Major shifts underway in the way Tennessee education and government operate
“Some people have 15 years of experience; some have one year’s experience 15 times.”
That’s a maxim which I learned decades ago, which accurately reflects the paradigm shift taking place in the way Tennessee state government and our public education system now operates.
Laws have already gone into effect this summer radically altering the state’s half-century old Civil Service system. In education, it’s the revamped compensation plan for our public school teachers.
I know many of my fellow Democrats are strongly resisting these changes, but I believe they are holding onto outdated modes of thinking. Changes needed to occur. Our energy and efforts should be directed to ensuring that the new direction is now applied as fairly and effectively as possible.
There are some significant points that those implementing the changes should keep in mind:
There are thousands of smart, dedicated, service-oriented state employees and educators who have served the Volunteer State with enthusiasm and aplomb for many years;
Tennessee state government has long been recognized as one of the best-run states in the nation; and
Many top and mid-level managers will have to make serious changes themselves.
With regard to the last point, envision that managers may be required to interview in-house applicants whose qualifications are occasionally overshadowed by their looming level of seniority. Dismissing a Civil Service-protected employee can take as much as two years unless there are major violations. Further, when funds were available for pay increases in the past, these were essentially applied equally, across the board, with no regard for outstanding or exceptional performance.
For managers unaccustomed to actively overseeing every aspect of their departments it is a completely new day. How those managers react to this sweeping cultural change will also eventually determine whether or not they themselves are right for their jobs.
At the same time, the top managers (department heads) in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration should begin their evaluations from a place of respect. They should honor the fact that while there may be problems, state government has existed long before the current folks arrived and will be there long after they depart. They should also carefully try to discern which specific employees actually have the appropriate and necessary skills to make positive contributions to “the customer’s” experience—-i.e., those they are reportedly serving: the stakeholders/taxpayers, who are the citizens of Tennessee.
For our educators, the exceptional ones should have no worries. It’s worthwhile that experience and advanced degrees are still a part of the equation, but the key shift is the inclusion of documentable results, which, as I understand it, are based on test score performance. Hopefully the test score process can be balanced to accommodate such things as income inequality as well as language barriers. Here, too, those administrators making the call should begin with respect while treading lightly during the challenging days ahead.
To those who contend that Tennessee’s government should be run “like a business,” I believe instead the state should serve its citizens in a professional, “businesslike” manner.
Bo Roberts is a Nashville strategic and marketing consultant, firstname.lastname@example.org