Metro school board rejects Great Hearts, defies state order — again

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 12:21am

Once again ignoring its own legal counsel, and seemingly defying a state order, the Metro school board Tuesday rejected the controversial charter school application of Great Hearts Academies.

This time, the decision came down to a 5-4 vote. And after denying the Phoenix-based charter group for the fourth time in three-plus months Tuesday, Metro’s continued resistance might have forced a new reality: It appears Great Hearts’ entry to Nashville could require a lawsuit from the charter group or further pressure from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Following a summer of balking at the charter group’s plans for a West Nashville school over concerns of diversity, Metro made its position even clearer Tuesday: If Great Hearts doesn’t dramatically alter its diversity plan, it won’t receive the Metro board’s blessing.

Following Tuesday’s latest rejection, Great Hearts’ attorney Ross Booher said he would have to speak to his client when asked whether he would pursue litigation.

“Great Hearts is obviously disappointed that the school board chose to again break state law but remains hopeful for the future,” he said.

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman did not immediately return a phone message.

Cheryl Mayes, newly minted as the board’s chair prior to the vote, broke a 4-4 tie to reject Great Hearts. The meeting marked the first for four new board members, and District 9’s Amy Frogge was the only of the new crop to vote to deny.

Frogge, who defeated a well-financed, pro-charter candidate in August’s election, said the new board “inherited this problem,” adding that there’s been talk about the board being sued “collectively and possibly individually” over the Great Hearts matter.

“I don’t want all of this talk over litigation and potential personal liability to cloud our collective decision–making,” Frogge said before outlining her case.

The state board of education, on appeal from Great Hearts, in July remanded Great Hearts’ proposal back to Metro for approval contingent on meeting three requirements, she pointed out. The local board last month deferred the matter to Tuesday instead.

Board members have expressed satisfaction with Great Hearts’ ability to meet two of the conditions — that it hire licensed teachers and open just one school as opposed to five schools — but they still hold lingering questions about its willingness to adopt a diversity plan that “mirrors” Metro’s plan for choice schools.

Metro Department of Law Director Saul Solomon told the school board that the clarity of state statute is a “9 or a 10” on a 1-through-10 scale on whether the state board can remand a charter’s approval back to a local board.

“It is very clear that the state board of education has the ultimate say on appeal and, from that decision, there is no right to appeal,” Solomon said.

But Frogge disagreed with that analysis when taking into account the state-mandated contingencies.

“With all due respect to Mr. Solomon, the state law is unclear as regard to the facts of this case,” Frogge said, referring to the diversity issue, which she called a “key part” of MNPS’ vision.

“Make no mistake: We are setting a precedent here tonight about what we will expect in our system and what we expect from our schools that will be far-reaching and that will affect many children, including my own,” Frogge said.

Calling the Great Hearts matter “not only a legal issue but also a moral issue,” Frogge said Great Hearts doesn’t have a track record of diversity at its existing schools in Arizona and also questioned its transportation plan for Nashville.

Other board members who voted to deny Great Hearts in addition to Mayes and Frogge were Anna Shepherd, JoAnn Brannon and Sharon Gentry.

Voting to authorize Great Hearts were Will Pinkston, Elissa Kim, Jill Speering and Michael Hayes.

Shepherd, who also voted last month to reject Great Hearts’ proposal, alluded to emails from the education department’s Huffman that revealed his department had for months actively assisted Great Hearts in working around Metro.

“As a school district, we go through great lengths to discourage bullying in our schools, and apparently bullying is condoned at the state level,” Shepherd said. “Over the weekend, we discovered that not only was the state board of education encouraging Great Hearts to appeal, they were driving the bus.”

Great Hearts would be the first publicly financed, privately led charter in Nashville to explicitly take advantage of the state’s new open enrollment law. Previously, charters were reserved for low-income students. No longer beholden to the old guideless, Great Hearts has attracted parents from affluent parts of West Nashville.

Prior to the final vote, new board member Pinkston — who advised a “change in tone and tenor” from Great Hearts officials — announced he would be “reluctantly” voting yes for Great Hearts, arguing that Metro had “left itself exposed” in regards to the Great Hearts issue.

“To use a football analogy, we have left our blindside open and the blindside in this case is our lack of an ability to succinctly articulate diversity guidelines for charter schools,” Pinkston said. “As it turns out, our policies for promoting diversity in schools of choice do not exist in a single memo or filing cabinet somewhere. But rather, they live across a range of procedures, zone plans and other documents.”

Great Hearts backers have argued a similar case –– that is, Metro doesn’t have a clearly defined diversity plan for choice schools, but rather relies on an assortment of policies. They’ve pointed out one choice Metro school, Glendale Spanish Immersion School, has a white population that exceeds 80 percent and a black population that is under 10 percent.

