Monday, June 23, 2014

#MayoralChatter: Barry's Issues and Kane's Op-Ed

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 2:00 PM

A couple of mayoral items here as the 2015 race inches toward a start.

— At-Large Councilwoman Megan Barry, one of only two candidates officially in the race so far, has released four "position briefs" at the Issues section of her website. She covers Nashville's Economy, Public Education, Transit in Nashville, and Justice and Fairness. Some points of interest — and comments worth remembering should she become mayor — after a first read.

On economic growth and poverty: Barry notes some of Davidson County's troubling poverty rates on her way to arguing that "prosperity and inequality can work at cross-purposes."

"We may be a city with more investment, more jobs, more newcomers, more tourism, more energy, and more good press than ever before, but we are also a city with more poverty," she says. Later Barry returns again to the idea that much-sought-after growth is not a cure-all.

"I plan to be a mayor who actively factors the need to alleviate poverty and inequality into the decisions we make about all of the issues before us, not one who imagines that as long as we keep growing the rest will work itself out," she says. "It doesn't work that way, and we know that it doesn't."

On education: When it comes to the ever-persistent debate about the presence and role of charter schools in Nashville, Barry argues for the middle ground, essentially advocating that both sides find agreeable terms of coexistence. An excerpt (emphasis is Barry's):

The hard work needed to continue to improve Nashville's public schools ought not be sidetracked by acrimonious debates over the existential question of whether charter schools are a good thing or not. They've been around for more than 20 years. The number of charter schools nationwide has quadrupled since 2000, reaching the point where almost 2 million kids now attend roughly 6,000 charter schools in more than 40 states.1 In Nashville since 2003 we've gone from zero to 18 charter schools serving close to 5,000 students, with more on the way.2 Charter schools educating a significant number of kids are here, and here to stay. Charter skeptics should not pretend otherwise.

At the same time, while charter schools are an important piece of the puzzle of school reform and improvement, they are not all of its pieces. Fewer than 10% of MNPS students are at charters, and many parents prefer neighborhood schools, while others covet magnet and design options. Even if we assume that the school board will perpetuate a friendly posture toward new charter applications, there are some inescapable structural obstacles to rapid charter expansion. The fact is the vast majority of public school students will be in non-charter environments for the foreseeable future. District schools educating large numbers of our kids are here to stay. Charter enthusiasts should not pretend otherwise.

On transit: Looking for another example of how the Dean administration has turned The Amp into a headache for itself? If the next year consists of mayoral candidates seeking a comfortable amount of distance from the project, that'll be a big one. Barry does it like this: "One way to sum up the AMP project is to say that it mixes good intentions with questionable strategy."

She goes on (again, emphasis is her's):

The good intentions are several. Creating a sort of backbone transit line through the city's major and densely populated commercial and residential corridor is an appropriate opening step in making major upgrades to public transit. Introducing to Nashville a dedicated form of transit that moves beyond the curbside bus, but doing it with a transit technology (BRT) that is far less expensive to implement than streetcars or light rail, is a logical initial way to elevate our cultural acceptance of better mass transit. Imagining the project in a way that makes it eligible for significant federal financing is fiscally sensible.

Unfortunately, the path to approval for the AMP has been a rocky one in part because of questionable strategic moves by its advocates. The process of defining the project and engineering its features has lacked adequate transparency. Opponents' substantive objections to project elements and arguments were countered by advocates sluggishly and unpersuasively. Most importantly, AMP advocates haven't done enough to make the broader case for Nashville's urgent need to expand public transit. There may be validity to projections that our population will grow and traffic congestion will worsen, but that can be construed as an argument for widening roads and building more parking garages; it's not a fully formed argument that will elevate public support for transit.

Barry adds that "with key project specifics including design and financing not yet determined, I can't yet say if I will cast a vote for it. The "it" is not yet sufficiently defined."

In the section on Justice and Fairness, Barry addresses public safety, homelessness, affordable housing, immigration, and diversity. On homelessness, she notes the success of the ongoing How's Nashville campaign as well as the persistent challenge when it comes to homeless families.

On affordable housing, Barry says "we should be willing to give incentives to developers who create affordable housing stock, and we have to continue to preserve neighborhoods (through overlays and the like) to prevent the kinds of teardowns that eradicate affordable housing."

Jeremy Kane penned an op-ed for Sunday's Tennessean on education and his experience starting LEAD Academy and seeing it through until the school's first graduating class walked across the stage last month. It's about that, but it doesn't seem like it's just about that. Kane spends much of the piece talking about the importance of partnerships and laments the fact that "each school board meeting is a one-act drama." And then, he closes the piece like this:

The lessons we learned tell me there’s a better way, because I learned something else at those doorsteps. What it is to have a door closed on you; to have someone say no to your dreams — to your face; and then to give your dreams space to include others’ hopes, to find that better way, together.

Rep. Love told me then, and I believe it now: We can do that.

Not only in our schools, but with our transit system, our housing, our economic development, our neighborhoods and our public safety.

We can accomplish so much more, together.

Opportunity is knocking. Now is the time. Let’s open the door.

It's no secret that Kane is a possible mayoral candidate, and it certainly seems he's trying to remind us of that. Consider us reminded.

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