Axios Nashville

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October 27, 2021

Happy Wednesday. Have you loaded up on Halloween candy yet?

Today's newsletter is 964 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Nashville chamber ponders appointed school board

Illustration of a hand in a suit holding a tiny voting booth
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is considering a push for a major change to Nashville public schools — switching from an elected school board to one where members are appointed.

  • The chamber has had high-level talks on the topic with key education stakeholders, including the school board chair.

Why it matters: In Nashville education circles, the possibility that Gov. Bill Lee's administration would take over Metro Nashville Public Schools is a pervasive concern.

  • A chamber-led initiative to abolish the current system of voters selecting the school board could be an alternative to a Republican-led state intervention.
  • Stephanie Coleman, chief talent development officer for the chamber, tells Axios the idea of switching to a board with members appointed by the mayor and/or others is merely in the conversation phase. But she did not rule out the possibility of pursuing state legislation next year.

Driving the news: Coleman said the chamber is constantly studying ways to improve Nashville public schools, including "whether the current governance model is functioning the best it can be."

  • The chamber is examining a range of models for how other cities pick school board members. Coleman said the chamber would only support a change if Nashville maintained local control and if the plan had public support.

What they're saying: School board chair Christiane Buggs tells Axios she met with chamber leaders in August to discuss potential proposals.

  • Buggs said chamber president Ralph Schulz told her he believes MNPS director Adrienne Battle is doing a good job, but a change may be needed to stave off state intervention.
  • "It's still a lot to process," Buggs said. "I can't help but look at the optics and notice that for the first time ever the leadership of this large district is completely female. Both the chair and the vice chair are women, as is the director. Then narrow in on the fact that you have a director and chair who are both Black women, both mothers, both graduates of MNPS - and it seems we’re being told MNPS does not produce greatness and we should not be able to make decisions."
  • Nashville Mayor John Cooper "likes residents being involved in picking local officials," his spokesperson tells Axios.

The other side: Although Buggs said she is deeply concerned about the idea of an appointed board, she acknowledged that the possibility of a state takeover complicates the issue.

  • State Rep. Mike Stewart, a Democrat who opposes a state take-over and the possible chamber-led push, tells Axios "the constant search for a transformative strategy gets in the way of just incremental improvements, which is how most sensibly run businesses and enterprises become great."

Read the full story.

2. State takeover bill is coming back

Illustration of an apple on a block with a hand holding a gavel hovering over it.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

State Rep. Scott Cepicky plans to once again push legislation to give the education commissioner broad powers to take over a struggling school district, the Republican lawmaker tells Axios.

Why it matters: Cepicky's bill cleared one House subcommittee earlier this year, but he declined to push it before the legislative session ended. Cepicky says he is determined to pass the bill next year.

  • "We want the locals to fix things themselves," Cepicky said. "But there reaches a point where we have an obligation to those students."

State of play: Cepicky's bill would give the education commissioner power to assume leadership of a district for up to five years before it would revert back to local control, including the ability to hire a superintendent and appoint trustees to act as school board members.

  • He says the takeover provision would be triggered by "historical data" such as comptroller audits and student achievement data.
  • Cepicky says his bill is not just aimed at Nashville or Shelby County, and that there are other districts that need to show improvement quickly.

The other side: Nashville school board member Rachael Anne Elrod bashed Cepicky's legislation for undermining local control and relying on standardized test scores to trigger the takeover.

  • Pointing to the Achievement School District — a state program to convert the lowest-performing schools into charter schools in hopes of dramatic turnarounds — Elrod says the state has a bad track record in fixing schools.
  • "They have shown that they do not understand the complexities of urban, metropolitan schools," she adds.

3. New retail moving to Nashville Yards

Towering skyscraper set against a blue sky.
Amazon Nashville Tower I in the Nashville Yards development. Photo courtesy of Nashville Yards

Nashville Yards developer Southwest Value Partners announced five retail offerings moving into the new Amazon office tower in the heart of town.

New additions: Starbucks, The Urban Juicer and Orangetheory Fitness will have locations in the building.

  • Minnesota-based restaurant chain Crisp & Green, which offers salads and smoothies, will open its first Tennessee location there.
  • Pinnacle Bank, which is moving its headquarters to Nashville Yards, will also open a "digitally focused office concept."

Details: Starbucks and The Urban Juicer are expected to open this fall. The other locations will be open by the end of next year, according to a news release.

The building is located on Platform Way North, near the downtown YMCA on Church Street.

4. The Setlist

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

Emails show sadness and shock after former Tennessee vaccine chief Michelle Fiscus was fired. (Associated Press)

Watchdog agency recommends a new penalty for a former police captain caught in an on-camera dispute. (WPLN)

The legislature is returning to debate COVID-19 restrictions. Lawmakers also filed bills related to other topics. (Nashville Post)

5. Charted: Tennessee's chattiest lawmaker

*Hudson resigned from the Mississippi House effective Aug. 30. Data: Quorum; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, is one of the nation's most active state lawmakers on Twitter.

  • Data collected by Quorum shows Johnson tweeted a whopping 13,000 times between Jan. 1 and Aug. 25, ranking third nationwide.

What she's saying: Johnson tells Axios she uses Twitter to connect with constituents and explain policies. She mentioned helping get unemployment insurance for dozens of people who tweeted her.

  • "If you want to engage with everyone you have to go where they are!" Johnson says — via direct message on Twitter.

Our picks:

🍿 Nate is binge-watching horror movies in honor of Halloween, most recently "Train to Busan" and "A Quiet Place Part II."

🎵 Adam is testing out his new earbuds by listening to every version of "Time Warp" available on Spotify.