Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Crazy Like a Fox? School Board Member Urges Mayoral Control of Nashville Schools

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2008 at 12:28 PM

Nashville School Board member David Fox wants out of a job. At least, that's one upshot of a proposal he made today in a speech before the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in which the former business journalist asked Gov. Phil Bredesen to allow Mayor Karl Dean to commandeer the city's struggling school system and appoint his own school board. “I request that as soon as practically and legally possible, Governor Bredesen empower the mayor with authority over MNPS and support legislative efforts to give Nashville's mayor the power to appoint all members of the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” the first-term board member said. Fox's proposal, though a radical one in Tennessee, reflects a growing trend toward more centrally run school systems. With abysmal graduation rates and dropping test scores, state legislators across the country have authored legislation handing big-city mayors the authority to call the public education shots. The thinking is they couldn't do any worse than the oft-corrupt and incompetent elected boards who've run their schools into the ground. Mayors in Chicago, Cleveland and New York have taken over their local school districts with largely promising results. Closer to home, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton has asked for control of his troubled school district. We'll have some comments from Dean later today. After the jump, Fox's chamber speech: The Education Mayor: Aligning leadership, experience and accountability David A. Fox January 22, 2008 Right now, all eyes are focused on who the next director of schools in Nashville will be. Speaking only for myself and not for the school board, I don’t think that’s where everyone should be looking. To have a truly effective superintendent requires a truly effective board of education. And now, after a few decades of electing school board members, we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that people with the appropriate expertise and experiences are governing the school system. Beyond that, as the Chamber’s Education Report Card today points out, “the governance structure of our school system represents a misalignment of funding authority, policymaking responsibility and managerial effectiveness.” MNPS is a large, complicated organization. More than 10,000 employees, a budget approaching $600 million, fast-shifting demographics among its customer base, pervasive governmental regulations. Transforming this system into a district that provides a high performing school for every student requires a skill set you just can’t get through public elections. On the school board, we must have people who have experience successfully leading or governing big organizations through challenging times. You can assemble a board populated with those rare skills and experiences only through a careful appointment process. You know the omnipresent bumper sticker: “Education is the most important thing our community does?” I believe that really is more than just a feel-good slogan. And if I am right about that, then most Nashvillians should be ready now to embrace the changes needed to see to it that our most qualified citizens are on the school board…governing with experienced hands this institution that is so vital to Nashville’s future. It is exceptional good fortune that our city is led by a mayor whose educational mantra is “I want to be as involved in schools as I possibly can be.” Mayor Karl Dean is a rarity among elected officials – a man who seems eager not just to have some authority over public schools but also to take responsibility for their results. Were he given authority by the state, Nashville’s mayor could use the influence of his position to draft our community’s most qualified residents to form a successful and diverse Metro Nashville Board of Education. And the mayor’s profile in the city could help keep public education one of Nashville’s highest priorities. In order to ensure that each student in Nashville realizes his or her ability to excel at levels not previously imagined, I request that as soon as practically and legally possible, Governor Bredesen empower the Mayor with authority over Metro Nashville Public Schools and support legislative efforts to give Nashville’s mayor the power to appoint all members of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education.

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