The chamber, a key partner with Metro schools that had previously stayed out of the feud, characterized the board’s “mishandling” of its fiduciary responsibility as “especially galling” for those in the business community who have advocated for tax increases to “fully fund” the district's budget.
“...ultimately the accountability for the school system resides with the Metropolitan Board of Education,” reads the letter, penned by businessman Orrin Ingram, who chairs the chamber’s Education 2020 program.
“Accordingly, the school board is responsible for the restoration of the $3.4 million to MNPS from the state in a way that does not waste further effort and taxpayer money.”
Ingram, an affluent philanthropist and CEO of Ingram Industries Inc., concludes with a pointed handwritten note to school board chair Cheryl Mayes: “Until this issue is resolved and the $3.4 million is reinstated, my time, money and support will stay on the sideline!”
The words “time,” “money,” and “support” are each underlined for emphasis.
We live in a climate where schools have been systematically stripped of public revenues (which increasingly go to subsidize business start-ups and relocations, as well as to underwrite lobby groups like the Nashville Chamber of Commerce) and wealthy philanthropists and private enterprises are asked to take up the slack with voluntary donations under the auspices of "public-private partnerships". The Chamber's volley across the public school bow shows the real risk of these partnerships: delivery of underfunded public education to Nashville's children is threatened by the withholding of private donations that those children have come to depend on.
|Crossing the line: let the kids eat cake|
Such philanthropy belies commitment to Nashville's children; instead, it smacks of venture philanthropy, which is intended to configure the political landscape in one direction and consolidate power in the hands of a few. Ignoring the class dimensions of this threat is to approach it from a sense of denial. MNPS's conflict with the state has spiraled out of control and upset patricians are trying to rein in a popularly-elected, spit-the-bit board, even if kids fall.
Charter schools cinch permanent underclasses who receive something akin to vocational education. "Creaming" (or skimming the best performers off the top of traditional schools for charter schools) along with Nashville's Chamber-influenced founding of "Academies" provide the assist.
Then, the kicker: middle-class charter schools like Great Hearts calcify class stratification and provide one more barrier between the elite, concentrated power of Nashville's wealthy and the unwashed masses. That is essentially what aristocrats like Orrin Ingram defend by threatening to withdraw charity from Nashville public schools. Most pathetically, the gentry are willing to use public school children as pawns, essentially re-victimizing them to get what they want.
The state victimized the kids once by withdrawing $3.4 million. Nashville's elite follows by flexing its muscles, and it victimizes them again by withholding private donations until MNPS backs off its defiance of the state. It is merely the dark side of the public-private partnership: a sinister expression of the union we want to believe is benign, benevolent, and beneficial. We should rethink our assumptions.