The children are our future. Education means opportunity. It's for the kids.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. All true.
No less important to the tax-paying citizens of Nashville, though are paying their mortgages, feeding and raising those kids and making sure their public education is serving them well. Which means that this city's school board and director of schools have a lot to communicate between now and when the Metro Council votes on the city's $1 billion-plus budget sometime in June.
They'll need to marshal the parent troops to help them convince a cautious mayor and unpredictable council that public schools need a whopping $570 million budget, $60 million more than the year before. If these things were decided in a vacuumif people had to say whether they were for or against funding schools with what they say they needanyone would come down on the side of full funding. But there are pesky complications to consider, like political realities, public sentiment and tying funding with measurable outcomes. All of these are part of this year's budget equation, which has seen a divided school board (not good, as unification helps breed consensus), a weary tax-paying public and a mayor who has heard scant little from his director of schools about what he, hizzoner, apparently perceives as a pretty hefty budget request.
We think you've got your work cut out for you, but for what it's worth, Pedro Garcia & Co., here's our advice for getting what you want:
Pedro, get Mayor Bill Purcell's ear and offer a cogent, well-reasoned and well-rehearsed speech for why you need what you say you need. It's our understanding that you and the mayor haven't really talked about your budget yet, which we regard as a Major Tactical Error (!). Correct it. You need to convince him that you need the money before you convince anyone else, and so far, he ain't quite buyin' in. When he asks you why your own school board wasn't united about the funding question, why the vote for the $570 million was split, have a good answer.
Emphasize that your budget request is almost exactly in line with the funding that Metro's own independent audit of the schools said the system needs. Print it out on construction paper, for crying out loud (symbolism is always good), and hand it to every member of the Metro Council. (You might also have to explain it to them or, at the very least, offer an executive summary.)
Make sure your parent-teacher organizations across the city are burning up the phonescalling the mayor's office and their district council members. Ultimately, it's these folks who will sway council members about how to vote on the budget, as these people are the ones who elect council members in the first place. Parents from Stratford to McGavock to Julia Green need to harass the living hell out of their elected officials. When former Mayor Phil Bredesen proposed increased school funding in 1997, the Metro Council members whose districts had strong PTOs voted for it. The ones whose districts were devoid of that kind of parent involvement didn't. You do the math.
Trot out your successes, and repeat them ad nauseum. We think another Major Tactical Error is you, Dr. Garcia, emphasizing that you "live and die" by testing. It just so happens that, as a measure, Davidson County's testing figures since you got here haven't knocked anyone's socks off. In which case, you need to find other ways to communicate how the schools are successful teaching this city's kids.
Subtly demonize people who make inappropriate comparisons between public and private schools. We happen to know and like a lot of these folks, but the fact remains that the public school system can't pick and choose its students. It even has to test special needs kids who have no business being tested in the first place (seeing as how that's not a practical or constructive use of time for those who are better off learning life skills than being forced to consider questions of an inappropriately rigorous intellectual level). On top of that, people probably don't understand that many of Davidson County's students qualify for free and reduced meals, that many kids never graduate, etc. Maybe if they understood the challenges, they'd be more inclined to reach into their wallets.
Finally, tell them specifically what you'll be using that increased funding for. Tell them what outcome you think you might have, for example, by hiring ninth-grade counselors to keep kids in school.
We're not going to sugarcoat this: If we were a betting people, we'd bet against your getting your full budget request from this Metro Council. The self-described "Education Mayor" and some council members who have laid down on the tracks for schools funding in the past are doing some head-scratching about the $570 million you propose. Your budget will "live or die" by strategy and communication.
So you better do your homework.
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