Candidates on stage for a mayoral forum at Belmont University's Fisher Center Credit: Nashville Banner photo

Alice Rolli said at a mayoral forum Thursday night that as mayor she would consider seeking a takeover of the school system if charter schools are not renewed. 

Candidates were asked whether they support getting rid of the elected school board. The only person onstage seemingly open to the idea was Rolli, who said she would give the authority two years to get their act together before “holding them accountable.” She said the city’s school system should strive to be like Miami-Dade’s, and that without accountability, Nashville’s schools will become like Detroit’s. 

Matt Wiltshire, who followed Rolli, remarked, “I don’t want to be Detroit or Miami-Dade.”

Following the forum, Rolli elaborated on her statement. 

“In the next two years, we will see if the school board is being accountable to parents, and I think specifically it is in the 10-year reauthorization of some of our high-performing charter schools that have been around now for eight years that are going to have to come up in front of the school board,” said Rolli. She said that if the school board chooses not to renew charter schools like Purpose Prep and Valor, she would seek to absorb the school board’s powers into the mayor’s office. 

It’s not the first time a Metro mayor has considered a takeover.

Then-Mayor Karl Dean approached Gov. Phil Bredesen first in 2008 to disband the school board and run the system from the mayor’s office. The school board chair at the time? David Fox, who ran for mayor in 2015 and is now Rolli’s treasurer. In the end, Bredesen decided not to go through with the drastic move. 

The school board is a nine-member body with members elected to four-year terms.

Other observations from the forum:

* Despite The Tennessean and NewsChannel 5 calling the forum a “debate,” the event largely followed the format of other mayoral forums, and moderators Rhori Johnston and David Plazas alternated asking a question for the entire panel to answer. Over the 90-minute session, candidates answered eight questions on topics that included transit, affordability, education and the city-state relationship. The forum excluded candidates like Natisha Brooks, Stephanie Johnson and Fran Bush, who didn’t meet public participation thresholds (either by elected office or fundraising). As a result, participants had longer to answer questions, in most cases 90 seconds.

* Jim Gingrich seemed to make his most forceful case yet he is a different candidate than the rest of the field. On multiple issues, he referenced a Nashville that continues to have the same discussions around transit, education and neighborhoods that it had in 2015. The implication is that the city’s political establishment — which included at least six other Democrats on the stage — shouldn’t be selected to run the city again. 

* Rolli also seemed to swipe at District Attorney Glenn Funk without mentioning him by name. On the subject of guns, she said Nashville cannot continue a “catch and release” policy on gun crime. A spokesperson for the DA’s office said the office does not comment on political races but emphasized its strong stance on protecting the city from violent crime. Rolli’s comments are sure to be noticed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a longtime antagonist of Funk following the prosecution of Andrew Delke in the shooting of Daniel Hambrick. Delke pled guilty in 2021. The FOP’s endorsement is said to be coming soon. 

* Line of the night, part one: “We don’t have to leave on the ‘BACHELORETTES HERE’ sign.” —Freddie O’Connell on whether downtown Nashville is out of control. 

* Line of the night, part two: “Nashville needs a mop.” —The closed captioning on Heidi Campbell’s closing statement of “Nashville needs a mom.”

Disclosure: Matt Wiltshire has donated to the Nashville Banner. Financial supporters play no role in the Banner’s journalism.

Steve is a three-decade veteran of newspapers, working around the country at places like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune before returning home to Nashville in 2011 to edit The City Paper and Nashville...