of mayors and city councils. Usually elected in off-year races that few people vote in or even notice, school boards are, in effect, accountable to no one.

Local control essentially surrenders power over the schools to the teachers’ unions. Union money and mobilization are often decisive in board elections. And local unions have hefty intellectual and political backing from their state and national affiliates. Even when they’re not in the unions’ pockets, in other words, school boards are outmatched. (Page two)

It's true. As BOE financial disclosure forms clearly indicate the unions, the employees of the system, exert the most financial power in these district races. Next up is the business interests. Many of whom don't live in the districts or system and so don't suffer the tax or societal consequences of their actions. Waaaay down the political food chain are busy moms and dads with barely enough time to earn a living and ensure the children have clean clothes. If they had the time and/or money to advocate for their children they rarely have the political skills and connections to really make a difference. And, frankly, it's often their children that desperately need some differences to occur.

Those that run the public schools in our nation aren't looking for bright, articulate people who bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to school board meetings. They use every tool and trick possible to keep their power unto themselves and keep this adult jobs program going. They're looking for folks who are of their ilk or compliant and willing to quietly rubber stamp and cash their paychecks. It's assumed that any retired teacher is better qualified than any successful business person. Never mind that the system resembles more of a corporation than a classroom when you consider that transportation, in school clinics, human resources, purchasing and food service take up a huge portion of the system's resources.

Further, the Metro Council that approves the budget for the school system has absolutely no control over how the money is spent. They, essentially, get a request from the school system saying we need $X 'for the children'. There is no actual requirement to account for money spent. Any attempt at pointing out the failures in the system is met with a visceral "kill the messenger".

Get a warm cup of something on this dark rainy day and read all three pages of Mr. Miller's article. You won't agree with it all, I absolutely disagree that nationalization is the answer, but you will come away more enlightened.

If you agree that nationalization isn't the answer, get involved in a local school board race and ensure that the next board actually works for the children, your children, our children. Send your council representative some specific questions about expenditures for them to ask when the BOE comes before them asking for money. If we can't actually hold them accountable for the money let's at least get the waste out into the light of day.

Friday, March 14, 2008

It's now 5 against Marsha

MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden will have five opponents in her effort to keep her BOE seat. Seems to me that says volumes about what her district thinks of her performance so far. Alan Coverstone, MBA Academic Dean who has been active in the magnet schools with his two children and the Parent Advisory Council and Paul Brenner have added their names to the mix that already includes James Lech, Lee E. Limbard, and Councilman Eric Crafton

Check Tick, Tick, Tick for information on qualifying to run against incumbents Ed Kindall, George Thompson and Gracie Porter. So far they don't have any opposition.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

George Thompson 2004 Election Finances

The following is gleaned from the records I picked up from the Davidson County Election Commission the other day. Remember, these records are destroyed after five years so if you want details, you may want to get 'em while they're still available. They'll be gone next year.

This from George Thompson's file. He was last elected in 2004 and has been a BOE member since 1996.

When he picked up his qualifying petition he indicated his party affiliation was Democrat. Did you know both he and fellow BOE member Ed Kindall (also up for re-election) share the same business address?

A curiosity: Thompson's file had two diplomas in it. One from the Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University for George H. Thompson, III dated June 8 1969 and the other diploma from City Public Schools Nashville says George Henry Thompson, Jr. I've heard of going from JR. to nothing at all when SR. passes but never going from, essentially II to III.

Thompson acted as his own treasurer. Maybe that explains why he has obligations noted that are never moved to the expenses columns and the numbers don't quite balance. Does anyone check the math? It also explains how he got away with not really accounting for some $1,500 in miscellaneous expenses. It's just sloppy bookkeeping to not have receipts for so much money. Especially when part of it is for 'contractual fees'. Looks like his current campaign balance as of the last filing is $295.83. He started with $268.78. Further it looks like about half the money he took in came from the very people he's supposed to be supervising in some capacity. Fredericka G. Zee made a tidy sum. There can't be two in this town. She's got to be the one somehow connected to Project New Beginnings.

