A politician embellishing his or her record in a campaign ad is as common as a mosquito bite in summer. So when Pith laid its eyes on “Above,” Mayor Karl Dean’s first TV ad of the campaign season, this morning, we felt a little undersold. The mayor — who doesn’t have a serious opponent — goes all humblebrags on us, touting a collection of impressive but modest accomplishments in a neighborhood-y milieu that kinda reminds us of this.
The Education Mayor (we’re calling our shot now, folks) mostly stayed in the strike zone, talking about education, public safety and taxes. Notably absent was the traditional third pillar of his mayordom, economic development (not until he could finish his first term without a tax increase did he claim it, although it's quite something). Dean’s name might as well be branded on the fence that surrounds the convention center construction site, yet there was nary a mention of Project No. 1. Maybe that’ll be the next commercial.
For now, we’ll stick with what Hizzoner giveth. Here is what we taketh away.
Dean: “More kids graduated than ever before, school standards are up, and with our early intervention, truancy is down 46 percent.”
True, graduation rates in Metro schools have continued a steady climb in the past few years. In fact, they jumped another 10 percent this year — topping 80 percent of students, according to the Tennessee Department of Education’s annual Report Card on progress in public education. That’s a big jump from where we were a few years ago.
Dean also makes the claim that “school standards are up,” which is true: Both federal standards under No Child Left Behind and the state’s TCAP standards tightened last year. The direct correlation to his first statement isn’t mentioned: Davidson County schools failed epically last year under the new standards. It was so bad that Dean, former Gov. Bredesen and other officials actually spent a decent bit of time prepping parents and the media for the drop well before it came. It's cosmetic for now; Metro claimed a NCLB exemption due to the disruptions of the May 2010 flood. But watch for grad and other "success" rates to drop some in the coming years.
We can all agree that lower truancy is a good thing, and Dean can rightfully take credit. His starting point was low — former Police Chief Ronal Serpas even offered a very public criticism of the school district’s leniency on the issue — and his Attendance Center initiative appears to have been a catalyst for change, including better record-keeping in a district that’d had trouble with accurate numbers. We hope that's all been resolved, as it were.
Dean: “We’ve never had more police, and crime is down six years in a row.”
Yes, the police department is staffed up and hasn’t seen a cut under Dean. It’s also received some federal money for new recruits.
But we’re dubious of the second claim. Last May, Dean himself demanded an audit of the police department’s reporting method for its crime stats, and the department hasn’t released anything since. Also, this happened. Former Police Chief Ronal Serpas prided himself on data-driven policing, which places a heavier emphasis on low-level criminals doing their low-rent crimes. Tends to change the look of things, if you see where we’re going.
Dean: “But some things haven’t changed. Property taxes haven’t gone up, and while we cut most spending by 10 percent, we protected education and public safety.”
All true and basically accurate, and without the benefit of mayoral exuberance. The real miracle, though, will be if Dean can pull off another term without a property tax increase.