The Metro school board reaffirmed its decision not to sue over millions in education funds state officials withheld from the district earlier this fall.
The only person on the nine-member board voting in favor of pursuing litigation over the $3.4 million in withheld basic education funds was Amy Frogge, arguing against fears that the lawsuit would be costly and exhaustive for members.
“I’m all for compromise, too, but I feel our backs are against the wall because this is our last chance to have this discussion,” said Frogge, who brought the motion to the board at Tuesday night’s monthly meeting during a discussion about how to make up for the held back funds.
Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes, who cast the tie-breaking vote to ultimately block Great Hearts Academies charter application in August, said taking the issue to court wouldn’t be worth the time or money.
“There’s very little value, in my opinion, of suing,” Mayes said. “For me, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think litigation is the smart thing to do. I think the $3.4 million could very easily turn into $6 [million] or $7 million in some expense if it’s allowed to continue.”
The board has yet to decide how to make up for those lost dollars if the state refuses to release them to the district. Options include across the board staffing cuts and tapping into the district’s rainy day fund, although MNPS Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson recommended the members wait until spring to determine whether property tax revenues help make up some of the withheld dollars.
Last year, the district had $55 million in reserves at the end of the school year, more than 7 percent of the system’s operating budget. By law, the district needs to have more than 3 percent left at the end of the year, although Metro government’s policy is to stay above 5 percent, said Henson.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Gov. Bill Haslam opted to withhold a portion of the system’s October BEP dollars after the school board voted repeatedly to reject the Great Hearts charter on the basis it hadn’t soothed diversity concerns for the school that would sit in affluent West Nashville, despite orders from the State Board of Education to approve the charter.
This week, East Nashville state Rep. Mike Stewart joined in on the fight and urged Huffman to release the money to the district because the charter school operator has officially withdrawn its request, which he said “appears to render moot” the state’s decision to fine the system.
Great Hearts officials have said they will only reapply to open a charter school in Nashville after the state has assigned an alternative body outside the local school district to handle applications. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill expect to take up that issue when the General Assembly convenes in January.