Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed MNPS District Six school board member Fran Bush to the studio to discuss the systemic challenges facing Metro Nashville Public Schools and what surprised her as a new school board member.
Leahy: We are joined as we often are on Tuesdays by our good friend Clint Brewer. Welcome, Clint.
Brewer: Hey, how are you, Mike?
Leahy: We’re glad to have you here. And our special guest this morning, a member of the Metro Nashville Public Schools, representing District Six, Fran Bush. Now, Fran, you went out and you stomped your opponents with a 60 percent win. That was pretty impressive. You had three opponents. It’s pretty impressive. But now that you won you get on the Metro Nashville Public School Board. What surprised you about that?
Bush: Well, you know, it was amazing because when I first was elected, of course. Thank you to all of my supporters and those who helped me win this election. Especially my husband bless his heart, right? He supported me through this whole process and once I got on the board, I didn’t realize how political this particular business was for our kids.
Leahy: So talk about that. What struck you as a political in your very first meetings in the Metro Nashville Public School Board which you’re one of nine members?
Bush: So when I first got on the board, it was pretty challenging because we had Dr. Sean Joseph who was the past superintendent. So that was pretty challenging because he came with a lot of baggage. And when I started to look at what was happening with our district before I got elected it was already in my mind that I had to do something. that I had to stop the bleeding in Metro Nashville Public Schools with this particular superintendent. And it was very hard because of course, I’m new right.
Bush: So how do you go on and you challenge something so huge?
Leahy: So then so Sean Joseph was the suit that the superintendent schools when you joined the school board.
Bush: Yes, he was.
Leahy: And he was let’s just say kindly, problematic. Shall we say?
Bush: Yes, that’s very kind. So my first speech was is that your time is up. Oh, I sure he was delighted it was he in the room? He was in the
Leahy: I bet he was delighted to hear that listening.
Bush: Well, he already knew prior to my win that I was not very I was not one of his fans after I start to see the course he was taking with our schools. And of course, I heard from a lot of teachers, students, and parents. And it was just my job to be proactive with even being a new school board member, which was very challenging because as you can imagine I’m new. So to take on such a big challenge along with my other two board members Amy Frock and Jill Speering.
Leahy: So there were two other board members who are aligned with you at this time.
Leahy: Thinking it was time to move Dr. Shawn Joseph out. Show him the door if you will.
Bush: You know, it was really challenging for me because of course being Black and he was Black. Being the first Black superintendent, I got a lot of grief.
Leahy: What would be the kind of grief you would get on that?
Bush: Well, you know because he was the first African-American superintendent and me coming on the board and being so, you know always you know supportive to all of our children. But they just couldn’t understand some of our Black community couldn’t understand why and what my goal was in doing this. And it was evident that the superintendent brought a lot of very bad baggage from the D.C. and Maryland areas.
Leahy: They brought a crew of folks. And there were questions. I mean, we don’t need to get into all the gory details. But generally speaking, money was spent in a way I would say, you know, I guess the phrase that comes to mind is, he spent money like a drunken sailor. But that would be an insult to drunken sailors. Those are my words, not yours.
Bush: Yeah. It was a lot of money that was fan contractual wise. Giving that type of money and our taxpayer dollars to his friends to fatten their pockets and corporations. And not doing the fair process and procedures on getting contracts.
Leahy: And that was sort of one of many issues about his performance.
Bush: Absolutely. And then we came with a very huge backlash of sexual harassment. And you know being sued.
Leahy: More. problems.
Bush: More problems and more problems. And those things were ignored so that really cost us a lot more money.
Leahy: So in the end he ends up resigning.
Bush: Yes he ended up resigning. And unfortunately, the board gave him a buttload of money to leave us. And that was something that I definitely was against he should have taken a lesser package to exit. And that’s not what the board decided on.
Leahy: So you were dissenting on that. And in that exit agreement, there was a part of the exit agreement that was a violation of your free speech rights.
Bush: Yeah, you know our first amendment and our fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and the other five board members at that time of the decision-making decided to go against us knowing that it was the wrong thing to do.
Leahy: And so you sued because in that agreement you are not allowed to say anything at all about dr. Joseph.
Leahy: You sued, and what happened with that lawsuit?
Bush: Oh, well, we won. And it was overwhelmingly huge. Basically, the judge just slammed him and told him you know, basically I’m going have him face all of this because this is not the correct way. And it should have not been done this way. So it was a huge embarrassment. A huge embarrassment to Shawn Joseph and his team. So now as I understand they’re appealing. And we’ll see what happens. Which I don’t think they’re going to.
Leahy: Have you followed that case, Clint?
Brewer: I mean, it’s non-disparagement language, right? And as I recall his contract when he was hired also had that in there. Earlier when you came in and said that you wanted to stop the bleeding in Metro schools and this system has had trouble for decades. I just read a story that the school system is down like 4,200 kids year-over-year.
Talk a little bit about those systemic challenges in the school system. It wasn’t just the spending under Shawn Joseph. It was a lack of progress in student attainment in all of the marks, you have to hit. Talk a little bit about that, about where the system has failed and what we need to move it forward.
Bush: Absolutely. Just so we’re more transparent about the numbers. We are actually at 6,900 students that have left our district. So we were very concerned. I’m very concerned on the direction, and your right. It has been decades since we haven’t really have not got this right. We supported Dr. Adrienne Battle as our interim. We felt that she was able because she’s a homegrown educator. She’s from here. She knew exactly what we needed at that time and became the superintendent of our schools. But unfortunately, we are still trying to navigate in a way that we can move this district forward.
We’re still not moving forward. I’ve always said that we are a reactive district and not a proactive district. So with this pandemic, we know this pandemic was very unprecedented for all of the schools across this country. But being here in Nashville, we saw things that could have been done a little bit differently as far as the planning. And the reason why we lost so many students is because parents said, not my student. We should have been planning way before now. After March we should have been planning and getting these children back in school safely.
Leahy: So let me ask this. Where do we stand right now in Metro Nashville Public Schools? Who’s back in class? Who’s not in class? Are they playing sports? What what what is the current status?
Bush: So the current status right now is that we have phased in our K through two students. That was a couple weeks ago.
Leahy: K through two students are there in person.
Bush: In-person; yes.
Leahy: Five days a week?
Bush: Five days a week. If could just kind of go back a little bit. We had a survey we have we had 53 percent of our parents who said they want in-person learning. And we had 47 percent that said I want to keep my child at home for reasons that they wanted. We wanted to give our parents options. So those kids are going back in person. Today is a great day. We are phasing in our case our third and fourth graders today so I’m a little excited today.
Leahy: So third and fourth graders can go in person.
Bush: Yeah, and then the next week after that week we’re going to be phasing in every grade except for our high schoolers. And that’s where we’re having major concerns about. Our high school is being out for almost 10 months by the time they go back into the classroom.
Leahy: Oh my goodness of the classroom. They are losing so much education.
Bush: So much learning time is in the and the gap is widening every day for these students if they’re not back in that classroom.
Leahy: And the performance of Metro Nashville Public Schools has been about the worst in the state for some time. Hasn’t it?
Bush: Well, we’ve been in the bottom for quite some time. I felt like we could have rebounded a little bit sooner and better during this pandemic but pandemic. This was an opportunity for us to really get it right. but because we had that lack of planning and not really staying focused on what we should have been focused on. And that is getting these students back in school safely.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Fran Bush” by Fran Bush Facebook. Background Photo “MNPS” by Metro Nashville Public Schools.