Roy Exum: One Vote In Nashville

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Let’s just suppose, if only for the sake of supposing, that when the Hamilton County Commission votes tomorrow on a 34-cent tax increase on top of County Mayor Jim Coppinger’s proposed FY 2020 budget, the vote might end 5-4 against. We’ve just witnessed a full month with lively gnashing of teeth that has centered on the radical difference of opinions, this on what the county’s public schools ‘really’ need. Good people have written letters, both aye and nay. But tensions were already high when Coppinger assembled what appeared to be an all-star chorus of the liberal elite to stand behind him on the courthouse steps last week.

The libs wore the trademark tight-lipped expressions, so similar to the UAW mandates in stern-looking photo-ops. The locked arms, elbow to elbow aside, were all that was missing other than neckties, customary to gentlemen, in this bold display of educated solidarity. Those watching would have hummed “We shall overcome,” if not for a lack of lyrics. Whoever forgot the song sheets prohibited a captivating “how-to” moment -- the conservatives standing near the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn straining to see how one activist with progressive lip-piercings (on each end of her kisser) would go about humming one word to the next without her teeth vibrating differently on every doe-ray-me.

But, alas, it was the standing-room-only stance of solidarity, the passion of ‘victory today’ versus the wait for a coming bill of maybe half-a-billion in school replacement and repairs, that gave truth of how dark and dank the issue has become. Brother, there ain’t no telling what will happen Wednesday and, if you don’t believe it, look no farther than two hours up I-24 where their educators are making history with a blend of Disney-like imagination and Titans-like frustration.

The Metro Nashville School Board pushed hard for a $76.7 million budget increase to largely fund 10 percent raises and step increases for Nashville teachers and other school employees but somebody didn’t open their politically-narrated email attachment – according to the Nashville Tennessean. “A proposal to raise property taxes by 15.8%, led by council budget and finance chair Tanaka Vercher, -- that would have sent $50 million to district schools -- failed by ONE VOTE before the Metro Council (last) Tuesday. Michele Sheriff, incoming Metro Nashville Education Association vice president,  said she doesn't know if a full voter referendum is the best option, but the council has for two years shown what is important.”

Listen to Michele: “We can fund NFL, we can fund baseball, we can fund hockey, we can fund soccer," Sheriff said. "I do not know why we can't fund the children who live in our city." Teachers union leader Amanda Kail wrote an open letter to the school board calling for it to ensure teachers get a three percent raise, which is what the district is proposing.

But now the Nashville churn has become exciting. The School Board, shunning the Metro Council and Mayor David Briley, wants to call on the voters to raise the property tax rate by 16 cents to generate more funding for schools, bypassing the city council and mayor. If such an increase were to be improved, the School Board believes it would make up the $48.5 million difference from the funding allocation from the Metro Council for next school year. School board members discussed the idea at a Friday retreat.

The Nashville newspaper explains, “Through a provision in the Metro Charter, the board can vote through a two-thirds majority to declare the funds allocated to the district next year are "insufficient and inadequate" to meet the needs of Nashville public education. The vote would allow the board, through another two-thirds vote, to place a referendum on the Aug. 1 ballot, according to the charter. The board is seeking clarity from staff members on the process to get a referendum on the August ballot, but according to the charter, a vote on such a measure must take place before July 1.”

Vercher, the chair of the school board’s finance committee, told Tennessean reporters, “This wouldn’t be the first time where a body went outside of the council. We have seen successful measures with the Community Oversight Board where the general public felt the government wasn't listening and the government failed them," Vercher said, adding, “Putting a referendum on the ballot is indeed public input."

Last month the school board fired Supt. Shaun Joseph after three years of service. He is owed over $250,000 but the charges of racism, bullying, and “unacceptable performance” have added to the upheaval in Metro Nashville. It is believed the turmoil on the school board might impede a high-quality search. And, yesterday, a Davidson County elections official said he believes there isn’t enough time for a school board takeover.

This again from Monday’s Tennessean, “Tennessee state law could put a halt to any Nashville school board action this year to ask voters to raise property taxes to provide more money for education. Although the Metro Charter allows for the school board to place a referendum before voters 30 days ahead of the August election, elections administrator Jeff Roberts emailed district employees Friday evening saying state law prohibits the maneuver.

Under state law, the election commission cannot put to voters a question less than 60 days before an election. Metro Nashville Public Schools employees have asked the Metro Legal department for a final determination before talks of a vote are brought up at the board's meeting last night. "The window outlined in the statute would not permit the referendum to be included on the August 1 ballot," Roberts said in the email.

So, what should Nashville do? Just so happened Chattanooga needs to know.

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