Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
November 17, 2021

Happy Wednesday. Have you started preparing for your Thanksgiving dinner yet?

Today's newsletter is 900 words — a 3.4-minute read.

1 big thing: Our teacher retirement crisis

A handwriting alphabet above the chalkboard spells out "Hiring."
Maura Losch/Axios

Nearly one in five Tennessee public school teachers will be eligible to retire in the next four years, a factor that could exacerbate another troubling trend.

What’s happening: The Tennessee School Boards Association released a report last month showing 13,791 teachers (17%) will be able to retire by June 30, 2025.

  • At the same time, the nation is in the grips of a teacher shortage that is likely to outlast the pandemic, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Why it matters: The double whammy of staffing problems in Tennessee could create a crisis.

  • "Districts across the state already have problems filling vacancies," TSBA assistant executive director and general counsel Ben Torres tells Axios. "This issue will only grow if more teachers decide to retire."

Driving the news: Axios' Erin Doherty reports that one in four teachers nationally said they were likely to leave their jobs at the end of last school year, according to a report by the RAND Corporation from March. That's compared to one in six who prior to the pandemic said they were likely to leave their jobs.

  • A net 65,000 public education employees left the industry nationally between September and October alone, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • COVID-19 protocols, the loss of planning periods, and broader mental health problems caused by stress have contributed to the issue, Doherty reports.

What they're saying: Tennessee districts are struggling to fill roles across the board, even in traditionally popular elementary school classrooms, Megan Parker Peters, associate dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb University, tells Axios.

  • "This environment, it's become a crisis that we've all watched happen," Parker Peters says.
  • In an effort to address the trends, Lipscomb is retooling its curriculum for aspiring teachers to include more emphasis on technology and the psychological strain of the job.

Keep reading.

2. NASCAR giant corners Nashville's racing market

A scene from the Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway
Kyle Larson drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway in June. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s acquisition of the Nashville Superspeedway in Wilson County gives the company momentum heading into the final stretch of its negotiations with Nashville Mayor John Cooper over renovating the fairgrounds racetrack.

Why it matters: The $131 million deal sets the stage for NASCAR to return to the fairgrounds track.

What’s happening: Bristol Motorsports, a division of SMI, and Cooper signed a letter of intent in March to renovate the 117-year-old fairgrounds racetrack.

Renovations are a prerequisite for NASCAR's return to Nashville. The top series hasn't raced at the fairgrounds since 1984 and the last lower-level series race was in 2000.

  • Nashville displayed its appetite for more top-level auto racing with the excellent turnout earlier this year for the IndyCar Music City Grand Prix, which drew 110,000 fans.

What they're saying: Norm Partin, a veteran motorsports executive, tells Axios there are two factors making it favorable for NASCAR to return to the fairgrounds on the heels of SMI's Wilson County deal.

  • "There is a move to more short-track racing like they have at the fairgrounds," Partin says. "Once the deal goes through, SMI will operate 10 racetracks and control 15 NASCAR Cup series dates. So that makes it easier to make one of those races at the fairgrounds."

Yes, but: If Cooper and Bristol strike a deal, the devil will be in the details. Neighbors are worried about the impact of auto racing on noise and traffic.

Read our full story.

3. COVID-19's mental toll

Illustration of a person sitting under a cloud shaped like a virus
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Symptoms of depression and anxiety in Tennessee spiked following surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to a new report from The Sycamore Institute.

Why it matters: The report, released this week, highlights the pandemic's widespread impact on mental health in Tennessee.

  • The fallout sometimes had deadly implications, the report notes. Tennessee saw overdose deaths increase by 44% in 2020.

Between the lines: The report comes as Tennessee policymakers continue to decide how to dole out COVID-19 stimulus funding.

  • Tennessee has access to $52 million in federal funding specifically earmarked for pandemic-related mental health needs, The Sycamore Institute notes.
  • The report points to billions in federal aid and state reserve funds that could also go toward services.

Go deeper: The report also analyzed data from before the pandemic that showed adults in Tennessee fared better than the national average on many mental health factors.

  • But the state was higher than average when it came to deaths tied to mental health problems.

What they’re saying: The Sycamore Institute's policy director Mandy Pellegrin tells Axios those contradictory findings might suggest a need to identify mental health issues before they become deadly.

"The first thing that makes me think of is do we have a lot of unidentified need?" Pellegrin said.

Share this story.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of a chicken wearing sunglasses with fire reflected in the lenses.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Mayor Cooper announced his pick for the city's first transportation director. (Nashville Business Journal)

Some Tennessee universities have gotten clearance from the state to enforce vaccine mandates. (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Rutherford County's juvenile court judge, who is embroiled in controversy, now faces a challenger. (WPLN)

🍁 5. Fall favorites

The spiced cold brew in a to-go cup at Barista Parlor.
Photo: Adam Tamburin/Axios

👋 Adam here: Autumn leaves are falling down like pieces into place, and I have been trying to enjoy as many seasonal fall-inspired coffee drinks as possible before winter arrives.

Barista Parlor teased on Instagram an upcoming menu shake-up, so I stopped by the Germantown location for a spiced cold brew.

📬 What's your favorite seasonal selection from a local coffee shop? Reply to this email and let us know!

Our picks:

🍺 Nate is researching how to pick up some Goose Island Bourbon County Stout beers without waiting in crazy Black Friday lines next week.

💔 Adam is still processing all the new Taylor Swift content — let's be honest.