Mayoral candidate Karl Dean is still reeling from last week's Metro Council action that saw the body effectively cut the Metro schools budget by more than $4 million. The city's top five candidates for mayor agree that public education is the major election issue, yet three of them—David Briley, Howard Gentry and Buck Dozier—apparently find it acceptable to fix on the schools budget when they want to find some cash.
"The thing that bothers me most about it is that schools are left going into their reserve fund to pay for recurring expenses like salaries," Dean tells the Scene
from his campaign office. "The council had the budget for a while, for like four months."
Despite having the mayor's proposed budget in hand for that long, the 40-member body zeroed in—at the last minute—on penalizing schools to the tune of $4.4 million. After studying the budget, the former Metro law director says he would have targeted other budget line items such as utility and building space contingency funds, which by themselves total about half what the council was looking for.
"Just philosophically, if we've made—which we have made—public education the focus of the campaign, if you had to cut, that's the last place I'd look to cut," Dean says.
In a fragmented five-way race for mayor (six-way if you count little-known candidate Kenneth Eaton
), Dean is the only aspirant who has developed a tightly focused message on education—specifically, decreasing the high school dropout rate and recruiting better teachers. Briley has offered some astute observations about education too, though the endorsement from the notoriously anti-reform Metro teachers' union raises the question of what he may have promised.
"I have not made all these promises about creating four or five new deputy mayors or hiring a bunch of new employees or creating more bureaucracy," Dean says. "Fundamentally, the decision that the city has to make about schools is that, when we're cutting up the pie, whether we're going to stay committed to having a public education system that our kids deserve and that will be competitive with the surrounding counties. And you can't do that unless you're willing to make the political sacrifice of cutting somewhere else. And I think that's fundamental to this campaign."