If you can tell me how to convert an Excel sheet to html or some other format Blogger will render decently, let me know. If there are any errors in the Excel sheet below, please, speak up.

So take a look and see who helped get the man in office 4 years ago.

Knoxville Super Search

Did you know Knoxville is also looking for a new Superintendent of Schools? Brian Hornback is all over it and you might want to cruise through his posts as MNPS also walks through the process.

Some tidbits:

Is the School Board Fix in For the Next Superintendent? Brian's Blog was the first to point out that the school board in its meeting of taking the 12 applicant files from 12 to 5 semi-finalist potentially violated the Tennessee Open Meeting Records Law in casting their votes by secret ballot.

Two of Knox County's 12 Short Listed Superintendent Candidates Make The Semi-Finalist Round In Tacoma: Ray and Associates, Knox County's School Superintendent Consultant is the Consultant for the Tacoma, WA city school system. The Tacoma city school board selected 8 semi-finalist from 23 candidates. It took them 3 1/2 hours to do so.

Our School Superintendent Salary is Out of Line: Horry County, South Carolina and Knox County, TN are competing for one guy, Brian Bingelli. Horry County, South Carolina's revenue is $498 million dollars and their Superintendent salary range is $200,000. Knox County School's revenue is around $352 million and their Superintendent salary range is $240,000

Keep scrolling at Brian's place. Doesn't look like he's missed anything.

Friend$ of Metro $chools

The only thing this coalition will do well is pick the pockets of taxpayers.

Friends of Metro Schools — a coalition founded by Stand for Children Nashville, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Interdenominational Ministers’ Fellowship (IMF) — launches today, with a pledge to strive to organize Nashvillians into advocating for public schools to Metro leaders.

The new organization plans to reach out to interested individuals with information about the funding process, as it unfolds, for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Those who are contacted will also receive information about how to get in touch with officials making funding decisions. (No hyperlink thanks to the City Paper's new and improved e-paper. "Coalition has lesson plan to boost funds for Metro schools", City Paper, 3/13/08 page 3.)
I'm not looking for an organization that will advocate for the schools. How about actually advocating for the children? Looks like the only effort to hold MNPS accountable for the more than half a BILLION dollars they're already spending is the Save Our Students group who are actually pointing out that it's not the money. Other districts are doing better with less. Why can't we? Throwing money at the problem is easy...let me know when someone actually gets a copy of the MNPS check register and starts running those numbers. Then we'll have a better idea of just where it's really going. It's not making it to the classroom...that's for certain. What makes Friends of Metro Schools thinks what they'll raise will get there?

Truancy trouble

So Superintendent of Schools errr Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is taking on the truancy issue according Thursday's Tennessean. At today's Summit on Truancy it was suggested a truancy center be created.

But the mayor wouldn’t say whether he will dedicate funds create a center, only that his budget would reflect his priorities, public education and public safety.
Just a heads up about getting too aggressive in this effort. There are lots of student in Nashville that don't follow the public school schedule and are legitimately out and about during 'school hours'. Memphis learned that lesson the hard way after they got money from the Fed's to create their own truancy centers. They ended up having to pay cash to a family whose son was unnecessarily picked up, taken to the local high school and harassed. Let's make sure that doesn't happen in Nashville.

My suggestion is to two-fold. Get back to ensuring all students can read well, have a solid foundation in those old-fashioned 3R's so they don't end up so angry and frustrated that they act out. Then get rid of the 'time in seat equals an education' model. Give students a specific educational goal to meet and let them meet it on their schedule, using the education delivery system that works for them and then cut 'em loose to move on with their lives.

Testing Rep. Hardaway

Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), he of the HB2795 to test all non-public schoolers with public school tests, and even more outrageously wants to test all newborns for paternity, promised to have this testing bill reheard on 3/19 and also communicate about the changes he said he would make to the bill. Well, it's scheduled for hearing next Wednesday as promised but he's not telling anyone what, if any, changes have been made. He's not returning phone calls or giving one inch in the few personal contacts that have been made.

