Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Education Not a Real Issue in Campaign

Several Dean voters said they were drawn to his major campaign theme, "It's All connected." In a barrage of television advertisements, candidate forums and speeches, Dean made the case that reducing Metro schools' dropout rates would get kids off the streets, cut juvenile crime and eventually propel more residents into the city's work force.
"I think Karl will be business-friendly in terms of continuing growth and getting companies to move into Nashville," said Glynn Dowdle, president of Baron + Dowdle Construction. "You have to have good schools and police to attract those companies."
David Cain, an attorney with Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, said Dean "has a better understanding of what needs to be done with education."
"The dropout rate creates problems. The more people drop out, the more people we have here that can't be productive members of society. So we have an obligation to everybody.
Karl has a real understanding of that," Cain said. (The Tennessean, August 8, 2007)
WHAT? What will he do to reduce dropout rates? What is the mayor's role? There is no argument here yet. To illustrate, let me pose this question: If dropout rates increase next year, what will you do about it as mayor? Will you fire the schools director, take over the schools, add funding to the school budget, push the school board to accept a new program or school design?
It isn't so simple when you think about it in real terms, is it?

Your turn, Bob:
Joseph Sweat, who retired as executive director of the Tennessee Municipal League, said he committed to supporting Clement early on. But he also was impressed by Clement's emphasis on vocational education for some high school students. "That's something that's not stressed very often, and it's something we need," Sweat said.(The Tennessean, August 8, 2007)

That's not all, I know. Bob Clement has hundreds of ideas on his web site. So does Karl Dean. I've read the ideas and the plans. It IS all connected, but that simply doesn't explain how we will get the education piece of it right.

I need to know, how will these ideas and plans come to pass? We know there will be a serious funding crisis in the next four years. How will these men address that? Do they have a proactive plan to manage the funding squeeze so that families who put their children in the schools will be able to feel comfortable that their education will proceed with minimal disruption, or will they each be forced to slash budgets and blame the school district for fiscal mismanagement?

Nashville is a great city. People who move here are always very impressed by how many of the aspects of big city life we have well figured out. Growth and development issues have been handled pretty well so far, and the big money in this mayor's race is primarily concerned to see that continue. But, of course, we all are. Smart growth is important. LEED standards on new construction are an important part of smart growth as is real, usable mass transit. These guys are not bad on those areas, but when the budget crunch comes, we need to know how these guys will react.

I am not confident at this point that either side has articulated a proactive plan to use the mayor's office to be sure that the school district plans and executes a solid strategy to make it through and continue to improve at the same time. I further don't believe that when the chips are down and kids are losing their teachers that either of these guys will put forward bold initiatives with a real chance to improve our schools.

And here's the punch line: I don't believe the voters are really demanding this of them. We hear all the time that education is very important to Nashville. I suppose. But are voters and government officials REALLY willing to make the sacrifices that will make our public education system strong? I want to believe, and I am looking for evidence. Many people at Bransford Avenue, on the school board, among the parents, and students of the district are working hard and making sacrifices.

What sacrifices are these mayoral candidates really willing to make for public schools that are actually strong enough to attract businesses?

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