Mayor Dean's Night at the Movies Draws Criticism from Teachers' Union

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We were surprised to learn Mayor Karl Dean made the opening remarks at one of this week’s special screenings of the school choice movie Won’t Back Down.

Dean is held out as the great hope of Democrats for returning to statewide power in some capacity. Yet there he was participating in the showing of this movie that promotes parent-trigger laws by painting unionized teachers as lazy louts. Cultivating hostility to teachers’ unions is what Republicans do, not Democrats. By appearing at the screening, Dean associated himself with the alliance of wealthy corporate interests and right-wing ideologues behind the movie and its parent-trigger push.

Dean’s attendance also comes after he sided with Great Hearts Academies in that controversy, a position that put him at odds with many public school teachers. The mayor is a big supporter of charter schools, as many Democrats are. That’s one thing. It’s another to seem to give your stamp of approval to a movie like Won’t Back Down.

The mayor, in a statement to Pith, says his goal was to encourage discussion about charter schools. As you might imagine, the Metro Nashville Education Association is not amused. MNEA president Stephen Henry tells Pith:

The whole thing, both the movie and the Great Hearts issue, really is insulting to Nashville teachers. To insinuate that some outside entity knows better about our students and how to reach them and how to achieve success … it makes you wonder whom [the mayor] represents.

Henry went on to call the movie "a distraction. We should all be pulling together and tackling the problem. Issues like this trigger confrontation. It pits teachers against parents. It pits parents against parents. It pits parents against schools. When you’ve got those crucial ingredients working against each other and not collaboratively, you aren’t going to solve any problem."

We asked the mayor's office to respond to this criticism, and press secretary Bonna Johnson sent this:

Here is a statement from Mayor Dean: "Movies like this help foster discussion about the education challenges we face in the country and ways to improve public education. One critical factor in improving the quality of our schools is by engaging and empowering families. For me, this is less about parent-trigger laws and how teachers and unions are portrayed in a Hollywood movie and more about having a productive discussion on education reforms, such as charter schools."

Also, I would note that education is Mayor Dean's top priority. He led the successful effort to increase the salaries of new teachers, improving our ranking in beginning teacher salaries in the state from 30th to third. He has also increased the budget for schools by $73 million, approximately 12 percent, since he's been in office - much of that time being during a national recession. Additionally, he invested $97 million in the recent capital budget for schools, to do such things as renovate and expand schools, purchase land for new buildings, etc.

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