Pedro Garcia was portrayed in federal court Tuesday by school board member Mark North as an inept superintendent who played hardball politics and tried to silence critics.
North became the first board member to take the witness stand in the trial of the NAACP-backed lawsuit against the school system's new student assignment plan. Metro lawyers tried through his testimony to undermine a key element of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs contend Garcia was ousted in January 2008 after six years as superintendent because he opposed the rezoning plan as a resegregation of schools.
But North said Garcia was forced to resign for doing a poor job. Garcia, who presided over the district as schools failed student achievement standards five straight years, was refusing to cooperate with state education officials who were trying to force improvements, North said.
"It started to become apparent to me that the school system in the central office was compartmentalized," North testified. "There wasn't really a connection, which I thought was a management problem. I think there really was a fear factor."
"What do you mean?" Metro lawyer Kevin Klein asked North.
"There were people who Dr. Garcia was sort of ruling with an iron fist. That may be an overstatement."
North said Garcia admitted to him privately that he was at odds with Connie Smith, the chief state education official for school system accountability.
"It was his feeling that Dr. Smith didn't like him very much and was sort of out to get him," North said. "He did not think she was fond of him."
North said that before Garcia opposed rezoning, he was trying to cut deals to drum up enough votes to pass a plan. Garcia offered at one point not to shut down one school in North's district in return for his support, North said. Later, Garcia tried to close two schools in North's district to stop him from raising questions about the plan, North said.
"He was playing politics with me," North testified. "... The message he was sending me was, 'Don't ask questions,' and that made me mad."
North, who represents Madison, Whites Creek, Joelton and Goodlettsville on the school board, was the chairman of the community task force that recommended the rezoning plan. It ended the busing of children from north Nashville to Hillwood. North defended the plan as offering school choice for parents and students. Under the plan, students in north Nashville can choose to attend schools in Hillwood.
He acknowledged students will have a harder time learning in schools in north Nashville's high-crime, impoverished neighborhoods, but he said he hopes to help those schools with $6 million in annual additional funding promised as part of the rezoning plan.
Civil rights attorney Larry Woods pointed out the additional money must be approved each year. "There's no guarantee, is there?" he asked North.
"We can't guarantee that the sun will come up," North replied.