The contrasts between Alice Rolli and Freddie O’Connell at Thursday night’s education-focused mayoral debate were few and far between. 

Hosted by Nashville Public Television and Opportunity Nashville, the debate lasted an hour, giving the candidates 90 seconds each to respond to 14 questions about education. But while there might have been topics within education that would have highlighted differences between the candidates, much of the night found O’Connell and Rolli responding to questions with similar rhetoric, with differences only appearing in their nuances. 

After a mayoral forum in June, Rolli told the Banner that she would take control of the school system from the Metro Nashville School Board if certain charter schools were not renewed. On Thursday night, she seemed to allude to this during a response to a question about the school board, saying that then-Mayor Karl Dean proposed a different governance model for the school system, but she did not take the extra step to go as far as she did in June. 

Even when it came to school safety, both candidates echoed the same concerns about upgrading school security measures, getting SROs into schools and watching what happens with the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session next week. 

“I wish that we could unilaterally disarm. We can not,” said Rolli

Rolli spoke in a more positive light about charter schools throughout the debate. At the same time, O’Connell said that public schools are under attack by state-authorized charters, changes in state funding formulas and the Education Savings Account program, but that was one of the only major differences of the night. 

Third-grade retention, a hot-button topic for many elementary school parents, did not come up during the debate. 

The live audience included a selection of mayoral candidates who did not make the runoff, including Sharon Hurt, Sen. Heidi Campbell, who endorsed O’Connell, and Stephanie Johnson. Also in attendance was term-limited District 28 Councilmember Tanaka Vercher, the executive director of Opportunity Nashville, and five of the nine school board members.

Retired Newschannel 5 anchor Vicki Yates and political analyst Pat Nolan moderated the event.