The Chatter Class: A developing situation

Monday, July 28, 2008 at 2:36am
The influx of businesses to Davidson County creates a chicken-and-egg problem for area public schools. Matthew Williams/The City Paper

Economic developers spend their days trying to recruit new employers to Nashville so residents will have better job opportunities and the county’s tax base can grow.

When they succeed, the companies load up the trucks and haul their employees to town. Theoretically, each relocation should provide a shot in the arm for area schools as more people, especially highly educated and influential executives and managers, move into the county.

Wrong.

Those executives and many of the employees who report to them traditionally didn’t get the chance to determine if Metro schools were good or bad.

There’s been grumbling for years that real estate relocation services firms involved in big corporate relocations steer people predominantly to Williamson County for its homes and schools. Increasingly, Wilson, Sumner and Rutherford counties have been picking up their share.

Of course, when they do move into the county, most executives tend to favor private schools. Nashville’s above-average private school enrollment is a testament to that.

There has been a chicken-and-egg aspect to this: How can Metro schools improve if most of the people who could help improve them — either by participating directly or increasing the city’s tax base — leave or never actually arrive?

But the dynamic may be changing. The city’s elementary schools have been improving steadily in recent years. According to a leader in the effort to improve Nashville schools, real estate agents can now pitch Davidson County as an option to young couples because of those elementary schools.

Some local private schools are seeing the effect of improving elementary schools on their attendance. As a result, their pitch increasingly sounds like, “If you want to be assured of a spot in our high school, it’s a really good idea to be in our elementary school.”

But it’s Metro’s high schools that are the problem — and the main focus of the recent controversial rezoning efforts. That means the city attracts young parents only to have them leave for better high schools in outlying counties.

With nearly half the county’s budget going to schools, increasing Metro’s tax base has been a major topic of discussion. It is central to the debate over the proposed May Town Center proposal, whose backers say that, once complete, the project will generate more than $50 million in property and sales taxes per year.

The heated discussions of that project aren’t just about having a place for Nashville to compete for corporate relocations with Williamson County. They’re also about reversing the outflow of residents and businesses to adjoining counties — a point anchored by the assumption that people increasingly want to live in close-knit communities located near where they work.

Adding such developments — and filling out emerging urban neighborhoods like the Gulch and downtown as well as redeveloping the Fairgrounds site — would help lift Davidson County’s population growth from flat to clearly positive. While that wouldn’t be the absolute solution for Metro Schools, it would be a start.

And if that trend is sustained long enough, perhaps the following anecdote will become a relic relegated to ‘Those were the days’ conversations.

A man sitting in a bar last fall watching college football said he was thrilled about the quality of the schools here compared to Portland, Ore. He and his wife had moved to Tennessee with Louisiana-Pacific a few years ago, and his statement produced a bit of a puzzled look considering the debate over the state of schools here.

His children attend a private school and he was impressed by the many choices for private education in Nashville.

Of course, he also mentioned that you just about have to have a second job to pay for the schools.

The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Please send comments to rlawson@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Is the premise of this article that none of these people want to go to schoold with black folks?

By: HiMom on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It might be kind of hard for relocating businesses to take Metro schools seriously when the Mayor of our great city has sent his kids to private schools from K-12.

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

BigPapa... The answer is a resounding no that that was not the premise of the column