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Spurlock v. Fox Day 3 Wrap-Up Part 2

November 8, 2009

Mr. Walter Searcy

After hearing from Dr. Zorwick in the morning, the Plaintiffs offered the testimony of Mr. Walter Searcy.  Mr. Searcy’s testimony focused on two meetings that he had regarding the rezoning plan, the first with Mike Turner, and the second with Mark North.

In describing his meeting with Mike Turner, Mr. Searcy focused on the fact that, to his mind, Mike Turner was dwelling nostalgically on the memories of his childhood, saying

“I remember when we had good schools; we all went to schools in our neighborhood, and everybody got along.”

According to Mr. Searcy, he was “dumbfounded by that announcement.”  Mr. Searcy went on to describe the fact that Mike Turner focused on the fact that, when he was a boy, such schools had strong pride because of their neighborhood location.

Note: The Defense did a good job of keeping out any interpretation of the intent or thinking behind Mr. Turner’s statements, objecting often and effectively that Mr. Searcy should be limited only to reporting what Mr. Turner said, not what he thought Mr. Turner meant.

Later, before describing his meeting with Mr. North, Mr. Searcy was asked about the prevalence of “code words” during the meetings in which he participated (echoing a consistent theme brought up by the defense).  Mr. Searcy replied, “Oh yes.  Consistently, regularly, routinely” and identified some examples of “code words” such as “North Nashville, inner city, [and] free and reduced lunch.”

On the Mark North meeting, Mr. Searcy described being shown demographic maps of Nashville schools, projections, etc.  When confronted with the fact that the plan would likely lead to increased segregation in Nashville schools, Mr. Searcy testified that Mr. North said:

“That was a small price to pay for what would ultimately be an improvement in the schools.”

Note: Plaintiffs’ Attorney Woods asked several times if Mr. North used code words or anything else (clearly looking for Mr. Searcy to speak some particular phrase).  Mr. Searcy was unable to come up with the phrase.  At one point, Attorney Woods attempted to use his notes from his pre-testimony conference with Mr. Searcy to refresh his recollection, but Defense Attorney Klein objected.  The judge ruled, in my opinion incorrectly, that the notes were not a “recorded recollection” and thus could not be used by the witness.  However, Attorney Woods did not, to my mind, make the technically correct argument (who knows whether it would have worked), that he was simply refreshing the witness’s memory, and that almost anything can be used to that end, according to the Federal Rules of Evidence. Attorney Woods began this argument, but then decided, apparently, that the argument was not worth it.  Overhead after the testimony was the phrase allegedly used by Mr. North to which Attorney Woods wished Mr. Searcy to testify:

“Some of my best friends are black.”

This, of course, would have connected back to the “defensive” concept testified to by Dr. Zorwick earlier in the day.

Mr. Erick Huth

After the testimony of Mr. Searcy, the Plaintiffs offered the testimony of Erick Huth, president of MNEA.  Mr. Huth’s testimony, overall, was not particularly focused on the points that the Plaintiffs have been hitting, as Mr. Huth was more than happy to stick in digs (sometimes quite funny) relating to his own opinions and agenda.

Mr. Huth’s testimony focused on the status of the current schools, as well as the proposed “extra resources” for the high-concentration minority schools, especially the 5% bonus for teachers teaching in those schools as well as the (roughly equivalent) 20 extra paid professional development days offered to other teachers.  Mr. Huth called into question the way in which the 5% bonus, which is supposedly an important part of attracting excellent teachers to the highest-need schools, was put into place.  Specifically, he pointed out that negotiations over such a plan were very late in the negotiation process, and were originally going to be given to everyone already teaching in the schools.  Mr. Huth testified that paying people already in the schools a bonus simply for being there made no sense and that, instead, such schools should be “fresh start-ed” and that new teachers should be enticed with the increased pay.  His main point was that this was an MNEA suggestion, and did not come from the district (implying a certain pointlessness and lack of thought in the district’s plans).

Further, Mr. Huth identified the district’s best teachers as those who have “five or more years of experience,” clearly highlighting the demographic reality analyzed by the Tennessean (and commented on by myself) that the hard-need rezoned schools tend to have much lower average years of experience among their teachers.  Regarding Pearl-Cohn and Napier Elementary, Huth said there were

“[L]arge numbers of individuals place in those schools with less experience than their predecessors” and that the “average experience level of the teachers in those schools is less.”

Mr. Huth also discussed which schools are allowed to have teachers with alternative certification teaching in them.  He testified that MNEA suggested that in the “Fresh Start” schools, only permanently certified (i.e. those with the most training) teachers be allowed, but the District balked at such an idea.

On cross examination, a few points were brought out about the school system as it is now.  For example, Defense Attorney Klein asked if, under the new plan, it was easier to get an open seat at a school during open enrollment.  Mr. Huth replied,

“Yes — you don’t have to have asthma, as was the case in the past.”

In what was surely an attempt to undermine the defense theory that Dr. Garcia was forced out of his job because of his opposition to the new rezoning plan and other political circumstances, the Defense asked Mr. Huth if he had referred to Dr. Garcia as someone “not prone to reason.”  Mr. Huth replied,

“I think I actually said ‘higher level thinking.’”

This comment provoked substantial laughter in the courtroom.

Jerry Maynard

Finally, the Defense called Jerry Maynard to the stand.  Mr. Maynard testified substantially similarly to Mr. Searcy, having been at many of the same meetings.  As to the Mike Turner meeting, Mr. Maynard said

Mike Turner claimed the “task force did not have a racial intent regarding the rezoning plan.”

Mike Turner claimed that neighborhood schools, when he was a boy, led to neighborhood pride, “that busing ruined that,” and neighborhoods “lost that community pride . . . and neighborhood schools would bring that back.”

Mike Turner mentioned the black friends he had and that he had had black friends when he was a boy, had them over to dinner, etc.

Mike Turner kept mentioning a “return back to the way it was when he was growing up,” and that “he thought busing was a horrible thing.”

When asked about these comments in general, Mr. Maynard testified that he was not particularly offended by Mike Turner’s assertions about his childhood and neighborhood schools:

“I gave him a pass because I know Mike. . . . Mike’s a good ol’ boy.”

When asked whether Mike Turner was being “genuine about his support of the plan,” Mr. Maynard said that he was.

Finally, there was some discussion with Mr. Maynard about a phone call Board Member Johnson took in the Miami airport when several Board members and other local Nashvillians traveled to Miami to learn about its school system (among other things).  According to Mr. Maynard, Ms. Johnson took a phone call in the airport, with several people clustered around her, Maynard not included.  At some point, he heard her say that she would get David Fox on the phone, and then he heard David Fox’s voice being relayed over the speaker on her cellphone to the group assembled.  He could not hear the specifics of what was said, but could testify to the fact that the conversation took place.  As evidenced from the emphasis the Plaintiffs put on eliciting testimony about this phone call, it is likely to become important later in the trial.

That’s all for now — tune in Monday for more coverage of the trial.

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