Wednesday, November 08, 2006

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Make Lemonade!

OK, so all changes in property tax rates in Davidson County now must pass a county-wide referendum to take effect. Never mind that a tax referendum for public schools has not passed in Davidson County during my lifetime. Leave aside the strange quirk in metro policy that makes a tax increase for school alone virtually impossible. Let's not focus on the negatives in this news. Let's look at the reality we now face as an organizing opportunity.

We cannot wait. The public school system of Nashville needs a minimum of $12 million new dollars this budget cycle, just to keep the programs and teachers it has now. Without any innovation, upgrades, or improvements in a system with 60% dropout rates in some of its high schools, $12 million new dollars will have to be found. This reality posed a daunting challenge even before the tax referendum initiative passed. No one seriously expected the City Council to raise taxes in the next budget cycle anyway. It will be, after all an election year.

So, let's begin to develop a list of innovations and ideas that the school district can consider as it tries to make ends meet while still supporting the educational needs of our city's children. Any serious reform starts with some notion of site-based management by our school principals. Transportation costs ought to be contained by considering radical approaches to public transportation. Let's consider consolidation of the MTA and the School Buses, either in private or governmental control, as a way to capitalize on economies of scale, generate more useful mass transportation, and reduce unused capacity. The time has come to get serious about rezoning and school consolidation. The district should pursue and approve innovative charter schools to distribute the responsibility for education in Nashville to a wider and more sustainable base of support.

Join in the discussion. Twelve million dollars...probably more, just to break even. We must think and organize if we are to expect our elected (school board and city council) and appointed (school administration) leaders to pursue innovation and progress rather than simply reacting to narrow political pressure. Get on board. We need you. The future of Nashville lies in the education of its children. We are failing too many now. Let's use the budget crunch as motivation to act in advance of the problems, develop new ideas, and organize political support.

We have a responsibility to justify tax increases. That has always been true, but before the referendum passed, too many of the citizens of Davidson County were willing to pass responsibility for that justification to the school board and the city council. From now on, the burden falls squarely n us. Decisions about the future of schools was made less republican and more democratic last night. A democratic opportunity was opened. A democratic response is required.