Editorial: City needs plan if Register fails

Monday, December 22, 2008 at 1:02am

In a shaky, tumultuous set of meetings Saturday, the Metro Nashville Board of Education decided to hire a new director of schools. We urge the board in its contract negotiations with former Chattanooga school chief Jesse Register to push for maximum flexibility and essentially make Register an “interim” director in everything but title.

While Register has certainly had a successful career as a public education administrator, he is hardly the change agent or visionary many in the Nashville community expected to see leading the schools. Few administrators in public education these days do fit such criteria. Those with these qualities that do come from the public education status quo seem long on ideas and short on results and execution. Former Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Pedro Garcia is a perfect example.

In truth, the candidates the board’s hired search firm consultant Bill Attea returned for consideration were terribly disappointing as a group. None were the kind of problem solvers in their previous jobs that suggested they could turn around Nashville’s ailing school system — a system that sits a step away from being taken over by the state. However, the hiring of Register does not need to be long-term or something that shapes this city’s public education system for years to come should it not work out.

The length of term and buyout commitments in the contract for Register should be as short as possible. In fact, the system’s contract with Register should be nothing more than year-to-year, essentially making him earn a longer-term contract through some tangible performance.

If this is not something that can be crafted in the contract negotiations, we encourage the school board to cut its losses and continue to look for a new director as well as to look beyond the usual cast of characters that seem to apply for such jobs. Should Register fail to succeed, the district should open up its process to include non-traditional candidates from business and other backgrounds. As for right now, the decision to go with Register demands the board give the city as much wiggle room as possible to get out of the relationship if it is clear he is not the person for the job.

Furthermore, it is time for Mayor Karl Dean’s office and the school board to begin working in collaboration on the issues of schools and to end their apparent competition for authority.

The board and the mayor have been in an escalating war of words on the mayor’s involvement in the school system. While this kind of tension between a Metro mayor and the school board is nothing new to the city, now is arguably the most critical juncture in the school system’s history since desegregation.

It is quite clear Dean has some very definite ideas about the direction the system should take, and is even exploring a takeover of the system via changes in state law. Meanwhile, the duly elected school board continues to do its job, often pitting it inherently against the wishes of the mayor.

It is time for these two forces to sit down together again, clear the air and begin working together for the good of this city and its students. Try as they might, the mayor’s office cannot look past the board’s authority as an elected body. Despite the board’s best efforts, Dean and his considerable bully pulpit are not going to go away.

Filed under: City Voices