Testimony: Garcia attempted to intimidate critics

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 7:23pm

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.

8 Comments on this post:

By: dogmrb on 11/10/09 at 8:15

The sun has been fairly predictable for our memorable history.

By: sidneyames on 11/11/09 at 8:11

There were people who Dr. Garcia was sort of ruling with an iron fist. That may be an overstatement."

Well if it's an OVER statement, Mr.North, why make it at all? I mean, Garcia is no longer here, so I guess it's OK to dump on him cause he can't defend himself. That's the gentlemen's way here in Nashville, isn't it?

He acknowledged students will have a harder time learning in schools in north Nashville's high-crime, impoverished neighborhoods,

If students who are "high crime risks" are bussed tot other schools, wouldn't that create a negative environment at those schools? Or will bussing magically transform everyone?

By: artsmart on 11/11/09 at 9:36

reply to sidneyames:

You have touched on the subject that no one will touch for fear of being racist.
The tough kids from the tough neighborhood schools see going to schools not like that as Christmas. There attitudes and behavior do not change as a matter of fact they see weaker kids to pick on. When left in their own environment there are always others that balance them out. It is not a race issue it is environment issue.
If you would have bused some of the characters I grew up with to a better neighborhood they would have terrorized the school. Left in our school there were other tough kids like them and it all balanced out.

By: sidneyames on 11/11/09 at 9:55

Yeah, I know artsmart. Logic is sometimes displaced and call racism.

I mean, how can parents participate who don't have transportation? Bussing the kids is one thing. Now do we need to provide transportation to their parents to go to school meetings? If the school was in the actual neighborhood, then it would be easier for parents to participate.

And if the schools are so bad, FIX THEM. Bring them up to standards and then bus in the teachers.

By: global_citizen on 11/11/09 at 10:28

To anyone familiar with the players involved in this, it is no revelation that Connie Smith and Pedro Garcia were on bad terms. Dr. Smith did well to keep it gracious, but Garcia's downfall can be pegged to one particular school board meeting in August '07 when Dr. Smith called him out on failing to perform his specific duty.

Namely, Garcia failed to inform school board members that a number of schools would be classified as failing under No Child Left Behind. School board member George Thompson asked Dr. Smith why they had no been informed of this. Dr. Smith informed Thompson it was the duty of Garcia to notify them. The uncomfortable silence from Garcia was indicative that he had willfully tried to conceal this fact up to this point.

Tensions mounted between Garcia and the board from that point on and five months later, he was forced out.

By: dogmrb on 11/11/09 at 12:40

So you think that the first time the MBOE realized that all was not well was a mere five months earlier than when he resigned? Many folks were saying this was true almost from the beginning and they knew he didn't speak the truth. But why did this particularly item be the turning point? Global_citizen, you are just blowing smoke. It was the desire for "neighborhood" schools and PG didn't want to be labeled. Well, now everyone is finding out what who said what to whom and when.

By: pswindle on 11/11/09 at 1:36

This is reason we need to go back to appointed school broad. If we had the right people on the broad, Garcia would have never ben hired. He set the school system back many years. His assistant ,Mrs. Johnson, was as evil as he. I would like to know what the school broad was thinking in hiring a man that begged for the job?

By: dogmrb on 11/11/09 at 3:36

That School Board had members who were doing what the CofC wanted, just as the present one does ;-) What makes you believe an appointed board would be any better? It's all smoke and mirrors.