'I feel like my kids have been stolen from;' Metro Schools contract draws criticism

Metro school bus
Posted at 6:04 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 19:33:36-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A multi-million dollar contract aimed at getting kids back in the classroom is drawing criticism from parents and a Metro Council Member.

Metro Schools paid a company with ties to Meharry Medical College approximately $14 million to implement a return to school plan.

Metro schools parent Amy Pate said, "I think it’s just a money grab," after reviewing the invoices.


She noticed nearly $2 million went to purchase infrared cameras for temperature checks, and the rest went to pay for things like random COVID-19 testing and compliance officers. According to Pate, those compliance officers did things like monitor social distancing and made sure students had on masks at school.

"Honestly, sick to my stomach. I feel like my kids have been stolen from,” Pate said. "There’s so many things that students in Metro need, that we’ve always been told they can’t have, because there’s not the resources for them, and just to see these invoices, and just see the millions of dollars that have been wasted, money that could go to mental health support, or ya know tutoring?"

Meharry Medical College Senior Vice President Patrick Johnson insists the no-bid contract saved the district money.

"If someone took the time to realize it’s actually a $30 million undertaking, Nashville got it for a steal," said Johnson.

Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell disagrees. He says no-bid contracts can be risky.

"You still need that level of accountability and checks and balances," O'Connell said. “We watched the state of Tennessee go spend $8 million on masks, and they turned out to be made by a sock company, and not particularly effective.”

O'Connell said around $5 million in startup costs doesn't add up. "It's just like this overall contract needed some more scrutiny," O'Connell said.

"It is just in my opinion, uninformed noise, and I welcome that particular council member to call me directly," Johnson said.

Johnson went on to say getting students back in school takes a village. "What does it take to build a movie? The months the time everything behind the scenes, is a very expensive undertaking."

Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle issued a statement:

As the pandemic comes closer to being over and we return to a status quo, it might be easy for some to forget about the enormous challenges we faced in getting our students back into classrooms. When we announced the partnership with Meharry back in December, COVID-19 was spreading wildly through the community and it was not clear when we would see progress on stemming the tide of infections. Many teachers, staff, parents, and students were frightened for their safety and those parents who wanted their kids back in classrooms were also counting on us to keep them safe while we did it. We worked with Meharry, a trusted institution in our community, to develop as robust and comprehensive a plan as possible to enhance the safety of our schools, using federal funding designed specifically for that purpose, and we did so in such a way that no schools had to close down once we started bringing students back into the classroom in February. Ultimately, I believe it was a good thing for our schools and helped us to return students to the classroom while many other urban districts kept their doors closed.”

A local company donated more than a million dollars worth of infrared cameras to the district to use for temperature checks, but district leaders decided they wanted something different, so they purchased roughly 130 cameras for $2 million instead.

MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted explained in an email:

The decision to move to a different model was made in collaboration with Meharry during team meetings after field testing the initially proposed cameras. The desire from the team was for a mobile system that could easily check and confirm individual temperatures. The donated cameras were unable to be upgraded to fit these needs, and so the systems that were ultimately used were procured through a local vendor, Red.Care. The thermal units are mobile and can be stationed where needed as determined by COVID compliance monitors and/or school administrators.”

"I think another troubling aspect of this is that Metro is not admitting any mistakes, that they are still doubling down and saying this is what they had to do, they needed to do," Pate said, "And that’s just a lie, it’s not."