Metro Nashville Public Schools


Pew/Arnold Study on Metro Benefits Causes Confusion and Controversy

(Nashville)  Representatives from Pew Charitable Trusts caused confusion and controversy at a meeting of the Study & Formulating Committee when they revealed data about the Metro employee pension fund that conflicted with data presented by the city’s actuaries.

On multiple occasions, members of the Study & Formulating Committee attempted to get a straight answer from Pew representatives on the amount that Metro’s pension plan is funded at – a number which is crucial in determining if any reforms to the retirement system are even necessary. In a memo to the Committee on July 22, Pew/Arnold stated that Metro was funded at 77%, a number that was debunked by representatives from Bryan, Pendleton, Swats & McAllister, the independent actuary that serves Metro Government. According to BPS&M, Nashville’s open pension plan was funded at a healthy 85% (13% higher than the average state-level pension plan) in 2013. “I want to make sure we aren’t sounding alarms that don’t need to be sounded,” said Glenn Farner, one of the members of the Study & Formulating Committee, to the crowd in attendance.

“It is very disappointing to see an organization like Pew risk its reputation with this kind of fuzzy math in order to push an ideological agenda that puts the retirements of thousands of Middle Tennessee working families at risk,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. SEIU represents public employees in Metro government departments as well as Metro schools support staff, nearly all of whom are covered under Metro’s benefits plan.

Despite its credible name, Pew is partnering with the John & Laura Arnold Foundation to push a particularly dangerous plan to cripple public pensions all across the country. The Wall Street Journal identified Texas billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold as one of the major forces behind efforts to cut worker pensions at the city and state level. Arnold, who was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation related to his work at Enron (including accusations of insider training and his role in wiping out the retirements of thousands of Enron employees) has funneled massive amounts of money to pension-gutting politicians and their super PACs. His foundation has also directed $4.85 billion to Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Public Sector Retirement Systems” project, which has produced anti-pension research used by state lawmakers to justify cutting into public workers’ retirement benefits, often replacing them with more expensive, less reliable and widely-discredited 401(k) plans or their newer cousin, “hybrid pension plans,” which bring with them hefty bank fees and unnecessary risk for seniors.

The Pew/Arnold work has been called “deceptive” by a host of state legislators in Kentucky after the organizations convinced the state of Kentucky to adopt a new “cash balance plan” which the legislators said “will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, will not reduce our state’s unfunded liability, and will diminish retirement security.” Pew also recently dropped into Jacksonville, Florida to provide policy recommendations addressing the city’s retirement challenges. There, Pew provided a flawed actuarial analysis that wildly overstated the Jacksonville police and fire pension fund’s problems. The city ultimately rejected Pew’s advice.

“It seems like everywhere Pew/Arnold goes, their recommendations are the same – to weaken the retirement security of public employees,” Collier said. According to investment research firm Morningstar, Metro Nashville was the seventh-highest ranked public pension fund in the U.S., with an ROI of 18.3% in 2013. “It ain’t broke, so there is no need for Pew/Arnold to try and fix it,” said Collier.

Another controversy plaguing the Study & Formulating Committee is its agenda. The current committee was formed by Mayor Karl Dean at the request of Metro Council members who asked the mayor to appoint a committee “specifically to consider the provision of domestic partner benefits,” according to a letter signed by 26 city council members on Oct. 2, 2013. “It was never the intent of the Council for this committee to be debating and discussing other employee benefits,” said Collier. “The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an exhaustive study like this only two years ago and the changes that needed to be made were made. It is time for this current committee to be dissolved since their work on domestic partner benefits is concluded.”


The Service Employees International Union is one of the fastest-growing labor unions in the U.S. with over 2.1 million members in North America. In Tennessee, SEIU Local 205 is chartered to represent thousands of public and private sector workers.

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Court Rules in Favor of SEIU vs. Metro Schools

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman sided with SEIU Local 205 in the union’s lawsuit against Metro Nashville Public Schools. The case began in 2011, when Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register unilaterally “rescinded” a school board policy that had been in place since 2000 which, among other things, allowed school support staff to elect bargaining representatives (in this case, Local 205) and which required the superintendent to meet and confer to develop a Memorandum of Understanding.

