Friday, April 16, 2010

Metro Public Schools privatization wall of shame

Governments who privatize services claim that their goal is to "save money," even when there is evidence that past attempts to privatize utilities and toll roads drive up expenses. The saving money claim is a smoke screen to mask more dubious interests: to spread government largess to wealthy companies and influence peddlers and to break unions that serve to protect workers.

Nonetheless, Metro Schools Director Jesse Register proposed a budget to the Mayor several weeks ago that would include privatizing MNPS service positions, including janitors and bus drivers, under the debatable rationale that it would save money. He also unsettled the herd by saying that his only other option was laying off teachers. His proposal was passed by a slim majority of the school board in a curiously untelevised, but undeniably momentous budget meeting. I'm adding the board members who voted to sell out our public school service providers to the highest private bidder to my privatization wall of shame:
  • JoAnn Brannon
  • David Fox
  • Steve Glover
  • Gracie Porter
  • Kay Simmons
David Fox was heralded as the Chamber of Commerce's hand-picked choice for the school board, so I am not surprised in the least that he voted for a plan to put more local government money in the pockets of private enterprise (a.k.a., "running government like a business"). However, I am sorely disappointed in Gracie Porter, whom I have talked up in the past. The Service Employees International Union, representing the public schools service workers, must also be miffed at Ms. Porter, whom they endorsed in the previous election.

Those board members voting against selling out school support staffs included Sharon Gentry, Karen Johnson, Ed Kindall, and Mark North. They all deserve our thanks for supporting the dedicated service staffs that play an important role in the daily functioning of our schools. Special kudos to my own representative, Ms. Gentry, who was not endorsed by SEIU in the last election, but who nonetheless voted with them and with the parents of children who are concerned about the repercussions of privatizing public schools.

There is one final note I should make about this sorry episode in Nashville's public education history. Metro 3, which televises important meetings into local homes, did not broadcast the MNPS budget meeting, despite the impact the decision has on the lives of so many Nashville employees and the public school families that they serve. I sent an e-mail to the station manager asking for reasons for not showing such a significant meeting. Curiously, Metro Director of IT, Keith Durbin, replied to me, basically defending the "high level of performance and citizen satisfaction" with Metro 3's programming in general. Durbin went on to say that Metro 3 would have televised the meeting had they been advised of it. However, I cannot fathom why the only municipal television station was unaware of a remarkably publicized and significant budget meeting regarding our highly visible school system. And there is the vexing question: why did MNPS fail to notify Metro 3 about this meeting in order to help citizens stay informed?

School service workers' jobs can still be saved if Mayor and Metro Council reverse the schools Director. I do not know yet whether we will be privy to those deliberations since we can only count on Metro 3 to televise the meetings requested by meeting sponsors. Nevertheless, more than a few people need to bear responsibility for the bad call if service to our children, their parents, and the teachers suffers as a result of privatization, which typically spreads money around instead of making things better.

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