Pinkston’s remarks seemed to give the board a way to vocally denounce Great Hearts but still succumb to the state order.

But when Mayes tallied the votes a split board emerged. She then revealed here position, and swayed the final vote. “My hand is up as opposed.”

18 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 9/12/12 at 3:45

The Governor foolishly made the comment that funds would not be withheld
if Board did not approve this Charter. That position may now change. Maybe
the Board has lots of cash in their legal fund, always extra laying around, and
wants to show the State what power a local Board has on such matters when
they have a tough newly elected Chairwoman in charge.

By: CitizensWin on 9/12/12 at 6:56

The MNPS board has just saved the city of Nashville years of unintended consequences. Nashville has proven itself to be capable of producing great public schools without privatizing public education through charter.

This issue has put education front and center and promises to propel teachers, students and parents to inspire all children to strive toward the excellence that need not be out- sourced and managed from afar.

This is also a great civics lesson to students, parents and voters that voting matters and that government is the expression of the will of the people. It is now the duty of all to respect this decision and move forward with conviction and enthusiasm.

Citizens Win

By: morpheus120 on 9/12/12 at 7:04

Great Hearts deserves what they've gotten so far.

They come in to our state and our city and start dictating terms and if they don't get what they want, they run to the right-wing state legislature (looking for new campaign contributors, of course) and do an end run around local government.

There is blame to go all around on this issue.

Where are the "patriots" from the Tea Party when Big Government at the state legislature overrules local elected officials? Why aren't they having Tea Parties telling the carpetbaggers to go home and let us govern ourselves?

And why are so many "liberals" (I'm talking to you, East Nashville) getting on board with giving tax money to corporations so that they can bust unions and turn a profit? It would be one thing if charters had a solid record of better performance than similar public schools... but they don't! And hey, liberals, you do understand that the reason the school boards are fighting back is because of a lack of diversity, right? Is diversity important to you or not? Or is it important only when it doesn't affect your kid? Watch that hypocrisy, lefties -- you're coming dangerously close to acting like the Cons.

And the Mayor. What is his problem? He wants to stay out of school affairs whenever Jesse Register is running all over parents and his employees, but he has to weigh in on GH every time a microphone is in front of him? Clearly he's trolling for campaign contributors when he runs for Governor.

I salute my sisters on the School Board who told the state and Great Hearts to go climb a tree. If Great Hearts wants to come to Metro, they need to be a partner, not an adversary.

Keep on fighting, School Board!!!

By: Rasputin72 on 9/12/12 at 7:23

I think the underclass has won a great victory. If the underclass gives up their fight for diversity they will have to resign themselves to being just what they are. The Underclass.

By: Rocket99 on 9/12/12 at 7:30

I think there needs to be more digging into the Commissioner of Education's connections and possible financial involvement as well as others. Couls there be possible ethecs violations or fraud? Something stinks about the GH situation and thank goodness someone left off their nose plugs and can smell the stinch.

By: Left-of-Local on 9/12/12 at 7:50

This is fine, but THIS iteration of the Board needs to now turn the same scrutiny of diversity practices INWARD, and figure out a better solution than the RE-SEGREGATION that occurred with this "neighborhood schools" B.S.

By: JeffF on 9/12/12 at 8:00

Get the pitchforks and torches, we must kill the rich before they start thinking that their children are entitled to good educations. We must trust that the school system that has created the second highest number of failing schools in the state has the interest of only the underclass. Everyone look toward the bright star of the Hume-Fogg success story while going to the schools that suck (maybe we can make these kids bow down to the downtown temple of learning twice a day in order to show their reverance?).

We must make sure that only the poor are able to escape bad schools for charters. Chain the children of the white middle class to their desks so we do not lose our ADA state funding. It is too late to imprison the real rich because they are in private schools or have moved down to Williamson county, but we can take hostage the children of the people who work for them.

This will show the somewhat-rich and white that we are serious about having a school system that destroys the futures of everyone in an even handed manner. God bless the school board for taking educational hostages.

By: Pegleg on 9/12/12 at 8:32

Amen JeffF, I could not have said it better myself. Finally someone who is not blinded by diversity for diversity's sake. Equal opportunity is not about diversity, it is about equal opportunities for ALL.
How much diversity is there in our current charter schools?
Will those charters come and bus my child from my neighborhood? I doubt it.
I just love the fact that if I don't work, don't pay taxes, don't get involved, my child can go to any school in metro and have every option available to succeed. They will get extra help, free meals, etc.
However, if I do work hard, do pay taxes, do get involved, do contribute extra for those who can't afford it, my child will have options limited to what our liberal school board thinks is appropriate for me.
What a great example this is setting for all children to work harder and succeed.

