Last week the Metro Nashville Board of Education chose to defy Tennessee over an order to authorize the Great Hearts Academies to operate a charter school in the district. By voting against the application, the school board has opened itself up to a legal challenge if the Phoenix-based charter operator chooses to pursue one.
Tuesday marked the last meeting of the school board’s nine members, and they voted 7-2 to deny approval to Great Hearts’ plans for a charter to operate in West Nashville. The board members who voted with the majority said that the proposal, as submitted, still failed to answer several questions raised by the board dealing with how the school will operate.
Four members of the board are scheduled to leave after this meeting, and at least one seemed regretful over saddling those who are remaining with a possible legal mess.
“I don’t want to saddle the board with any ill-feelings from the state, and so I’m cautious to just make the state board and state department of education angry,” outgoing board member Mark North told his colleagues.
“On the other hand, my conscience says I need to take a stand,” he added.
In the end, the board chose to defer the final decision on the Great Heart’s application until the company submits a plan on how it will maintain racial and ethnic diversity in their school to appease board members’ concerns. Ed Kindall, a 27-year veteran of the school board who was scheduled to step down after the meeting, said that without a concrete diversity plan, the board risks approving a chain of racially segregated schools located in the heart of one of the most integrated cities in Tennessee.
North suggested that in order to thwart Great Hearts, seven of the board’s members could walk out and prevent the quorum required to vote on the board business. In the end, the members simply decided to cast their vote in what could be considered a pointless gesture of local autonomy in the face of the state’s charter law.
The Tennessee Board of Education directed the Metro Nashville school board on July 27th to approve Great Hearts’ application at its next meeting, contingent on it adopting a diversity plan in line with the one used by other schools in the district, and to allow it to open one of five originally planned schools.
“The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal,” state law says regarding charter appeals.
Great Hearts still has state law on its side, but after Tuesday’s meeting, it’s unclear whether final charter authorization would come willingly from Metro. State law stipulates the local board must be the final authorizers during an appeals process.