Chancellor Bonnyman’s ruling on June 24 is the second time that a court has sided with SEIU on this issue, but MNPS plans to appeal the decision. “It’s ironic when we hear school officials, including Dr. Register, complain about how the state government is trying to take away local control of our schools when it comes to charters, but yet here is Register doing the same thing,” says Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. “The Court clearly said – again – that Register did not have the authority to go around the school board in doing away with the Labor Negotiations Policy and we are wondering when the school board is going to hold Register accountable for thumbing his nose at both them and us.” While attorneys are currently waiting for Chancellor Bonnyman’s written order, her bench ruling indicated that the Labor Negotiation Policy is still in effect and that Dr. Register did not have the legal authority to rescind the LNP.

This is not the first time Register has been embroiled in controversy. In 2010, despite great opposition from the Metro Council and the community, Register ordered the layoffs of nearly 700 custodians and groundskeepers. As a result, hundreds of experienced, loyal city employees – mostly minorities – were sent to the unemployment line. Those that managed to get re-hired lost their benefits and saw their pay slashed. In 2012, Dr. Register was caught making disparaging comments about school employees while being interviewed on a local TV talk show when he thought the cameras weren’t rolling. Register also enraged parents and disability advocates when he laid off about 100 paraprofessionals working with special needs children. Also in 2012, Register was exposed in a front-page story by The Tennessean of violating his employment contract for not filing the ethics and conflict-of-interest forms that were required of him. That particular episode caused Mayor Karl Dean to publicly call for him to complete the forms and caused a Nashville-area state legislator to call for Register’s resignation or termination.

Local 205 also won a separate lawsuit in 2012 in which a judge ruled that support employees have the right to appeal their termination to the school board. That case was remanded by the Tennessee Court of Appeals for further litigation. “Despite the court ruling against them on that issue too, Register has terminated 19 support workers and displaced 49 others without affording them an independent hearing,” Collier said. “That’s another 68 working families being torn apart thanks to Dr. Register’s refusal to comply with court instructions.”

All of this prompted school board member Will Pinkston to issue a statement at the July 2014 school board meeting in which he said “this has gone on long enough… it’s time to cut our losses and chart a path toward more collaborative labor relations… this is a distraction.” To date, school board chair Cheryl Mayes, who is in a bid for re-election, has refused to add the issue for discussion on the school board meeting agenda. Pinkston has said that if Mayes does not bring the issue up on the agenda soon that he will be putting forward a motion for Register to abide by the Labor Negotiations Policy.

“Taxpayers should be asking the district to stop wasting money that could be spent in the schools on a legal defense fund for Jesse Register and voters should be asking school board candidates if they plan to hold Register accountable for his long history of defying the law and the courts,” Collier said. “All we are asking and all we have ever asked is for Dr. Register to acknowledge workers’ rights to have a union and to go by the policies that elected school members have put in place.”

You can read more about this story at The Tennessean.


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SEIU Endorses Tyese Hunter in MNPS District 6!

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 205, the labor organization representing support employees working in the Metro Nashville Public Schools, announced the candidates the organization will be supporting in the School Board elections to be held on August 7, 2014.

“Nashville’s public schools are best run by people who have the biggest stake in them – families and educators. We hope that voters will take a look at supporting school board members who are qualified, compassionate, and who are tired of ‘business as usual’ at MNPS,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205.

In District 6, SEIU is supporting Tyese Hunter who is challenging the current school board chair, Cheryl Mayes. Tyese, a Metro schools parent with a Master’s degree in higher education from TSU, also served six years with the United States Navy Reserves and brings a unique set of skills to the table. “As a Recruit Chief Petty Officer, Tyese led a group of 86 women through boot camp, which says a lot about her leadership abilities and being able to motivate people,” said Collier. “With all the challenges that our schools face today, we need stronger leadership than we’re seeing now and we think Tyese fits the bill.” Tyese is also a forceful advocate for children with disabilities and those who face disadvantages because of income or language barriers. “Tyese wants to raise expectations and outcomes for all students in Metro schools.” District 6 is primarily located in the Antioch area.

Election Day will be on Thursday, August 7. Complete information on early voting dates and locations is available from the Davidson County Election Commission or call 862-8800.


