Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean spoke to students Monday morning on the priorities of public education, public safety and economic development and how they play into Nashville’s future.
Dean served as mayor from 2007 to 2015, passing the torch to Megan Barry in early September. Early in his mayoral career, Dean used these three priorities as his campaign platform’s guiding light and said they are just as important today as they were when he took office.
“These are the three pitches that we have to hit as a city every day, and I would argue that these are the three priorities that any city that wants to succeed has to hit every day,” Dean said.
A firm supporter of public education, Dean told the audience he thought Nashville has made “genuine progress” in education, citing Nashville’s 81.6 percent graduation rate for the 2014-2015 school year.
However, Dean went on to say education improvement is a never-ending process and more work is needed in raising test scores for college entrance exams. Education, Dean said, is inevitably tied to economic development as employers are looking for well-educated hirees.
He also voiced his opinion that charter schools as a choice need to be a higher priority in Nashville’s school system, something Dean pushed for during his time as mayor.
“I do believe that you’ve got to offer people choice, and there are certainly charter schools that are knocking it out of the ballpark,” said Dean. “You never reach a point where you say ‘Our public schools are good enough.’”
While education within a city is critical, it’s just as important to project a perception that your city is ideal to live and work in through public safety, Dean said.
As mayor, Dean pushed for the building of new precincts across the city and increased the size of the police force, which he said contributed to Nashville’s low homicide rates in 2013 and 2014.
However, the 2015 homicide rate increased to 59 murders as opposed to 41 in 2014. Dean said this underscored his point about continuing to make public safety a priority; schools will be underused, parks will be empty and businesses will look elsewhere to invest if they don’t feel safe, hurting Nashville economically.
“You cannot stress enough the importance of being a city that is safe and that is perceived to be safe. The reputation and perception can often outweigh the reality,” he said.
In terms of future economic development, Dean wants Nashville to remain an affordable city. Future businesses are more likely to move to Nashville if the real estate is affordable, Dean said.
He also wants to see investment in a new mass transit system, which was a major issue in this year’s mayoral election.
“It’s predicted that by 2035, the Nashville region is going to grow by a million people,” said Dean. “I think it’s vital that we invest in mass transit, and that’s going to involve the biggest and hardest thing that any city does or any government does or any business does; and that’s change.”