By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
August 1, 2008
The beat (down) goes on for Metro's public school system.
In the wake of the latest No Child Left Behind test scores released in recent days, could it be said that Nashville has the worst public schools in Tennessee?
Probably not, but Metro is furthest along of any system to having the state do a complete takeover of its operations. No other public schools in any of the 95 counties come close.
But that's not to say Metro Schools did not improve in many of the categories measured by the No Child Left Behind tests, even when standards went up this year. In fact, Metro apparently only flunked one sub-category of the tests (progress made by English Language Learners), but in the strange world of No Child Left Behind, that's enough for Metro to get an overall failing grade and have the State Department of Education take over more of the duties and responsibilities of the system.
If it happens again next year, the entire School Board (including the members about to be elected August 7) could be removed from office. Will that happen? The sources I talk to doubt it, but no one can say for sure.
This ambiguity where the State now calls most of the shots but the School Board still has full responsibility for the system seems to be getting to some School Board members. According to Amy Griffith of THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER (July 29) Steve Glover wants Davidson County's legislative delegation to "intervene." Says Glover: "Enough is enough. They're playing all these behind-the scenes games and they're messing with my kids and I'm fed up with it. I want a contract that says what they are doing works now. Or get out of our business, because what we've been doing obviously is working."
I wondered how long it would be before the state would start to get some major pushback from some folks in Metro about their role. That brings up to the role of a couple of other key supporters of public education, Mayor Karl Dean and The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Like Gail Kerr of THE TENNESSEAN said in her recent column (July 30), I thought Mayor Dean's statement in the wake of the new No Child test scores was very revealing. It talked a lot about meeting with Governor Phil Bredesen and continuing to work together on what the next steps should be going forward. This would seem to confirm another suspicion I've had, that the moves already made by the state to reorganize the central office and move around principals to new posts, was likely vetted in advance with Mayor Dean. Was it before it was vetted with School Board members? And would the Governor go even further in the future, and perhaps designate Mayor Dean as one of his agents (along with the State Department of Education) to implement further changes in Metro Schools? I am told that could be possible under the state's No Child regulations.
What about the role of the Chamber of Commerce in all this? In the past, the Chamber and the Mayor both were quick to jump to the defense of Metro schools and point out the positives of the No Child test results. After all, they both have to sell this county to businesses and corporations interested in putting new jobs or a headquarters facility here. The recent No Child test scores cried out for some positive spin from these top city leaders, but I didn't hear much of it this time.
The Chamber has been at odds with some School Board members and has its own slate of candidates in the August 7 election. Will the Chamber speak up more depending on how those races turn out? And one last question, given all the turmoil and controversy that continues to embroil groups that are all supposed to be supportive of public education, is there any quality educator out there who really wants the job of being the next Director of this school system? And if so, who's really going to call the shots to hire that person and just who will he or she really report to?
It's called Community Matters. It's a new initiative from Mayor Dean's office "designed to provide a sustained period of response to concerns in specific communities" through "two months of coordinated assistance...to alleviate codes and health violations, and remove litter and large bulk items."
Mayor Dean has made it clear since he first began his campaign for office last year that neighborhoods are one of his top priorities. But there have some doubts about that in recent months among some neighborhood leaders. So this program may also come in handy to allay growing fears and concerns by some that the Dean administration is too "pro-business" and ‘pro-developer."
The real trick will be (in a very tight budget year) how to provide this increased level of neighborhood related services in targeted areas (East Nashville will get the first shot at Community Matters) without creating issues in other parts of town, whose residents may feel they are now being slighted out of their share of neighborhood assistance.
Any reader of this column knows I am not a big fan of memorializing resolutions in the Metro Council. They normally serve little or no purpose. But I think the one being brought to the next Metro Council meeting on August 7 by Councilman At Large Ronnie Steine is a little different and worthy of our lawmakers' strong support.
Steine wants the Council to go on record against a proposal to make English Nashville's official language, urging voters to not sign a petition or vote for the proposed Charter amendment being pushed by Bellevue district Councilman Eric Crafton. The previous Metro Council approved such an English First measure but it was vetoed by then Mayor Bill Purcell, who said it was likely illegal, would involve the city in lots of costly litigation and would send the wrong message to the world about Nashville (not unimportant for a city so dependent on tourist dollars). The Council sustained Purcell's veto and voters ought to do the same says Steine who told THE TENNESSEAN (JULY 28), " It's not in the best interests of the community."