By: kellyfretz on 9/12/12 at 8:52

Glendale Spanish Immersion is a lottery school. And like all the other lottery schools, first preference goes to the people zoned and the extra slots go to the other lottery families. I know this, because that is how my son was able to go to Glendale. Part of the responsibility of the parents who accept admittance to a lottery school, is having to bring your child to school everyday. For some disadvantaged families, this maybe be a problem. However, as my mom always said, where there is a will, there is a way. It is not convenient to have to bring my son to school everyday, and I will have to do this throughout his educational career. It is a small price to pay, though, to be in a cluster that is extremely dedicated to it's students. I consider myself and my son lucky. Anyone can apply through the lottery and if you don't like your zoned school, then figure out a way to make the system work for you and stop making excuses. If you can't find a way out of your neighborhood school, then the parents need to band together to make those schools work for them. There is no reason the kids that go to school in North Nashville can't get an education that is on the same level as the one my son is getting in the Hillsboro cluster. All it takes is parental involvement and cooperation. In my opinion, charter schools are not the answer. And as for diversity in our charter schools, I didn't hear anyone screaming about diversity until they wanted to put one in Bellevue.

By: Specter47 on 9/12/12 at 9:11

JeffF...well said. Your rationale is on the money.

Metro's so-called "Diversity Plan" is very simple. It goes like this: "Fewer Whites, More Blacks and Others". I'm so sick of this diversity garbage that detracts from the very core of what education is supposed to be all about... education.

Great Hearts, I wish you all the best in your appeal. I hope the state authorizes you to place a school in Nashville, anywhere you want it. Prove to these fools on the school board that you can succeed with your model, graduating terrific citizens who contribute to society, rather than suck at the teat of government.

State Department of Education and Commissioner Huffman, sock it to MNPS. For a school system that needs all the help they can get, they are defiant and obnoxious. They've already lost schools to state control. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

By: KENW on 9/12/12 at 9:34

I agree with Jeff. The metro school board has failed to deliver quality education. Now, they're fighting against any alternatives for improvement. Let's all lower our standards collectively so we can all be equal. The teachers unions will be happy, the school board will be proud, and the students will be illiterate, but hey, it's not about quality education, is it?

By: pswindle on 9/12/12 at 9:36

I thank the School Board for seeing the truth in Great Hearts. I'm sure that they did research about the AZ experience and it came up short.

By: jonw on 9/12/12 at 11:49

pswindle, if you are SURE about this, why not share it with the rest of us? Not postureing, just the proven facts.

By: JeffF on 9/12/12 at 11:59

I doubt the board that turns down 100% of the charter school applications that has ever been sent to them has done much research at all. Their first response is always the Scarlet O'Hara strategy, avoid it and hope it goes away. The charter schools operating had to go through the board multiple times and some had to have state help to pressure them.

The teachers' union does not like charters and they are the organization that makes the endorsements for the board. Thankfully the state will get the school going and take the shared funds from Metro to pay for it. Maybe they can manage the relationship using the same people who are managing Metro's failing schools.

By: DavidSchwetty on 9/12/12 at 3:07

As a young white man, I cannot wait for the coming day in which caucassions are the statistical minority of the United States. I guess at that point one of two things will happen. One, my kids will have a priority getting into college, seperate opportunities for scholarships, white only job recruiting events, and all of the other perks minorities currently enjoy. Second, all of this diversity crap will go out the window. Either way will be better than the current situation where diversity equals not white.

By: eranstanley on 9/12/12 at 3:21

I cannot understand how diversity concerns have become a part of the Great Hearts discussion. The very nature of district wide enrollment provides a much more diverse pool than our current system. The student body will be selected by a blind lottery of applicants, district-wide. Compared with the current MNPS process of zoned regional schools (given the segregation of our neighborhoods), a district wide selection is inherently more inclusive and more diverse. Neighborhood schools have other benefits including convenience and fostering communities, but diversity is just not one of them. Great Hearts and other potential strong charters will provide the greatest benefit to the children who are unable to move to a stronger school zone due to poverty and other barriers stand to gain the most. This is the very population that Great Heart opponents are claiming to protect. I can't follow the logic that Great Hearts is somehow for the white and wealthy.

By: pswindle on 9/12/12 at 6:37

Great Hearts wanted to go into an area where they could charge the students $300.00 and more to pay for books and etc. It is all about the money. Period I can't believe that Metro would have have considered this organization. They could not make it in AZ, and they thought that TN was stupid enough to fall for their bag of goods.

By: Houston on 9/12/12 at 8:49

"Diversity" is a codeword for "forced integration". All right-minded people know that integration will make low-scoring black children just like high-scoring white children. The only people who don't understand that are mouth-breathing racists, who ignore the abundant evidence, all around us, that 40 years of integration have accomplished miracles of racial equalization.