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During a recent appearance before Metro Council to defend the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual taxpayer subsidy, Chamber CEO Ralph Schulz said that the Metro Nashville school board is “not a representative body.”

This message comports with the Nashville Chamber’s ongoing admonition to school board members that we are merely “a governing body,” not representative of our own constituents.

As an elected official, I have been confounded by this message. During a conversation with Chamber leadership five years ago, I expressed an interest in being active in public schools. As a former parent-teacher organization (PTO) president who helped transform a Title I school, I felt that my on-the-ground experiences as a parent and grassroots understanding of the needs in local public schools were huge assets to my work as a school board member.

Chamber leadership disagreed, telling me not only that I did not understand my role as a board member, but also – rather astonishingly – that I should not visit local schools while serving on the school board.

These comments stem from a corporate model of governance promoted by the Chamber. While some tenets of policy governance make sense, others have proven unworkable for elected representatives.

The Chamber is wrong to advocate that school board members should remain unresponsive to constituents, inactive in schools, and largely removed from decision-making. For these reasons, our board has discussed rewriting our policies.

Unfortunately, too many corporate ideas have crept into education policy, wreaking havoc on students, teachers and schools. Children should not be viewed merely as “products” or future “workers” to increase production or profit, schools should not be operated like businesses, teachers are not automatons that can be easily replaced by for-profit testing companies or computerized learning, and public education shouldn’t be considered a source of profit for investors.

The influx of business and investment ideas into one of our most valuable and precious public institutions has proven disastrous for public education, causing excellent teachers to flee and students to suffer. Nevertheless, corporate ideas remain popular among those whose own children don’t attend public schools and who therefore have a limited understanding of what actually occurs in our neediest schools.

Unlike other local area Chambers of Commerce that have remained supportive, the Nashville Area Chamber has repeatedly overreached into the province of the elected school board, attempting to dictate our actions, to control local elections, and to infringe upon superintendent searches. Time and again, the Chamber has proven steadfastly wrong in many of its positions, including its attempts to privatize education through charter schools, its support of state legislation stripping the school board of local control, and its efforts to remove the will of the people by advocating for an appointed school board.

Taxpayers should remain wary of any effort to disempower locally elected officials. Rendering elected representatives impotent marginalizes the public voice and allows those not publicly accountable to wield greater influence over the direction of the school system.

The school board is not beholden to the Nashville Chamber or to its policy governance model.  As elected representatives, we serve the citizens of Davidson County, and our work is governed by the Metro Charter. More importantly, however, our primary obligation is to best serve all students across our city.

Regardless of any governance model utilized by the board, it is vital that board members remain informed and seek to understand the needs of local schools. Being an active public school parent informs my work and brings much greater depth to my decisions as an elected school board member.

I appreciate the business support that the Nashville Chamber has brought to our Academies of Nashville and encourage Chamber leaders to continue these efforts, rather than attempting to dictate policy decisions to elected representatives.

Amy Frogge is a member of the Nashville School Board.

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