Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn may have lost the confidence of some influential people in Tennessee, at least according to a new editorial that the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) published this week.
The Nashville-based PET is a statewide professional association of educators, according to its website.
PET cited, among other things, a high turnover rate within the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) under Schwinn’s leadership. Members of the group also cited a growing number of assistant commissioners making six-figure salaries and the way Schwinn has managed state education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PET editorial said members of the Tennessee General Assembly might consider submitting a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee expressing no confidence in Schwinn’s leadership.
No one in either Lee’s office or the TDOE returned The Tennessee Star’s requests for comment Thursday.
“Legislators, especially those that champion limited government, are likely to question the number of chiefs or assistant commissioners at the Department of Education, which has increased from the 13 under Commissioner McQueen to roughly 23 chiefs or assistant commissioners under Commissioner Schwinn,” according to PET’s editorial.
“Our estimate is that the average salary of these chiefs and assistants exceeds $135,000 yearly. There were several lower-salaried employee positions eliminated and many of those were not replaced. However, the savings were not realized by taxpayers, but merely shifted into higher salaries for other staff with new job titles. What Legislators should look at is simple: Has service to districts, parents, and educators improved under Schwinn or not? Ultimately, that is the question for lawmakers and the Governor to decide.”
As reported last year, the TDOE had experienced a 19 percent turnover rate under Schwinn after nine months. Previous commissioners had rates between 9 percent and 14 percent.
PET, in its editorial, said its criticism of Schwinn has focused on how she’s handled COVID-19.
“Should Commissioner Schwinn be given a no-confidence vote? That is not our decision to make, nor are we advocating it,” PET wrote.
“We want her, or anyone in that office, to simply make Tennessee educators and students their only priority. And we will never apologize for speaking up for our educators and students.”
As The Star reported this week, the organization Tennessee Stands called Schwinn a leftist and a statist who wants the government to have too great of a role developing public school students.
As reported last year, Schwinn, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, began her career in education working as a teacher for Teach for America.
Teach for America is a controversial non-profit organization that pays new college graduates to teach in urban schools as part of its mission to address “educational inequity” and “help children overcome obstacles like systemic racism and poverty.”
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