Turmoil in Metro Nashville Public Schools has prompted Mayor David Briley to criticize the school board and push for a more hands-on role in the district. In turn, that’s drawn reactions from other candidates vying for the mayor’s office.
Nashville’s mayor has limited power over school district decisions — but does have a big say in the budget. And a mayor can promote or critique district efforts.
So WPLN asked the four leading candidates a uniform question:
At what level should the mayor be involved with the school and the school board?
Here’s how they answered.
“The highest level possible. I think it is the most critical issue to the city’s long-term success. I’m not exactly sure how that will play out in the short or medium-term, but I think it has to be at the highest possible level.”
John Ray Clemmons
“The mayor should be involved with the school board by having a strong partnership with the director of schools and the school board. … We have got to recognize as a Metro Council and as a Metro government that we have a direct impact on students’ performance in the classrooms. For too long we have pointed fingers at the school board and the director of schools and tried to blame them for everything going wrong with our school system.
“You know, they like to — the council and the mayor’s office — have liked to hide behind the [Metro Charter], which says we provide [schools] with a budget and they say their job stops there. Well, the reality is those children are only in the classroom 7-8 hours a day. The rest of the day, they’re in our community, over which the mayor and the Metro Council has a direct impact.
So unless we take affirmative actions and own our responsibility for what happens outside that classroom — such as hunger, homelessness, transportation options, housing options — those types of things have a direct impact on the performance of those children inside the classroom. And we have got to own that and start taking responsibility as a Metro government for our role.”
“Here’s the real danger: If we say, ‘Oh my gosh, basically the school system is in bankruptcy,’ — which is not the case — the legislature can take this out of everybody’s control and give it to the state school board. … That’s the most dangerous path. The right path, I think, is for everybody to calm down and realize we’ve got an excellent interim in Dr. Adrienne Battle.
“I think there’s going to be a new era of people trying to work together and have the kind of slow, steady improvement that school needs to have.
“Now, some of that is money. We’re going to have to pay and retain great young teachers, and support principals and parental involvement, and pay for the supplies the teachers are putting up for their students.
“But grabbing over and trying to reach for the steering wheel — one more set of hands — is probably problematic. And it’s not like Metro itself is super great at contracting, or pay, or not having deficit spending. It’s not like we are some management guru of excellence, necessarily, particularly for a space that we’ve never really been part of.
“So my feeling is slow down, don’t make us bait for the legislature to take our school system away, and instead focus on quality people and working together, and that the mayor needs to be the reassurance.”
“I believe that the mayor should set an example as a leader and be aware of what’s taken place in the school board, as well as in the schools. And because of the Metro Charter, the mayor cannot control how the school board spends its budget. But I believe that the mayor can use that pulpit to hold them accountable. And so if they’re spending too much money on administration, or buildings, or whatever they’re doing … the mayor should be able and willing to step in there.
“I also believe that the mayor should support the Metro employees. And when it comes to teachers’ salaries, or Metro employees, I think that they have gone too long without the raises that they need. And had I been mayor for this year I would have pushed for a 6% raise across the board for Metro employees, because they didn’t get the 3% they were promised last year.
“But I believe that the mayor should not interfere the way Mayor Briley did with the debate around Superintendent Shawn Joseph. … In that particular case, I think [Briley’s] leadership did not benefit the city.”