NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Voters in Metro Schools Public Schools District 4 have two options when they hit the ballot box.
Early voting started July 15. The general election day for the seat is Aug. 4.
NewsChannel 5 sent out a questionnaire for both candidates in this race. Only Phillips responded and her answers are below. These answers are directly from the candidates and have not been edited for any length or clarity.
What made you want to get involved in public education?
I went to one of the school board meetings and became increasingly shocked at the poor behavior of the elected officials running it – shouting, swearing and even recently threatening to burn one of our Senators. This is no example to young minds. As I became more involved, I saw parents frustrated that the majority of our school board are out of touch with the views and needs of parents!
So I'm running to put parents back in control of our schools. For example, the board my opponent supports wasted $14 million on Covid Consultants without allowing anyone else to bid for the work — and then refused to investigate this after the company owner posted a photo of his new Ferrari to Instagram saying “The game been good to me.”
The board running public education is out of control as grades continue to fall.
How do you anticipate Tennessee’s Education Savings Accounts will impact MNPS? Do you support such an effort?
The worry here is that people will use the accounts to go private with their children and our public schools will have less money.
First consider this: Nashville Public Schools get $14,300 per student which is 47% more per student than the Tennessee statewide average. The amount of financial waste of our money in the school system is vast - 40% of the one billion dollars our school system receives each year for educating children is never spent on teachers or the classroom. Unacceptably, only 1 in 3 of our Nashville students read at grade level. When waste such as $1.3 million was spent by the school board on a basic website about COVID, there should be no concerns that we will not have money for good schools if we change our leadership and do things properly. The board needs to spend less on bureaucracy and more on teacher salaries and support staff. That will raise grades as less teachers retire or move elsewhere.
Considering recent school violence nationwide, do you feel that improvements need to be made to secure Metro Schools?
I think when it comes to the safety of our children, there is never enough that can be done to ensure they are protected when they aren't with us. I think the main thing that needs to be addressed is the fact that millions of dollars worth of cameras are sitting in boxes throughout our school system that were purchased through a contract with a subsidiary of Meharry during Covid. I think that the SRO program needs to be looked at and made more efficient to ensure that each school has at least one if not two available at all times. I am also not opposed to having a K-9 unit there when needed.
As a parent we have to entrust our child to other people when they enter those school doors, and there is always more that can be done to improve plans that are in place. I am currently talking with the MNPD and getting more information on exactly what we do have in place. Parents need to be informed, and my goal if elected is to make sure that every parent knows exactly what the plan is to ensure their child is safe when they are not with them.
The issue of how race and racial issues should be taught in schools has been controversial. What are your thoughts on the subject?
How can teachers even begin to cover history with students when less than a third of our children are reading at grade level? We must focus on the basics. Nobody objects to teaching history as it happened — the objections we read about today are to politicians (of all parties) building a political slant into lessons which makes learning — and teaching — so much harder. To quote the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I believe children should, “… not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." If we follow this - sensitively and kindly - we cannot go wrong in delivering the promise of America to everyone.
What role should parents play in setting school policy?
Parents should be central to policy and in control. That is not the case right now. I’m most passionate about the voice of parents being heard. Parents have felt ignored and belittled by a school board that is out of control and thinks it knows better than the very people that brought our children into the world and raised them. You’ll hear the same old things from many of the Democrats on the ballot this year wanting to be on the board about getting more funding and support — but are they listening and acting that way about any of it? They are now $22 million in debt despite receiving more money per child than the Tennessee statewide average. It’s time for parents to be put back in control and learning to return to basics.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing MNPS?
40% of the schools budget never reaches the classroom and less than a third of our children can read. If elected, my top priority will be what parents have been highlighting to the board for years — to listen to parents and respond to their needs. Until that is done, big money and political interests will corrupt and corrode so much of the good work that is going on in the classroom. Our leadership must re-prioritize efforts so that Math, Science, English and Technology attainment come first. Vocational subjects should also be boosted so that more children can pursue their passions in sorely needed trades. Until the School Board practices what they preach by focusing on parent needs — rather than political needs — they and my opponent they support are all talk and no delivery.
Tell our viewers why they should vote for you.
Better grades and student success will be my priority if you vote for me. The current board of politicians and "experts" have gotten us to the state our schools are in today - despite the hard work of teachers and our children. Our leaders should not be proud of the fact that under 30% of students are reading at grade level. We must focus on the basics — getting grades up so that children can compete in the workforce and thrive in their chosen vocation or profession. Nothing is more important. More funding and support are needed — but while the board lets waste highlighted in the media such as $14 million spent on contracts for Covid "consultants" pass without asking questions, they undermine our case for funds. Actions speak louder than words. I’d encourage your readers to visit my Facebook to see how connecting the board with parents and families was the reason I decided to run at www.facebook.com/kelliPhillips4SchoolBoard