Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Out-Foxing School Board Accountability

It has always been one of the interesting ironies to me that the same business community that demands a free market also tends to rely--with a few exceptions--on centralizing power in order to solve problems. Hence, it seems no accident that the one of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce's endorsed School Board Members, David Fox, has come out today calling for centralizing the School Board Member selection process into the Mayor's Office.

It is true that democracy is messy, inefficient, and that it lacks the effective execution of power concentrated in one chief executive. However, Mr. Fox ignores the risks of using executive power absent the electoral process to place officials who should be publicly accountable. He makes an unwarranted leap to maintain that putting the responsibility in the Mayor's hands will "ensure that people with the appropriate expertise and experiences" will govern the school system. That assumes that every Mayor will always appoint in the best interests of parents and students. It assumes that Mayors would not patronize political friends with appointments or stack a School Board that serves his or her office rather than the constituents.

There are no assurances that just because the Mayor is Mayor he or she will appoint those with expertise or experience. In fact, given Metro's strong executive form of governance, the opposite is just as likely. A bad Mayor would amount to bad School Board appointments. What should we do then? Executively appoint rather than popularly elect the next Mayor? While Mr. Fox's recommendation seems well-intended, it sounds like wishful thinking and bad governance.

Mr. Fox refers to Mayor Karl Dean as the perfect fit for what he has in mind, and that seems to be part of the problem: that he does not seem to be looking past this Mayor (whom we cannot yet judge in terms of his policy initiatives on education). But Mr. Fox's other problem seems to be that he is not looking within the system itself. A strong executive--who was hired for his educational expertise and experience--helped create many of the problems we have in this school system. He was criticized for his autocratic managerial style.

Meanwhile, other Nashville leaders argue persuasively that with Mr. Garcia's exit management and responsibility needs to be site-based rather than concentrated and that the Board needs to be more legislatively accountable to the Council. Going in the direction seems a more reasonable and progressive first step than cocooning the School Board inside a strong Mayor's Office far away from voters and distant from all accountability besides that which an executive demands.


  1. Okay -- so we continue with the horribl and ineffective school board we have now and stand by while we watch the state take over the district or we turn the reins over to an appointed school board to address such issues as -- rezoning; slashing transportation costs; true site base decisioning, etc. (I believe an appointed board is a temporary solution only to make the drastic changes that are needed and then you go back to a brand new elected board with the board chair being someone other than a member that represents a cluster. The cluster the board chair is suppose to represent ends up having no representation during her term.)

    We have had an elected board for eons or so it seems. Where has that gotten us? Let's see -- how many schools are in corective action? Oh yeah, the whole district! The board could not control their sole employee, they have yet to be shown how effective or ineffective the massive initiatives the district has at this time; we have no clue if our tax dollars are being spent as efficiently or effectively as they could be' we have a moratorium on a tax increase which will cause the district to start slashing positions in the 2009-2010 school year if taxes are not raised; we waste millions on busing students across town without any return on these dollars from an educational stand point for the students; we have a mediocre at best central office andn countless ineffective principals and teachers in our school buildings. Need I go on?

    Me...I have been in this district for many years and if lucky have a couple more to go. I am ready for a massive overhaul of the central office, the board, the principals and teachers in the schools. Yep, I believe it will take a major shift to change education for the positive in this district. I do not believe this school board will ever be able to do whatever it takes to make radical change and radical improvement in education for all students in this district.

  2. More legislatively attached to the Metro Council? Because the Council has such a sterling history of accountability and delivering great results? I'll take my chance with having a Mayor in charge, thanks.

    There's no one change that is going to "fix" the schools, of course, but vesting accountability with the Mayor -- whose interests are more aligned with having good schools than just about anyone else -- is a promising step forward. Many larger systems that are struggling to improve have done this, and early results seem promising. Far too much of the time it's about accountability -- about having one person whose job it is to get the desired results.

  3. The danger here is that you have one person in control and no one else has a chance to have a say. Many of the boards now for metro are appointed and the people lose most everytime when it comes to differing with something the mayor or the council wants. This is more about control than working towards solutions together. I am a teacher in the system and I don't frankly want to go the Mayor trying to lobby him to put someone in that represents the interests of me as a teacher. I want to decide at the ballot box. I don't know why the paper wont cover the 4 board members who are up for reelection right now. The qualifying deadline is April and it seems people don't run because they just don't really know how to or when. The deadline for good candidates is April. Why not have a story on this to start the fire for good folks to run so that we the people can decide, not one person such as the Mayor. I don't like this idea one bit. I know we have challenges but folks this having someone with sole control is not the answer.

  4. Mike, I have to disagree with you on this. David Fox has sits on the BOE, he is a very bright guy, and if he feels an elected BOE is lacking, well, he should know. Some members of the BOE have been there for over 20 years - their clusters have never had another representative and politically that is unlikely to change. The BOE is a racially polarized, agenda driven board with petty personality conflicts stopping any real progress from being made. At least if the BOE is appointed I can hold the Mayor accountable. By your reasoning we should also elect those who run Public Works and every other city department who serves the public at large. Just like Vic Lineweaver is over his head with his elected position, so is our BOE. We need some true city leaders to bring together the Council, Chamber and government to make some meaningful change. Also - the clusters are crazy with kids in your neighborhood being bussed way across town. You'll never get that to change as long as the BOE is elected.

  5. The system is in horrible shape and radical change is necessary. The current Board doesn't seem capable of making such a change.

    Maybe a compromise would be to have the Mayor appoint members who would then have to stand in a yes or no vote after their first term, similiar to the judicial election system.