The following was emailed late today to Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) and each member of the House Special Initiatives sub-committee. Here's a link that will address an email to them that you can send to voice your concerns.

From: Kay Brooks
Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2008 5:04 PM
Subject: Failure to communicate regarding HB2795 Testing for all
Importance: High

Rep. Hardaway and fellow legislators,

I’m writing to bring your attention to your failure, Rep. Hardaway, to communicate to citizens regarding HB2795. On February 27, 2008 this bill was heard before the House Special Initiatives sub-committee. At that time more than 100 citizens filled the conference room and halls to protest this burdensome and unnecessary testing legislation. At the end of the discussion about this testing bill Education Chair Les Winningham requested that you, Rep. Hardaway, ensure that you get the language you want in the bill, show that to the Chairman John Mark Windle and the rest of the committee members as well as giving it to various homeschool representatives so we could all have it in advance as well. You, Rep. Hardaway, assured Chairman Winningham that you would be communicating and that these citizens would be kept up to date on the language and communications you have with others regarding this bill. If your memory fails here’s the video:

You have failed to keep your word, Rep. Hardaway. I gave you my card that day telling you I would be happy to help you communicate with the Tennessee homeschooling community via the network. I have called your office several times since then and none of my messages have been returned. When I talk with other homeschoolers it’s clear that my experience has been the norm. Your lack of cooperation in this matter is very disappointing and quite unprofessional. Many of us gave you the benefit of the doubt, took you at your word and now find that your word is not trustworthy.

As of 5:00 p.m. today the bill is scheduled to be heard next Wednesday, 3/19/08 and the state’s website shows NO amendments to this bill. Your fellow committee members made it very clear that they did not want a repeat of the deluge of phone calls, emails, faxes and mail that occurred a month ago. We agree that there is important legislative business that should not be derailed by something as unnecessary and fruitless as HB2795 and strongly urge you to withdraw the bill immediately and make that widely known.

Most sincerely,

Kay Brooks

TnHomeEd is a network and comprehensive independent clearinghouse of homeschooling information specifically for Tennessee parents and other interested parties.

The mission of TnHomeEd is to provide homeschooling and education information to all parents regardless of why or how they school, who they are, what they believe or their membership status.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Just a suggestion

Perhaps, along with keeping those laptops where they belong and putting bars on those first floor windows at the Davidson County Election Commission they may want to consider numbered receipts. I've done a bit of bookkeeping in my day and it's been my understanding that regarding receipts the better way is to have them pre-printed and consecutively numbered. It ensures that ALL the receipts are accounted for and none go missing.

Side note: I have always found Ms. Harrison completely cooperative and professional...and her penmanship would win my grandmother's approval.

BOE papers pulled so far

I spent a little time at the Davidson County Election Commission this morning checking on papers pulled for the upcoming election and getting copies of financial statements from previous elections. There were a couple of surprises in the trip.

  1. MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden hasn't picked up a qualifying petition as of about 11:30 a.m. today.
  2. Neither has Ed Kindall
  3. Councilman Eric Crafton has.
  4. Former Superintendent of Schools Pedro Garcia donated $200 to George Thompson for the 2004 election.
  5. Gracie Porter has $2,210.75 in her fund BUT also owes herself $1,000.00.
  6. Financial disclosure statements are burned after 5 years so there is no public record beyond that. I was told that was law, not policy.

More later when I've had time to really go through these.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tick, Tick, Tick

The time to qualify to run for MNPS Board of Education is ticking away. Citizens interested in running have got to pick up a qualifying petition, get 25 registered voters from that district to sign it, and have those signatures back to the Election Commission and verified before noon on Thursday, April 3.

As of last Friday:

Ed Kindall is unopposed.
George Thompson is unopposed.
Gracie Porter is unopposed.
Mark North is unopposed.

