Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Mayor's Budget "Discussion" with Metro Schools is April 17th. This ought to be interesting.

by Rod Williams, 4/3/2019 - Mayor David Briley and Metro Finance Director Talia Lomax-O’dneal have released the schedule for upcoming meetings related to the 2019-20 budget. The Mayor's Budget "Discussions" will be aired live on Metro Nashville Network and All budget discussion videos will be archived and available on YouTube and shown throughout the following weeks on Metro Nashville Network.

 Schedule for Wednesday, April 17, 2019: 8:30 a.m. – Metro Nashville Public Schools.

This may not be the friendly little chat like most budget "discussions."  It may be tense. Last year by a School Board vote of 7-2, the Board requested a $924 million budget for the school district, or a $44.7 million increase.  Schools only got a $5 million increase (link).  Revenue projections for this year or not available and while there has been some increase in revenue, the mayor has already pledged to give metro employees their promised cost of living increase, to spend a lot of money to equip police with body cameras and to spend more for affordable housing. Again the mayor has said he would not raise taxes this year, so schools are not going to get anywhere near what they want.

What the School board wants is $76.7 million dollar increase or 8.6 percent increase over the current $886.3 million budget. This increase request coincides with an increased number of failing schools and a decrease in the number of students being served. The schools board is asking more than twice as much as Director Shawn Joseph has asked the School Board to request. Joseph was asking for only $31.7 million in new funding.  School Board Will Pinkston who is scheduled to leave the School Board April 12th and who had been chair of the Boards Budget and Finance committee until he abruptly resigned that position on March 25, had been pushing for a budget request reflecting a lower amount similar to what Joseph was requesting.  The argument for asking for the lower amount is not that the Schools do not need the higher amount but that given the reality that taxes are not going to be increased, that the lower amount is more realistic.  Pinkston addressed this in his resignation letter when he wrote the following:
I cannot in good faith, or with a straight face, proffer a budget to the Mayor and Council that is shaping up to be pure fiction and ignores the city’s current revenue constraints. Attempts to develop thoughtful budget-advocacy initiatives and realistic multi-year budget and compensation plans have been consistently thwarted by board members who lack the intellectual capacity to focus on large-scale change and instead are determined to destroy confidence among taxpayers and our appropriating authorities.
Rather than working collaboratively with the Mayor and Council to explore new revenue structures and targeted investments, the board is now angling for instant political gratification by making empty promises to teachers and staff — and passing on the buck to our colleagues at the Metro Courthouse during an election year. This is unprofessional, unrealistic, and ultimately unkind to the school system’s employees who will be deflated by the final outcome.
So, not only is the Board and the Director not on the same page in their budget request, and the Board in disarray and an unrealistic budget request being made, the mayor has expressed his displeasure with the School Board over the divided Board's move to oust Director Joseph.  He has essentially called the Board members who want to remove the incompetent director of schools, racist.  He was not that blunt but almost. He said, “Some of our school board members have not acknowledged why their actions area are seen through a racial lens. They have failed to acknowledge the legacy of racism and the legacy of systemic racism in Nashville.”

The mayor expressed  frustration over the "fractured nature of the school board," and said "my administration must and will be involved moving forward.” The mayor and the council have no direct control over Metro Schools. They do appropriate the money but management of the Schools is up to the School Board. The mayor could attach strings to funding, I guess, and that appears what he intends to do.  In the past any influence exerted by the mayor or council has been exerted gently and subtly.

The mayor's threat to get his way with the school board did not go over well with some members.  Also, blaming displeasure with Dr. Joseph on racism did not go over well. School Board Fran Bush, who is herself Black, said race isn't the issue; poor leadership is.  She said Briley's speech made the tension between the board and city worse. “As a mayor your bridge those type of problems,” said Bush. “You bring people together. You bring the city together. Today he did not do that.”

For more on the issue and source material, follow these links: linklink, link.

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