At loggerheads over a legislative plan that would establish a state panel to approve charter schools and place them without the local school district’s permission, the Metro Nashville school board is ready to explore its legal options.
The board voted 8-0 to authorize Director of Schools Jesse Register to interview and hire independent legal counsel to walk them through their options if House Bill 702, the so-called “charter authorizer bill,” passes.
“I think there’s a high likelihood that if this legislation moves forward in its current form, that this board will not agree to release local dollars to schools that aren’t locally approved. I think that can trigger a negative reaction at the state level,” said board member and budget committee chair Will Pinkston.
Board members expressed concern  that a new state panel could shower the district with unexpected numbers of the publicly funded, privately run charter schools and the district would then be stuck with the bill.
The board met Monday in a special meeting originally called to express concern over the plan to state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, whom the district has been at odds with. Huffman turned down the invitation , suggesting that board members talk to lawmakers in the General Assembly.
School board member Amy Frogge, a critic of charter schools, said she was frustrated that the commissioner declined to meet with the board, and added that communication between the state and school board is happening through media reports instead of face-to-face conversations. She added that opening more charter schools with no regard to the district’s budget could result in higher taxes and neighborhood schools closing.
Board members say their concerns are twofold: to limit the fiscal impact of charter schools the state approves in the district without their permission to 3 percent of the district’s budget over three years — which equates to $21.6 million; and to require the district have oversight of any charter school funded by a majority of local dollars. Metro Nashville Public Schools covers about two-thirds of funding for schools, while the state picks up most the rest.
The board is sending those recommendations to the Coalition of Large Area School Systems, a group expected to find a Nashville-area lawmaker who can attempt to add those parameters to the bill driven by the powerful House Speaker Beth Harwell and Mayor Karl Dean.
School board member Jill Speering is also calling on Dean to make an appearance before the school board to talk about the legislation.
The movement to create the statewide panel that could approve locally rejected charter applications comes in reaction to Metro school board’s controversial rejection of a charter school last year. The legislation is awaiting committee hearings in both the House and Senate.