The news that Nashville Mayor Karl Dean can’t be given authority over the school district as early as this August may come as a surprise to many who watch public education.
Last fall, the state Department of Education Commissioner Tim Webb told reporters that the DOE was investigating the possibility of a mayoral trusteeship in Tennessee. Since that time, Webb has worked with state attorneys and with DOE accountability chief Connie Smith to determine that the legislature would have to make a change for a mayoral trusteeship to be possible.
There nonetheless remains some confusion among Nashville decision-makers as to the ease with which mayoral control could be accomplished.
The school board’s David Fox said he sees this confusion in the business community, in particular, where many of his contacts aren’t aware that the board hired Director of Schools Jesse Register not as a “placeholder,” but as a long-term leader.
“There’s a misunderstanding of how likely [mayoral leadership] is, in my opinion. I don’t have a say in the decision. But I have felt that there’s been a broadly held misunderstanding of the likelihood of a governance change, and especially in the business community,” Fox said. “That will take care of itself. Whatever happens in July will happen. The state will do whatever it needs to do. But I think strong performance by the board and the director will pull the business community back in.”
Erick Huth, president of local teachers’ union the Metro Nashville Education Association, agrees that there is a gap in perception.
“I think mayoral control is now and always has been a political issue that was advanced by the Chamber of Commerce and a few other individuals, including the mayor,” Huth said. “[Gov. Phil Bredesen] is part of the reason for that perception, because he did indicate to the Department of Education that they should work with the mayor.”
The Chamber’s Chief Education Officer Marc Hill, however, said he’s well aware of the law — and that Chamber leaders have been careful to note, in talking with members, that legislative changes would be necessary for Dean to take control of the school system.