Monday, July 7, 2008

Pedro's Memo: Rezoning Plan Racially Motivated

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2008 at 3:32 PM

click to enlarge pedro_2520garcia.jpg
Foes of rezoning Nashville’s schools are trying to torpedo the plan with the 11th-hour release of a scathing memo from former superintendent Pedro Garcia. In the memo, written in January six days before Garcia resigned, he accuses board chair Marsha Warden of shoving him out as schools director because he opposed the rezoning plan and saw it as a re-segregation of schools. He says Warden was succumbing to political pressure to remove black students from schools in Hillwood, which she represents. “I know that the situation I find myself in today, and the pressure exerted upon me by Marsha Warden, is the direct result of my decision to fight against her desire to move the African American children from the Hillwood cluster so she could be re-elected,” Garcia wrote. “Unfortunately, this is a racially charged issue. I took the stand to oppose re-segregating the district. It was the right stand and I would do it again.” Warden responded by phone to Pith. “This is no more racially motivated than the man in the moon,” she says, pointing out that she decided against seeking another term in next month’s elections. “I doubt the veracity of this memo, OK? … Isn’t it really funny that this has just come out right before we’re voting. Isn’t this really odd?" More from the memo: Garcia writes that on Dec. 12, after he came out against the rezoning plan, Warden told him in a meeting “that my coming evaluation would be very bad for me and I ought to do everything possible to avoid it. I again said what I always have said, ‘I am not afraid of my evaluation. I consider the evaluation to be a tool for improvement.’ “After my comments, Marsha Warden added, ‘You have lost the confidence of the mayor, the confidence of the Chamber and the confidence of the Board. You need to leave.’” The school board is scheduled to vote tomorrow on the rezoning plan despite growing opposition from NAACP, among other groups. Garcia’s memo was written to Ed Kindall, a black school board member who chose to make it public today. The plan, hailed by proponents as a return to neighborhood schools, would stop the busing of hundreds of black children from North Nashville to Hillwood and Hillsboro. Instead, they’d go closer to home in the Pearl-Cohn cluster of schools. Advocates say it would let the district run more economically, saving almost $5 million a year. “We can pay for bricks and mortar and transportation, or we can pay for kids’ education,” Warden says. “We’ve been chastised by two city mayors to do something with our capacity and do better with kids.” Update: Garcia writes that he decided to oppose the rezoning plan after visiting Brookmeade Elementary School, which is scheduled to close. Teachers told the superintendent that the school should stay open because they said white students then attending private schools would return if black children were sent elsewhere. "The faculty, after some conversations about the proposal, indicated they believed the school did not need to close," Garcia says. "They believed that after the black students presently attending Blackmeade Elementary were moved to Metro Center as the student assignment plan recommended, many white families would come back to the school. The faculty, in general, indicated the school would be full of white students presently attending private schools. After that meeting, I considered the implications of the plan." The memo reveals a seemingly bitter Garcia struggling to understand why he was being forced out of office. Of Warden, he writes: "She had tried to intimidate me." On rezoning: "The agenda clearly became to have a student assignment plan that pushed for neighborhood schools. In essence, a neighborhood school plan is a disguised re-segregation plan." On his ouster: "Unfortunately it was just an issue of meanness. ... My tenure at MNPS should not have ended this way. I always tried to be professional. I always did what I thought was the right thing. I was true to my values. I just disagreed with some board members about how to assign students to schools. There was no need to become mean and intimidating. I do not know why they chose this course of action. Perhaps, they thought they could bully me. I do not know why people sometimes behave the way they do."

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