about nashville


To Consider

Over the last few years, the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) Board has has been squeezing a lot of oranges and not getting much juice.

The attempt to re-draw the school zones resulted in little more than recriminations between people who could and should be working together to improve the quality of public education in Nashville.  In order to close a 1% gap in the MNPS budget Nashville stripped the lowest paid employees of benefits and pay and alienated one of the most consistent advocates for increased resources for MNPS.  Now, as a result of the The Great, Great, Great Hearts Cluster … Nashville is fighting to keep its State education money when it already was denied its fair share.

I don’t fault any of the Board members who were actors in these events – I know many of them, respect them all for their work and would probably have made many of the same decisions.  Sometimes, however, the pressure to make decisions of the moment prevent us all from assessing the changing reality in which we operate.  So, as someone who is not involved in the daily decisions of MNPS but who has supported and followed MNPS and thought and read about education a bit, I’d offer a few things for consideration:

1) There is no question that achievement testing is here to stay – and should be – but every system of evaluation needs to be constantly re-evaluated to address its weaknesses and the inevitable gaming of the system which undermines its objectives.  There are growing questions about whether achievement testing, and using it as a single punitive benchmark of success, actually increases long term success. We should consider whether we are too focused on achievement testing.

2)  We should look more objectively at the role of parental employment as it relates to student achievement.  For example, would  altering a single mother’s employment situation result in categorical improvement in achievement for disadvantaged kids?  With the high incidence of children raised by single mothers in conditions of poverty, a small change by our community could result in a large increase in achievement.

3) Are developments in neuroscience altering how we should think about education?  There is probably as much garbage as there is value being created in this field but some of the recent developments will have a great impact on how we think about the brain.  Let’s not forget that we have to keep thinking about thinking if we truly want our public education system to allow the highest levels of achievement and happiness for our kids.

4)  Charter schools are here to stay and there is evidence that some but not all of them are successful.  At the same time, we lack a community consensus on what role charters should play, how we should assess their success or how we integrate their successes into the broader system.  Who should lead that consensus building process?  Why are we waiting?

5)  If there were a silver bullet, someone would already have found it.

There’s only so much squeeze . . . let’s squeeze the oranges that have juice.


Anyone see that coming?

Villegas Lawyers Awarded $1 Million +


TRO Occupy Nashville

We Could Win the Villegas Case on Appeal But . . .

No matter who you are or where you are from – the moment one sees their child come into this world is unmatched.  Maybe you feel that everything you’ve sacrificed has been worthwhile.  Maybe it’s a feeling of pride.  Maybe it’s the feeling that things truly can get better.  Maybe it’s relief that everything turned out ok.  No matter who you are that moment of renewal cannot be matched.  There is a transcendent truth in that moment for all of us lucky enough to experience it.  Because of our city, that truth will forever be stripped from Juana Villegas.

Back in 2008, Ms. Villegas was in our jail and was shackled in various manners during the last few hours of her pregnancy – after her water broke, immediately prior to the delivery of her son and then soon after she delivered him.  At one point, we shackled her with her legs held together even while she was in labor.  Later, we shackled her despite warnings from her doctors that the shackles could cause her serious injury.  I’m ashamed that this happened here, in Nashville.

Why did we have Ms. Villegas in jail?  Ms. Villegas was not charged with a crime of violence but was in jail after being stopped for a minor traffic violation where the police determined she did not have a driver’s license.  While she was in our jail for not having a driver’s license, she was further detained pursuant to a federal immigration program called 287(g) which has been widely criticized as unfair and abusive.

Ms. Villegas and her lawyers argued that this kind of treatment was a violation of the United States Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.  We defended Ms. Villegas’ case by arguing that women in the final stages of labor are a flight risk, that she had no constitutional right to deliver her child without shackles and that all her pain and suffering really came from the fear of deportation.

In a rare decision, the District Court accepted Ms. Villegas allegations as true before trial – agreeing with her that we had been cruel and unusual in how we imprisoned her.   This rare decision came about as a result of clear law prohibiting what we did.  Later, a jury of people who live in Nashville and the surrounding counties awarded Ms. Villegas $200,000 as damages for what we did to her.

I’ve spent some time looking over the Court’s decision and what we filed before it ruled.  There are certainly issues for an appeal – which we might win by making some new law.  We can also give ourselves some leverage to settle the case for less than $200,000 by appealing.  We can delay payment of the judgment by a couple of years if we appeal.  So, we have some legal arguments still to make – all of which could save us money and might vindicate us legally.   On the other hand, by accepting this judgment, we could avoid the potential for a re-trial which results in a higher judgment or the possibility of increased attorney’s fees for Ms. Villegas legal team.  Maybe, her lawyers would even agree to reduce the amount to which they’re already entitled if we agreed not to appeal.  From a legal perspective, there are as many reasons not to appeal as there are to appeal.

The decision whether to appeal is all about Nashville’s future.  It is not about blaming anyone for what happened to Ms. Villegas.  The past cannot be changed.  The Sheriff, to his credit, has changed the policy and this type of treatment should not happen again.   However, we still have an opportunity to change the future for Ms. Villegas.  We can chose to put this embarrassing moment behind us and pay her for our error.  That’s one way for us to apologize for what we did even if it took us three years to do so.

I appreciate our elected representatives’ desire to save tax money and I understand that having a federal court tell us how to run our jail is problematic.  Nevertheless, I hope that someone comes to their senses and lets this matter end now, here in Nashville, without regard for our legal position and without letting the the rest of the world think we condone this kind of treatment.  Sometimes, being legally correct is not all that matters.  Sometimes doing what you know to be morally right – even though you don’t have to – is what matters.  If this case is appealed because of a legal judgment and without regard to the morality of the situation, I will not only be ashamed – I’ll wonder who is making decisions for us and why.

Alice on the World of Washington DC


If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?  Alice from Alice in Wonderland

Does Tax Increment Financing Still Make Sense?

Over the past decades, we, as a city, have used tax increment financing (“TIF”) to promote development in “blighted” parts of Nashville. (A s a matter of full disclosure, when I was on the Metro Council, I supported some of those projects and subsequently as a member of the board of a local non-profit, I voted to approve loans on other of these projects. )

The Idea

With TIFF, the increased property tax revenue generated by new development does not go into the general fund but instead is used to pay for part of the cost of the development.  The idea behind TIF is that certain projects will only happen if the community finds a way to pay for part of the cost.  The community allows tax revenues to pay for part of the building instead of  them going directly into the general fund to pay for schools, police, roads, etc.  In exchange, the community gets a project that will spur other development in a blighted area, starting a transformation of the community.

The Current Status

In Nashville, some of these recent TIF projects have suffered setbacks.  Some projects sit mostly empty.  Some projects may not pay back their TIF loans within the original term.  More importantly, private development, done without TIF has preceded some nearby projects done with TIF which suffered serious setbacks.  These circumstances should make one think about how TIF works, and whether we should review its status in Nashville.  Similar circumstances have led to criticisms and revisions of TIF programs in other jurisdictions.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll throw out a few things that I’ve been thinking about in this context.  I’ll present a couple of examples that present the issue.  And I’ll probably make a suggestion for the next Mayor and Council to consider.


Teacher Incentive Pay Failure in NYC

I hope that our city will look to local experts the next time we think about  tinkering with blowing up our system of teacher compensation.  Check out this report co-authored by Vanderbilt – Peabody College.