Jesse Register, the mild-mannered superintendent brought to Nashville two-plus years ago to lead a beleaguered urban school system, will be able to serve beyond the five years he said it would take to engineer a true turnaround when he started the job.
The Metro Nashville Board of Education Tuesday voted 6-0, with one abstention, to extend Register’s contract three more years through 2015. The decision came more than a year before his original contract was to end on July 1, 2012. Register will continue earning $250,000 per year.
“We’re moving forward,” school board chair Gracie Porter said. “And Dr. Register has done quite a bit to really take the district in a different direction — that is, making sure that we have the programs and making sure that our schools are operating in that mold.”
Absent for Tuesday’s vote were board members Michael Hayes and Cheryl Mayes. Board member Kay Simmons opted to abstain. Board member Anna Shepherd made the motion. The contract extension won’t be official until a June 14 board meeting.
“The work is not done here,” Register said. “I have no desire to go anywhere else at this time.”
Register, the 64-year-old former Chattanooga superintendent hired in 2009 to replace the somewhat divisive former Metro schools director Pedro Garcia, has received generally high marks from Nashville’s education community during his two-plus years on the job. While Garcia often butted heads with board members and other stakeholders, Register has developed a cooperative rapport with most.
“I think a continued focus on common goals and common connections in the school system, in partnership with the board and the administration, is extremely important,” Register told board members before thanking them for their confidence.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, three conservative Metro Council members — Eric Crafton, Robert Duvall and Duane Dominy — authored a letter urging board members to vote against the extension.
“While Dr. Register is a very likeable person, and has displayed an excellent level of professionalism, we still have a school system that is not achieving,” the trio wrote. “ ... We believe this is ill-advised and not a sound decision at this time.”
Despite those last-minute concerns, the board voted — after minimal debate — to keep Register through 2015.
Upon taking over the struggling school district, Register said it would take five years to engineer a true district-wide turnaround, which he hopes to see happen through his various reform efforts, collectively dubbed “MNPS Achieves.”
Still, the district is finding it a challenge to meet federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks, avoiding repercussions this past academic year only because of a state-granted exception prompted by the May 2010 flood.
Months after Register accepted the position, he avoided what some thought was an all-but-certain mayoral takeover of the system after the district unexpectedly met benchmarks during his initial year.
Register has had to deal with consecutive tight budget cycles, forcing his hand last year in making a controversial decision to outsource school custodians to the private sector.
For the next fiscal year, Mayor Karl Dean has agreed to fully fund the school board’s requested $670.5 million budget by tapping the city’s rainy day funds. Nonetheless, that decision would result in losing 334 teaching positions as a result of vanishing federal stimulus dollars.