April 25, 2017

Guest Editorial: Public Schools,Politics,and Money

Guest Editorial: Public Schools,Politics,and Money
 williamson county schools
Two things are certain when the state legislature convenes again: conservatives will oppose a fuel tax increase in Tennessee and Senator Frank Niceley will introduce legislation to elect school superintendents.  On the first issue, it is a no brainer.  On the second, maybe the state really does need a full-vetting of the issue.    
 
Since taking office as a member of the Williamson County School Board, I have identified activity from within the organization that clearly has no place in public education.  This activity is highly political in nature, attacking not only candidates running for office, but also elected officials.  Sadly, this activity also extended to members of the community who did not share the same views and opinions as a small, vocal minority. As questions about this activity were asked, attacks escalated to public meetings, social media, and in the local press by those who dared to raise the questions. These tactics did not silence the debate, rather it confirmed it was something that needed to be exposed and addressed.
 
In my community, the activity originally centered around a group formed to influence outcomes of recent elections, Williamson Strong.  This is not my personal opinion, this is a fact as the Registry of Election Finance determined they acted as an unregistered political action committee (PAC) during last year’s school board election and were guilty of violating Tennessee campaign finance law.  At the center of this activity is the current superintendent.  His involvement is public record because he and others used his official WCS email address to communicate their intent.  As a matter of fact, the most damning evidence submitted to the election commission came directly from Dr. Looney’s own emails where he acted in his official capacity as superintendent. 
 
Unfortunate as it is, this is not the only political activity of our superintendent. His engagement in political activity extends to his membership in the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS).  According to TOSS Minutes from September and November of 2013, our superintendent brought forth both the discussion and motion to form a PAC.  Keep in mind, Dr. Looney’s dues of $6000/yr are paid by Williamson County taxpayers.  Our superintendent generously offered to contribute the first $1000.  The simple math is this: if all 141 school superintendents contributed $1000, it would allow this organization $141,000 a year for undisclosed political activity.  Are TOSS strategic partners, businesses that contribute $2000 – $25,000+ also contributing? Would those dollars be used in future school board or state legislative races?  If any superintendent is so passionate about politics, then perhaps they should go into politics professionally and not dabble in politics at the expense of their district taxpayers—a position that Senator Niceley’s asserts by continuously advocating for an elected superintendent.  
 
Why is all of this important? In 1992, both Republicans and Democrats in Tennessee supported phasing out elected superintendents and instituting a system where superintendents are appointed by locally elected school boards.  The intent was to refocus the efforts of superintendents, making their primary focus the education of children, not politics.   If a superintendent has the ability to influence the election of a school board, the superintendent will wield incontestable and domineering influence over that board, his very employer. With that amount of control and influence, it will lead not toward accountability and transparency, but a dictatorship by one individual. This is unacceptable for a publicly funded institution.  It also makes school system employees unwilling pawns in the political game.  I would welcome both the acknowledgement and renunciation of past political involvement, as well as an abandonment of future activity by Dr. Looney in order to move forward in our community.  Failure to do this gives those who support an elected superintendent further ammunition.    
 
My sworn obligation as a Williamson County School Board Member is to ensure resources intended for educating our children are spent appropriately, not toward personal or political agendas.  Our schools, teachers, and children should never be pawns or victims of any political or personal agendas.  Our tax dollars should definitely not be paying for such distractions.  The indisputable fact is an educated voter, an involved citizenry and a more transparent and responsive government will benefit our community and state—but not when the deck is stacked against them.  
 
With the ever increasing demands made of our teachers and students, it is absolutely imperative we keep our focus and efforts on the classroom.  Lifelong learning does not center around one superintendent, appointed or elected.  Learning happens in the classroom, led by teachers who are passionate about what they do, making that connection with students, one child at a time.  As a parent with children in public schools, I have a vested interest and fully intend to continue to fight for such a noble cause. 
 
What are your thoughts on political activities by appointed superintendents?  Does Senator Niceley make a valid argument?   Transparency cannot be just another political buzzword. We should make public the money connections between special interests and those in office. It is the only defense citizens have against those trying to game the system?
Susan Curlee, District 12, Williamson County School Board

Williamson Strong Responds

An offer to respond was made to Williamson Strong. We received the following official statement:
Williamson Strong no longer feels the need, nor sees any value in debating with Susan Curlee. We have collectively decided to dismiss her need for the spotlight in order to continue with our mission of supporting Williamson County Schools… Williamson Strong
EDITORIAL NOTE:  WilliamsonSource.com provides guest editorials as a service to our readers.  Guest editorials come from outside sources.  The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of WilliamsonSource.com; nor does WilliamsonSource.com necessarily have an official policy or position.  Any content provided by guest authors are their opinions, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.  At WilliamsonSource.com we aim to provide balanced, unbiased reporting and take our journalistic credibility seriously.  It is central to the aim of the site to provide you, the reader, with an accurate and reliable resource on all aspects of Williamson County, and we do so in part by allowing guest editorials where we believe WilliamsonSource.com can help facilitate respectful dialogue that adds to the quality of life in Williamson County.  Readers are expected to form their own judgement.

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4 Comments

    1. Heather

      Every time I read about Susan Curlee and see her presenting facts, there are always a couple of negative people attacking her with no backed-up evidence. I wish people would understand the facts before slandering the name and hopping on the bandwagon.

  1. roy thompson

    This is really a complicated situation. Even though Susan is being attacked on all sides, I believe that she is right in this. Williamson Strong was acting as a PAC as stated by the Registry of Election Finance which violated Tennessee’s campaign finance law. She proved her point with this. But some politicians never let things pass when they get exposed.

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