SEIU Local 205 represents support employees working in the Metro Nashville Public Schools and has since 2001. Members come from nearly every department in the district and include school secretaries, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, education assistants, campus supervisors, maintenance workers, crossing guards and others who play a role in shaping the lives of children in Davidson County.



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SEIU Files IRS Complaint Against Tennessee Charter Group’s Tax Status

SEIU Local 205 was one of several labor groups who have filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. The complaint suggests that the Tennessee Charter School Center exists only as a lobbying organization and shouldn’t qualify for tax-exempt status. SEIU wants the IRS to examine the lobbying practices of the TCSC, which was able to help establish a statewide charter authorizer that strips away the power of locally elected school boards.

The Central Labor Council, Jobs With Justice, and Urban Epicenter all joined with Local 205 in filing the complaint.

Read the full story at Nashville Public Radio or The Tennessean.

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SEIU Wins Two Lawsuits Against Metro Nashville School District!

Since 2010, Local 205 has been in a pitched battle with Metro Nashville Public Schools director Jesse Register ever since Register ordered the layoff of nearly 700 school custodians. Local 205 filed two lawsuits to challenge Register’s power grab and has won both of them. Here’s an update.

SEIU 205 vs. MNPS

This case challenged Dr. Register’s right to do away with the Labor Negotiations Policy (“LNP”) which was approved by the School Board in 2000. The LNP is the core document which protects workers rights, their employee handbook, and their grievance procedure among other things. SEIU maintained, and the court agreed, that Register’s decision to unilaterally do away with the LNP without a vote by the School Board, was unlawful. The court said that the LNP from 2000 is still in effect and can only be repealed by a vote by the School Board. The district has appealed this decision and the union is awaiting a court date.


In this case, SEIU represented Tanya Aina-Labinjo, a school cashier who was terminated from MNPS. The union maintains that under state law and the Metro charter, that Ms. Labinjo and all support staff in the schools have the right to appeal, with cause, a termination to the School Board. MNPS maintains that the superintendent (Register) has the final say, but the court agreed with SEIU that the Metro charter “require that that the Board of Education… act in the capacity of a civil service commission concerning non-teaching employees who are dismissed.” The school district appealed the ruling and lost their appeal.

We will continue to keep members advised on updates in MNPS.


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SEIU Still Fighting & Winning for Support Staff in Metro Schools!

Despite what you may have heard from some administrators, SEIU Local 205 is still representing support staff working in the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Whether it’s filing grievances, handling disciplinary meetings, or getting information to our members in the workplace, SEIU is still on the job and we’re still signing up new members to join in the struggle to bring dignity and respect into the workplace despite all obstacles. Here are just a few of the things your Union has done recently for its members:

Job Placement
Because Dr. Register did away with workers rights in the Support Employee Handbook that was negotiated by workers, many MNPS employees found themselves without a job at the end of the school year. SEIU representatives worked tirelessly to make sure that our members did not slip through the cracks.

We monitored the process of displacement and job elimination, we assisted on transfers, and ensured that dozens of loyal MNPS employees were able to stay employed this year and are able to get back to serving students.

Thanks to effective representation by SEIU…

  • A Food Service member was able to keep her job.
  • A member had a reprimand removed from their record.
  • A secretary whose job was eliminated was placed in one of the high schools.
  • A Food Service employee’s pay issue was resolved.
  • A guidance clerk whose job was eliminated was able to keep a job and got placed.

Political Action
SEIU helped elect a pro-labor candidate to the Metro School Board in the last election against all odds and it was a story that made national headlines. SEIU continues to meet with School Board members, elected officials, and community partners to ensure MNPS employees’ rights are protected.





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SEIU Makes the Difference in Nashville School Board Races

Union members Michelle Hardy and Natasha Hobbs prepare for a hard day of campaigning for Amy Frogge.

Union members Michelle Hardy and Natasha Hobbs prepare for a hard day of campaigning for Amy Frogge.

SEIU members were thrilled to have helped elect Amy Frogge to the Metro School Board in the election’s biggest upset. Frogge, a public school parent, PTO president, and attorney, ran against a corporate executive who raised over $115,000 (and counting) and a well-known former Metro Council member. SEIU was the only organization to endorse Frogge, who won in a landslide even though she was outspent by nearly 5-to-1.