But there is good news for District 9 (Bellevue). Two people have picked up petitions to run against MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden:James Lech and Lee E. Limbird. I've never heard of either of them. If only to give voters a chance at a choice...find 'em and sign a petition.

If these seats remain unchanged MNPS will not change and it must change. I dearly hope someone rises up and at least provides voters a choice in each of the above districts. Both Kindall and Thompson demonstrate the power of incumbency and give insight into the reason voters required term limits for Metro Council members.

Those interested in running, or those working on encouraging someone to run should check here for more details:

Davidson County Election Commission
Metro Office Building
800 Second Avenue South
UPDATE: Here's the TN School Board's Association's page on becoming a school board member. Qualifications for running are:
  • A citizen of Tennessee
  • At least 18 years old
  • A resident of the school district
  • A high school graduate (or G.E.D.)
  • A registered voter in the county
Here are the current BOE members up for re-election in August.

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

Focus on successful

MNPS BOE member Karen Johnson gives us the list of qualities the board is seeking in a new director of schools. They retreated and came out with these warm and fuzzy atributes:

  1. Substance vs Show
  2. Personable
  3. Compassionate
  4. Staff Development Supporter
  5. Listener
  6. Passionate
  7. Collaborative
  8. Strategic Thinker
  9. Successful
  10. Morale Builder
  11. Knowledgeable/Academic Achievement
  12. Communicator -Internal/External
  13. Delegates
  14. Visionary
  15. Ability to sell schools/vision/goals
  16. A clear natural leader
What jumps out at me is that it takes until #9 for them to get to the crux of the matter. They need to throw that 'successful' to the top of the list and make the other 15 sub-categories. Yeah, I know, I know, they're still recovering from the leadership style of Pedro Garcia, but I don't have a lot of sympathy for them. Most of them hired him. Most of them voted to extend his contract and give him a pay raise. Most of them are up for reelection.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Pushing Back

Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) makes this week's issue of Education Week. The article titled "Home-schoolers Pushing Back Against New State Scrutiny". The article highlights what a busy month it's been for homeschool advocates and how strong their opposition to interference has been. In Nebraska 1,000 of some 6,000 homeschoolers descended upon the state capitol when a legislator, who is married to the teacher's association lobbyist, btw, tried to require testing for them. In Mississippi the statehouse was 'flooded' with calls and the bill there died in committee. In Tennessee hundreds attended a public hearing. Just last week a juvenile case that was hidden from public view yielded a public opinion that a private school provision used by some 160,000 students' parents to school their children at home was illegal. That's going to redefine 'flood of calls to the statehouse' to be sure.

Here's the portion of the Ed Week article about Hardaway's wrong headed effort to require all students take the state tests.

In Tennessee, Rep. G.A. Hardaway has been pushing for a new law to require all school children to pass the same state exams as public school students to receive a high school diploma. In response, the home school community in Tennessee waged a telephone and e-mail campaign to lobby against the measure before its first public hearing on Feb. 27.

Mr. Hardaway, a Democrat from Memphis, said he didn't intend to target home school students, but wanted to draw the attention of state education officials to what he called "an uneven playing field" for public school students.

Under Tennessee's current graduation requirements, students must pass a series of three standardized exams, known as Gateway tests, to earn a diploma. Mr. Hardaway said that requirement is not fair when it's only applied to public school students, especially when graduates of nonpublic schools are eligible for state-lottery-funded college scholarships.

"In order for it to be a fair race, everyone needs to start from the same starting line," he said.

The state board of education, however, has already approved a new policy that will soon eliminate the Gateway tests in favor of a series of end-of-course exams, which will account for 25 percent of a student's overall course grade.

In the meantime, Mr. Hardaway, who is reworking his original legislation, said he would seek to require that Tennessee education officials more closely study the best practices used by home-schoolers and other nonpublic educators that may work to help raise student achievement in public schools.

"We all need to work together and learn from each other," Mr. Hardaway said.

