Dear Dr. Gentry;
With minimal regret, I am resigning from the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, effective April 12, 2019. This year’s mind-numbingly irrational conversations about the Director’s contract, evaluation, and the FY2019-20 budget have led me to conclude that the board, in its current configuration, is impossibly inept. From racially motivated attacks to the insistence on shifting the political onus for employee compensation to the Mayor and Metro Council — at a time when municipal revenue projections cannot remotely fund the size of the contemplated request — the board clearly is chronically ill in ways that will not be easily cured.
The dishonest and unfair treatment of the first African-American superintendent in the history of Nashville should give the entire community pause. These actions by board members have left an indelible scar on our city, two decades after the end of federal court-ordered desegregation. I care deeply about our institution, but I can no longer serve on a board that is diminished by the worst of human nature. I am saddened that students in our majority-minority school system have seen what can happen when a leader of color pushes for change in an entrenched bureaucracy. If we were a large body like Congress, a handful of immoral voices could be easily marginalized. But in the school board’s case, we’re talking about at least one-third of the body, which paralyzes the rest of us from doing the work that’s required.
In addition to stepping down soon from the board, I am resigning immediately as Budget & Finance Committee chair. 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 now is 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.
Some people will view this letter as the indictment of an elected school board. To the contrary: It’s merely an indictment of this elected board. Sometimes democracy fails, as we see in Washington and in the Tennessee General Assembly. I believe the school board can, and eventually will, do better. But first it needs to be purged of the endless conspiracy theories and professional conflicts of interests, and cleansed of a culture in which some board members believe it is acceptable to try to incite masked protests. The board needs to be constituted with people who are willing to administer honest accountability and unwilling to be swayed by a handful of cranks who don’t represent the majority of our 86,000 students and families and 11,000 employees.
I imagine those who will be momentarily happiest about this are the charter zealots. Let me assure them that instead of spending just 1% of my limited time holding them accountable, I now will be able to devote considerably more bandwidth and energy to fight the school-privatization movement — which fleeces the school system of more than $130 million a year, compromising our ability to fund key priorities such as teacher pay raises and hurting the broader Metro government’s budget. At a future date, I’ll announce a new campaign to put increased visibility on how charters bilk Nashville’s taxpayers.
Dr. Gentry, I am thankful for your leadership in trying to manage through a situation that is, on a good day, unmanageable. We have not always agreed on issues and policies, but your efforts to preside coolly and calmly over abject chaos have been noticed and are greatly appreciated. I have informed Mayor Briley, Vice Mayor Shulman, and Council members in my district of my decision. The responsibility of appointing my replacement will fall to the Council, and taxpayers will not be burdened by the cost of a special election.
Finally, to our dedicated employees in the schools and the Central Office: You are heroic in your ability to tune out the school board and stay focused on your work. I will miss collaborating with many of you on the issues around which we’re passionate, including expanding early childhood education, helping English learners, and advocating for adequate school funding. Please don’t let the din of ugly and ignorant comments in the boardroom sour your outlook on your chosen profession. This institution will survive despite, not because of, the board members who have been so intent on tearing it down. I admire yourquiet dignity, and you have my respect and gratitude.
Representing District 7