Tonya Darvin, an MNPS bus monitor and SEIU member was thrilled to see that her hard work for Amy’s campaign paid off. “I am so glad that we’re going to have some new blood on this school board,” Tonya said. ” We went out in the hot sun in record-breaking heat to talk to voters about the candidates and it was time and effort well spent. We need to move away from the anti-worker policies that have happened over the last year in the schools. Being pro-education means supporting all the people who provide the education. I’m hoping this new school board can move in that direction”.

In the other races, Ed Kindall narrowly lost re-election to the well-funded campaign of Sharon Gentry, Fred Lee came up short in a close race against Jill Speering, and Al Wilkins was defeated by the well-funded campaign of Will Pinkston, a former aide to Governor Bredesen.

Lill Russell, a special education assistant in Metro Schools who worked on the union’s campaign over the summer, took some of the election results in stride. “Look I’ve been around politics long enough to know that you win a few and you lose a few,” Lill said. “The struggle that we’re facing in MNPS isn’t going to be over after the polls are closed. This is an ongoing campaign to restore dignity, fairness, and employee rights. This election isn’t going to stop us from continuing to stand up for our co-workers, the taxpayers, and the students.”

Many SEIU members put as much value on the experience they had this summer as they did on the election results. “I’m so glad to have worked on this campaign this summer,” said Arlanders Hunter, an in-school suspension monitor at Maplewood High School. “I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. Not just about politics, but how valuable my union is in making sure that my co-workers’ interests are looked out for. I plan on getting more involved with my union after this election is over.”

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MNPS Misleads Public About Layoffs of Special-Ed Employees

When Metro Nashville Public Schools first announced that they would be laying off 130 special-education paraprofessionals, they said it was because of stimulus funding that ran out for recent hires. But as Channel 4’s Nancy Amons discovered, workers with decades of experience and good evaluations were also shown the door.

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Parents Revolt, Demand Answers for Layoff of Over 130 Special-Ed Instructors

Parents of special needs children in Metro Nashville Public Schools were outraged at the decision by the district to eliminate the jobs of approximately 130 special-ed paraprofessionals across the city.

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Local 205 Wins Lawsuit Against Metro Schools!

For Immediate Release:

Court Finds MNPS Support Employees Entitled to Appeals

“School Board must do its job and hear employee appeals,” Union says

NASHVILLE, TN – Tanya Aina-Labinjo of Antioch has won a major victory in a lawsuit she filed in April against Dr. Jesse Register and the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, seeking the right to appeal her termination to the Board of Education.

Ms. Aina-Labinjo, who worked as a cashier in the cafeteria at Cane Ridge High School, was terminated by the district in mid-February. After her termination, she submitted a request for an appeal hearing to Board of Public Education chairwoman Gracie Porter. An attorney for Metro responded, saying that an appeal hearing was not warranted. According to the lawsuit filed by Ms. Aina-Labinjo, however, the Metro Charter gives terminated employees an absolute right to appeal to the Board of Public Education.

At a hearing on May 7, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle made the decision to grant a peremptory writ of mandamus compelling the Board of Public Education to hear Ms. Aina-Labinjo’s appeal. Chancellor Lyle found that the provisions of the Metro Charter clearly provided for an appeal, despite recent changes to state law. In addition, Chancellor Lyle found that public policy favors an administrative appeal to the Board of Public Education. A signed order is expected soon.

“We are very pleased to have achieved this result for Ms. Aina-Labinjo and to confirm the right of non-teaching employees to appeal to the school board. The fact that the court was willing to issue a writ of mandamus, which is extraordinary relief, demonstrates the strength and validity of Ms. Aina-Labinjo’s lawsuit,” said Dewey Branstetter, Ms. Aina-Labinjo’s attorney. Mr. Branstetter has extensive experience dealing with the Metro Charter and was a former member of the Metro Board of Public Education himself. He adds, “When someone’s livelihood is at stake, an appeal helps ensure that they are treated fairly. That was the intent of the Metro Charter, and that is what the court found.”

“Tanya deserves to be heard by the Board,” says Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. SEIU represents support employees in the Metro Schools and supports Ms. Aina-Labinjo in her suit against the district. “We never understood why the Board thought it could avoid this responsibility. We are pleased that the court agreed that it is the duty of the Board to hear her appeal.”


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