Hardaway is unwilling to acknowledge that there is plenty of research out there about private and homeschoolers that he could glean from to rework the public education system. It's already available. It is not necessary to force families to submit to state scrutiny in order to obtain that information. It won't require legislation and it'll be a lot cheaper than $4 million a year just to test the students and then untold millions to examine, more to create new programs based on the suggested changes and even more to implement. Likely, the end will be what works in small intimate family settings just doesn't work as well in factory school setting.

Hardaway just needs to withdraw his bill, HB2795, and save taxpayers and legislators a lot of grief and dollars. We've got way more than 6,000 homeschoolers in this state. Add private schoolers and the legislative halls won't hold them all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More info, please.

It's the season for me to investigate various pieces of legislation and while visiting the Utah legislative site came across another state with a very handy feature that I'd like to see replicated in Tennessee. I don't understand why it can't be done here. You subscribe to receive information about a particular bill. When it's scheduled for hearings, when amendments are filed, when the fiscal note comes're sent an email notice so you can keep up with it all. Now I'm sure there's some $ervice out there that supplies this information...but I think it's time Tennessee to extend this service to citizens themselves.

And while I'm in an asking mood, something else I'd like to see is how the bills are actually being written. As it is now we get bills that all too often say something like HB2795 :

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-1-608, is amended by deleting the words "high school students" and substituting the words "public or non-public high school students',
That's pretty cryptic. We have no idea what the bill will actually do. The cynic in me thinks that's just fine with some legislators. Other states actually show you what the changes are by utilizing formatting like this: Wording being removed, Wording inserted. Here's what's above in context that makes much more sense and reveals just what's being done very clearly.
49-1-608. Subject matter tests for secondary schools — Initiation of value added assessment. — By not later than 1993, the development of subject matter tests will be initiated to measure performance of high school students public or non-public high school students in subjects designated by the state board of education and approved by the education oversight committee. These tests must reflect the complete range of topics covered within the list of state approved textbooks for that subject....
Now we can read this bill is about expanding testing to all students based on subjects the State BOE picks and based on state approved textbooks. Since tens of thousands of families have chosen not to submit their children to the subjects and texts the State BOE approves, this is a problem. Lawmakers, supposed citizen representatives, shouldn't have any real objection to ensuring that mere citizens have a better chance at knowing exactly what's going on in their legislature.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Testimony on YouTube

My apologies to those of you who wanted to see the testimony before the House Special Initiatives sub-committee and found it was unavailable due to heavy traffic. Over the weekend it was uploaded to YouTube. It's been broken down into seven segments of about five minutes each for ease in finding and digesting what's most interesting to the viewer. Comments in the right hand column let you know what's in each clip. That page is hosted at

Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) states in his introductory comments:

"What it does, Mr. Chairman, is to make use of best practices that the homeschoolers would be able to develop, proven out. We've got to have some general way of measurement and actually collecting that data and bringing it into the school system. But that's cheaper and makes a whole lot more sense than having to develop umpteen laboratory schools. We've already got it working..."
further in clip six he states:
"Let's work on things together. Let's talk about whether the assessment tests that the public schoolers are doing and the assessment tests that the private schools and the homeschoolers are doing need to be the same. "
Lest folks brush this off as a homeschool issue please see what is in bold above. His intention is to measure all students in every home and private school in an effort to find out what works. Sitting down over coffee or reviewing the information already out there won't work. He tells us we won't know what works unless the State of Tennessee actually collects data. Further he thinks testing students not in the public school system will be cheaper. The fiscal note for this bill quickly puts it at about $4 million a year and I believe they've highly underestimated the number of students not in the public school system. I don't call that cheap. I know some schools that could do a LOT with $4 million as public school parents are quick to point out.

And we haven't even gotten into the particulars of testing itself. As those who toil under the yoke of NCLB will tell you...the test doesn't always tell you the whole story. Criterion reference or normed reference have big problems--especially if the students aren't following the expected scope and sequence.

The calls to Hardaway and his partners in this effort Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis) and Rep. Tommie Brown's (D-Chattanooga) will continue until the bill is withdrawn.