Time To Slow Spending and Close Schools, Say Nashville Mayor, Chamber

Patricia Stokes delivers the chamber's recommendations which fit closely with the Mayor's remarks. Both say Metro Schools should shift resources rather than continue to keep failing programs alive. Credit Nina Cardona/WPLN

Patricia Stokes delivers the chamber’s recommendations which fit closely with the Mayor’s remarks. Both say Metro Schools should shift resources rather than continue to keep failing programs alive. Credit Nina Cardona/WPLN

Nashville’s budget hearings don’t start until the Spring, but Mayor Karl Dean today issued a heads up about his plans for the city’s biggest annual expense. He says Metro Schools can’t expect a, quote, “blank check.”

Since Dean took office six years ago, the annual education budget has increased $125 million dollars. Those gains happened even as other city departments suffered sharp cuts due to the recession.

“We protected funding for schools and public safety and I’m committed to sticking to those priorities. However, that does not mean we can afford or should continue the sizeable year over year increases we’ve given the schools in previous budgets.”

Instead, Dean says the time has come to evaluate whether everything is being spent wisely. And he challenged contentions by some of the board of education who blame charter schools for potential budget shortfalls.

Dean delivered his remarks as the Greater Nashville Chamber of Commerce issued its Education Report Card.

Patricia Stokes helped lead the annual effort to essentially give Metro Schools an outside evaluation. Top on this year’s list of recommendations is to essentially declare some schools too far gone to fix.

“These schools that persistently fail their students, their customers are voting with their feet by enrolling in other programs, leaving behind a half-empty school.”

Stokes suggests the buildings could then be used for new charter or magnet schools.

Schools Director Jesse Register agrees that something dramatic needs to happen. He won’t rule out closures, although he says changing leadership or approaches may be a better option in some cases. And he says it’s important to remember that shutting down a school won’t erase all its challenges.

“All of these low-performing schools serve a very high percentage of low income and minority children and a lot of them serve a high percentage of English Learners. So we’ve got to look at the resources, we need we’ve got to look at the quality of the programs we offer and then make changes as appropriate to turn these around.”

Also on the list of recommendations from the chamber: free MTA bus fare for students, to make it easier to attend magnet or charter schools; better communication with families about the new Common Core standards; and aggressive recruiting of bilingual teachers.

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