The Metro school board, meeting for the first time with four newly elected members, did exactly what it had done three times before.
With a 5-4 vote on Wednesday, the board again refused to authorize the charter for Great Hearts Academies — despite what amounted to a state order to do so.
One of the new members — Will Pinkston, a savvy longtime political operative — had been expected to be a crucial factor for the fate of the controversial school that sought to set up shop in largely affluent West Nashville.
And Pinkston laid the groundwork for passage, pointing out that the board could authorize the school despite its misgivings about diversity and transportation, claiming its hands were tied by an intrusive state’s board of political appointees.
It was a smart argument. Pinkston’s logic was that the board could hold its nose, OK Great Hearts’ plan and then solve its perceived problems later. But that wasn’t enough to shift the vote count, and a day after it was turned away, Great Hearts announced a retreat from Davidson County.
Charter school opponents will count the rejection as another victory. Last month, despite mountains of money coming in for Margaret Dolan from the well-heeled and well-connected, it was her opponent, Amy Frogge, who won a school board seat. Had that vote gone the other way, Great Hearts would be on its way to opening.
The Pollyanna-ish trope is right: Elections really do matter. But the elections that mattered most in this debate may have already started.
Given that Metro now has a history of defying the state, charter proponents — and they are legion in the General Assembly — will likely just change the rules.
The ultimate legacy of the school board’s handling of Great Hearts may be a Pyrrhic one: Sure, they’ll have turned away a school they see as not matching their values, but in their decision’s wake may come a new model for charter authorization, with the state board at the forefront.
While that shatters the value of local autonomy, it will, at least, provide for a more sensible process than the current one, in which a charter operator can appeal a decision made by an elected board to a non-elected one, and bureaucrats can then order elected officials to reverse their decision. Of course, as Metro showed, there’s no guarantee the local board will follow instructions. As it stands now, the emperor has no clothes.
Don’t be shocked if the legislature gives the emperor a new wardrobe.