Political Notes 

Tampa holds the Bucs at bay

Tampa holds the Bucs at bay

Earlier this week, Mayor Phil Bredesen was working to smooth out a major wrinkle in the city’s deal with the Houston Oilers. To keep the Oilers from pulling out of their agreement here, the mayor agreed to forgive $19 million in rent on the new stadium over a 30-year period.

The ruckus briefly riled the local citizenry, and it didn’t help matters that the Oilers organization was demanding a cut in rent just a few weeks after the team had indicated that it might not want to change its name to something more Tennessee-oriented.

It may seem that Nashville has suffered a lot of toe-stomping during its dance with the Oilers. But our situation doesn’t seem so bad if we look south of here.

While city officials here turned a potential disaster—the rent cut—into a disappointing but palatable compromise this week, Tampa, Fla., officials were left wondering whether their contract with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers was legal at all.

As Nashville has done with the Oilers, Tampa and the Buccaneers have entered into a sweetheart deal that includes a new stadium—theirs is budgeted to cost $318 million. But Nashville is luckier than Tampa. Here, negotiators were careful to follow the letter of the law. In Tampa, officials were apparently generous to a fault, and now they find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation.

Nashville voters approved a bond referendum last May to fund the stadium, but Tampa voters approved a half-cent sales-tax increase to fund theirs. The measure in Tampa was a cleverly named “Community Investment Tax,” mostly for the stadium construction, but also for civic necessities such as courthouse renovations and fire-hall construction.

Last May’s stadium referendum divided Nashville, and Tampa voters appear to be a similarly factious lot. Opponents of the Bucs deal were livid at the proposition of paying so much for a new facility. But it was a former Tampa mayor, businessman Bill Poe, who decided to do something about the situation.

Poe challenged the Bucs’ deal by filing suit in court, charging that the stadium funding was an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money. One of Poe’s sticking points was a lease provision somewhat similar to the one Nashville has granted to the Oilers. Tampa’s agreement gives the Bucs the first $2 million in stadium revenue from all non-football-related events each year. In Nashville the Oilers can collect almost all income generated by the stadium. And, if a business buys the rights to put its name on the stadium, the Oilers will collect those revenues too.

The difference is that in Nashville the Oilers organization is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the stadium. In Tampa, the local sports authority has that duty.

Because of Poe’s suit, the city of Tampa was forced to halt construction of the stadium. Just two weeks ago, the judge in the case agreed with the former mayor and ruled that the Bucs had to give up the $2 million a year from non-football events. Now the fate of Tampa’s stadium rests in Poe’s hands.

He can either take his case to the Florida Supreme Court, where he could try to scuttle the Bucs’ deal further, or he can drop his legal battle and be content that the team is giving up $2 million a year in revenue.

The ongoing court battle over the Bucs’ contract wouldn’t be so noteworthy here, were it not for the fact that Nashvillians aren’t used to the controversies that commonly accompany professional sports. Sometimes, perhaps, Nashville needs a little perspective.

That is to say, the Astroturf isn’t always greener on somebody else’s pro-football field.

Standardized

Mayor Bredesen was ecstatic last Friday when Investor’s Business Daily landed on his desk with a front-page headline that screamed, “Results of Core Knowledge Program Encouraging.”

That headline and its accompanying story gave Bredesen even more confidence in a countywide curriculum he has proposed for elementary-school students. The Core Knowledge sequence, heralded across the country as a sort of elementary-school version of a liberal-arts college education, would standardize what Nashville youngsters learn, from grade to grade, in Nashville.

For example, the curriculum, inspired by the theories of University of Virginia professor E.D. Hirsch, calls for second-grade students to learn about Greek mythology, cell biology, and the War of 1812. Bredesen’s idea is for local teachers to use Core Knowledge as the basis for forming their own curriculum.

While Core Knowledge is getting strong support from some groups in Nashville and good press from established publications such as Investor’s Business Daily, not everyone seems to be thrilled with the curriculum Hirsch advocates.

Local science educators are starting to come out of the woodwork to express their opposition to Core Knowledge. Perhaps the most vocal is Rick Duschl, a professor of science education at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.

Duschl says the proposed curriculum falls short of science standards developed and written by his colleagues. He also says it doesn’t address the use of problem-solving and investigative techniques required by the sciences.

“Someone outside of the classroom has determined that these are things kids ought to know,” Duschl says. What’s more, he argues that Core Knowledge “is not a mainstream curriculum. It’s not being used all that much. It’s pretty big news for a large city to consider adopting this.”

Core Knowledge is being used in only about 400 schools across the country, a relatively small sampling. But the curriculum is designed to take up only half of classroom instruction time; teachers have discretion in deciding how they want to use the other half of the school day.

Still, Duschl says, “We’re looking at ways to change and improve science and mathematics instruction, and Core Knowledge just isn’t aligned with that.”

Geraldine Farmer, who coordinates science and health education for Metro schools, isn’t exactly ready to hold a pep rally for Core Knowledge either. Nevertheless, she’s maintaining a wait-and-see attitude.

“Science itself deals with processes and hands-on techniques as well as the knowledge itself,” Farmer says. “The hands-on kind of teaching strategies are just not addressed in Core Knowledge.

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