This relatively new Metro Council (it will complete its first year in office in October) has many challenges and tough votes before it in the months to come on raising water rates, hiking property taxes, creating storm water runoff fees. But this vote on English First may require the most political courage.
In our last show before the August 7th primary, we will talk with two of the best reporters on Nashville's Capitol Hill, Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NES SENTINEL and Joe White of WPLN, Nashville Public Radio. We'll get their take on how the key races for U.S. Senate, Congress and the State House and State Senate will work out and how things will then shape up for the fall campaign ahead.
We'll also take a few moments to talk with one more Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Nashville businessman Kenneth Eaton.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen each weekend on the NewsChannel5 Network.
Friday, August 1, 7:00 PM NewsChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50
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In Washington, the Congress and the President have come together just long enough to pass new housing legislation will help protect thousands of Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure and bail out the quasi-federal Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac agencies that hold about half the mortgages in the nation. Too bad they've done nothing to try and stop the unbelievable "bonuses" the top officials of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are getting in a year when the agencies lost millions and millions of dollars.
But as Congress prepares to leave on its 5-week summer recess it is still struggling to get anything done on energy or gas prices. In fact, the Senate Republicans, led in part by Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander has locked down the Senate from being able to anything else until they find some legislation they can agree on to help lower gas prices. Senator Corker is now joining with the so-called Gang of 10 (a bi-partisan group pledged to help break congressional deadlocks) by sponsoring a compromise bill which focuses on supply, conservation and alternatives (instead of just one of those efforts). All this is coming with the idea of taking up this new proposal when Congress returns in September.
Good luck, I am just not sure any single piece of legislation is going to make any difference all that quickly, and politicians who tell it will, are probably more concerned about getting past this election year than telling you the full truth.
Not surprisingly the move by our Republican Senators to block consideration of any other bills but ones related to energy is getting some criticism on the campaign trail. Mike Padgett, who is running for the Democratic nomination to oppose Senator Alexander this fall, says what Senator Alexander is doing is "unprecedented callousness" because it has prevented the Senate from considering other vital legislation vital to Tennesseans such as the sales tax deduction and disaster relief for those impacted by February's tornado.
Otherwise in Washington these days, it appears to be every man and woman for themselves. Republicans struggling hard to stabilize their somewhat tattered party brand image (if you believe the polls), instead wound up having to deal with another potential scandal when it's longest serving Senator, Ted Stevens of Alaska, was indicted on corruption charges. While professing support for Stevens personally and hoping the judicial system will quickly get to the bottom of the matter, lawmakers, including Senator Alexander, have been quick to return any campaign contributions they received from Senator Stevens or they are giving similar amounts of money to charity (a political washing of hands and covering of back sides if you will). No word yet from Senator Corker about what he will do about contributions he has received in the past from Senator Stevens.
Speaking of Senator Corker, he issued what would have been inconceivable news release in a normal election year concerning his incumbent party's President and his latest budget and deficit estimates. "This is not an honest view of the country's budget deficit and the administration knows it. Their failure to include a realistic assessment of war spending and its refusal to make accurate assumptions about the alternative minimum tax is disappointing and does not set the right tone for a serious discussion about our country's dire fiscal situation."
Corker says with the nation facing a $10 trillion dollar deficit, we "cannot continue to play games."
Wow! I thought for a minute I was reading comments from Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper. Speaking of Cooper, he made some interesting news about his future in recent days.
After what appeared to be a rather routine (but interesting) story (July 29) by Ken Whitehouse of Nashville Post speculating about Cooper as a possible Cabinet appointee in a new Obama administration (Cooper was an early and ardent Obama supporter) and who might run to take his Congressional post, Cooper's office was quick to issue an almost Shermanesque statement all but ruling out any such Obama post: "I already have a great job representing the people of the Nashville area in Congress. I am not interested in doing anything else. I want to stay put as the 5th District Congressman as long as the voters continue to support me. Although I strongly support Senator Obama for president, he'll need to look beyond me for his team.."
