Weekly Obsession: Winning the charter battle, losing the war

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 9:05pm

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.

Filed under: City News

4 Comments on this post:

By: imdyinhere on 9/19/12 at 7:06

Better to be able to point at state officials running roughshod over locally elected pols, than have representatives who do nothing but put a rubber stamp and try to minimize the damage.

All that does is allow the backers of for-profit, private education, subsidized by taxpayers, to become entrenched without ever having to do their own dirty work.

If there is any remotely honorable, but politically inconvenient, intention, let them be forced to be truthful and spell it out. That's what public debate is supposed to be all about. We can't have an honest debate when the speaking parties are hiding cards up their sleeves.

By: pswindle on 9/19/12 at 10:03

If the GOP does not get their way, they make laws to please themselves.

By: JeffF on 9/19/12 at 5:07

I love being a member of the ruling party. Stomping on the poor policy from historically poor administrative boards is fun.

How is that policy making all contractors and vendors endorse gay rights thing working out for you? It so sucks being on the losing and hopeless to change things back side doesn't it? Of well, off to make sure my state is progressing even if my city is stuck in the good ole days of 'nilla wafers and boll weevils.

Based on legislature action that will create separate, non-sucky schools in the Memphis suburbs, I will bet that if you pout too loudly the "affluent" areas of Nashville will be Mountain Brooked into its own school system and the collective cesspool that is MNPS will get even worse. Hey, congrats on that whole defeat of English First because we are getting closer to having Spanish first. Hooray for immigration magnetism and the wonderful diversity it has created in our schools and in our budget.

MNPS knows its role, create adults capable of only working as part-time banquet servers at the MCC and maids at the hotels.

By: 742180 on 9/20/12 at 9:39

Permit refused for 'diversity' and 'transportation' concerns!?!?! Can we reduce this to its 'real' definition? There is not enough blacks, brown, greens, and martians. The school is 'exclusionary' and targets people who want to learn and provide a true learning experience for their children.

NO SIR!!! There can't be a school for whites, browns, and blacks interested in an education and not being surrounded by thugs.

And please don't tell me how insensitive I am being. How did our skins become so thin? If you get your feelings hurt every time (and you do) something is said you don't like, you are in for a traumatic life experience.

Utopia, Nirvana has NEVER existed and it NEVER will. Read anyone's account of history and man has never been kind to man. Get over yourselves!!