Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mayor Dean's budget plan moves forward despite dissent

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • June 2, 2010 Advocates for the arts, for mass transit, for education and for saving the jobs of some 600 school custodians and groundskeepers made their cases to the Metro Council at a public budget hearing Tuesday. The loudest voice of dissent to Mayor Karl Dean's budget proposal came from defenders of the custodians and groundskeepers, whose jobs are being privatized by the Metro school system in a move expected to save $5 million. They said the district is top-heavy with well-paid administrators, while working-class employees are being punished. "I used to live at 800 Delray Drive until after the flood," custodian Norman Tanner told the council. "Not only have I lost my house, I've lost my car, and now I stand to lose my job." But the Metro Charter and state law say the mayor and council can only recommend and decide, respectively, how much money the school district receives. They have no influence over how the district spends it, though some council members said they wanted to send a message to the school board by voting against Dean's proposal. After the hearing and a lot of debate, the council approved the plan 29-1 with eight abstentions on the second of three required votes. Members knew that rejecting the budget at this stage would put it into effect by default under the rules of the charter. The council could take a final vote when it meets June 15. The Budget & Finance Committee still is holding departmental budget hearings, including one with school district officials on Thursday. The council has already approved the underpinning of Dean's budget: a debt refinancing expected to save the city more than $77 million in 2010-11, allowing Metro to avoid a tax increase or deep cuts in services. The school system's decision to outsource custodial and groundskeeping jobs has created controversy for months. Vote deferred On Tuesday, Service Employees International Union Local 205 distributed to council members a letter the Tennessee State Conference NAACP wrote to its parent organization asking for an investigation of "the targeting of minorities" in the Metro school system "for unfair treatment." "We feel the current elected leaders on the Metro Nashville Public School Board are not only complicit in this unjust treatment, they are explicit in it," wrote Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the state NAACP. "And with jobs being one of our national focus areas, we feel this matter is so critical that it needs national attention." Sweet-Love called for a national boycott of Nashville "pending a thorough investigation." The council deferred a vote on legislation that would give the city's lowest-paid employees a raise so they would receive a "living wage" of at least $10.77 an hour. The legislation was deferred to track with the budget plan as it moves through the council.

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