Given the nature of politics, I guess conditions could change and Cooper could change, but he sure isn't leaving much wiggle room for that. I guess it's like being a candidate for Vice President. Everyone says they don't want it, but, if it is offered, someone usually quickly takes it.
Cooper's statement didn't say anything about running for Governor in 2010, but I suspect he would feel the same way about that as he does about being in Obama's campaign, at least while he is up for re-election (which he is) and as long as he wants to stay relevant in Washington. Sometimes if folks know you are leaving, they start ignoring you.
THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
What's the one thing both major presidential campaigns seem to fear the most these days?
Well, if you believe a lot of the articles I am seeing in the news and non line, it's the Olympics which begin in just a few days (August 8). The concern is that the public will be so wrapped up in the Summer Games they'll start ignoring these marathon campaigners (Obama and McCain) who've been out on the campaign trail for many months now.
The Olympics is also playing a strategic role apparently in when both camps plan to name their vice presidential running mates. The national conventions come almost back to back at the end of August and the first week of September. So do you name your VP now before the Games? Or wait until that small window after the Games but before the Democratic Convention starts? Will Obama then go first or will McCain try to steal his thunder and jump out first. It would seem McCain would be better positioned if he waits and lets Obama make his choice, then try to counter it. But the McCain seems to be speculating all over the place about not just who but when they might act.
Another sign that McCain feels he has to shake things up might be his latest TV ad comparing Obama to celebrities like Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears, who are famous for just being famous. Therefore implies the McCain ad, Obama is not worthy of being president. That has set off a firestorm of protest from the Obama folks, with even the candidate complaining the Republicans are ready to do anything to show that he is different, that he has a funny name, and that he doesn't look like the other presidents on our dollar bills. Playing the "race card" the McCain responded, while Obama set up another web site to respond to what it says is "low road" of rumors and falsehoods being spread about him by Senator McCain and others.
Meantime I see from several articles that McCain's problem increasingly is staying on message. He recently said he opposed any tax increase to save Social Security, then told reporters that" everything was on the table" in discussions about how to save Social Security for future generations. Then there's the new energy plan his campaign unveiled the other day, called "The Lexington Project." In talking about it, the Senator said:" We call it the Lexington Project", you may call it whatever you wish."
Say what? I can see McCain's staff and handlers just cringing when these things happen.
It looks like it is going to be a long rest of the summer. And then we've got to get through the fall before we vote in November. So maybe it's time for a little break. Bring on those Olympics Games. I think we may be getting tired of these political Olympics we've been observing the last several months.
One last note about how confused things seem to be politically about this presidential race. I saw an article on line that said that Gallup polling firm has released three separate polls in the past few days, one showed McCain slightly ahead, another had Obama with a significant lead and the third and final poll showed a dead heat. What is this, a multiple choice election? Buy one, get one free? Or choose the poll you like best like cookies in the grocery store? And who's doing these polls? Is it one of those former East German judges from Olympics past? Or the folks who judge synchronized swimming?
I see there continues to be a Tennessee connection on the campaign trail.
Country artist John Rich (of Big & Rich) has written a campaign theme song for John McCain, entitled "Raising McCain." The tune lionizes McCain's time as a POW in Vietnam
Governor Bredesen meantime is in the WALL STREET JOURNAL (8/1) again warning Senator Obama about the difficulties he faces in trying to carry Tennessee. Some GOP sources tell me their polling shows Obama as a real potential drag on Democratic state legislative candidates. And what's ever happened to that fund raiser Obama was reportedly planning to hold here in Nashville with former Vice President Al Gore the week of August 12? Things have gotten awfully quiet. One Democratic source tells me he is now doubtful the Obama trip and Nashville fundraiser will happen as previously planned.
One last juicy tidbit from the Senate campaign trail, Senator Alexander is out trying to raise still more money for his already huge campaign war chest. Given his clear fund raising advantage over whichever Democrat he faces, why does he say he needs more? Because he is telling GOP funders, he fears Democratic groups like Moveon.org plan to dump up to $5 million in his race the last month of the campaign to try and knock him off. He says he needs the extra money to be "ready."