Statement on BEP Funds Withheld October 15, 2012

We were disappointed to learn around noon today that the Tennessee Department of Education has refused to reconsider its decision to withhold nearly $3.4 million in taxpayer funding designated for the education of more than 81,000 students in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The funding is 10 percent of the state’s annual “non-instructional” funding for Nashville’s children.

The elected representatives of the people in the state legislature developed the Basic Education Program funding plan to ensure schools are adequately funded. BEP is a funding program, not a spending plan, and these funds are used for a number of services that directly affect students and classrooms.

We are concerned about the effect of this reduction and how we will address this shortfall in the middle of the school year. We intend to be good stewards of the public money and to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions in an effort to minimize the penalty’s effect on the children in our schools.

The $3.4 million reduction is significant and raises concerns about how the amount was determined and whether it is consistent with other penalties assessed by the state. Tennessee law does not address penalties in this situation.

The district continues its work on behalf of Nashville’s children and families and, contrary to some media reports, there is no hiring freeze. The district has the means to meet its current financial obligations and the Board of Education will determine where to make the budget reductions by the end of the fiscal year.

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Statement from Cheryl Mayes on her meeting with Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Board of Education Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes met today with Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. After the meeting she made this statement:

“We appreciate Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s willingness to sit down in a spirit of concern for Nashville’s students. It was a good meeting based on our mutual commitment to improving student outcomes. We have no change in status at this time. We will continue to talk with the State.”

Board Chair Cheryl Mayes writes to Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Sent Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012:

Dear Commissioner Huffman,

The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education is in receipt of your notice to withhold a portion of our school system’s next scheduled Basic Education Program (BEP) payment. As the newly elected board chair, I am disappointed that you are taking this punitive step toward our system of 81,000 students. While I understand your position, I respectfully disagree and request a meeting with you to revisit this matter and avert this action.

Our local School Board had legitimate concerns about the diversity plan, or lack thereof, put forward by Great Hearts. Allow me to share with you some information about our community and its history. We are an urban school system that only emerged from federal court-ordered desegregation in 1998. As recently as this past summer, our rezoning plan was the subject of a federal lawsuit. Nashville has eight percent of the total public school students in Tennessee, but 29 percent of the English language learners in our state and 75% of our students are FARM eligible.

For us, “diversity” is not a political term. Diversity is a real concern in our community, and we take seriously our obligation to promote it. While you assert the local School Board broke the law, we were acting as responsible, duly-elected and duly-sworn public officials upholding the U.S. Constitution and its Equal Protection Clause.

I know Metro Schools must do a better job of articulating diversity guidelines for new charter schools. We are in the process of developing policies that will allow us to clearly communicate our priorities going forward. Additionally, we must continue working to promote diversity within our own schools of choice, and are striving toward that goal, as well. But that does not relieve us of the responsibility, in the meantime, to press new charter operators on these questions.

We understand the State Department of Education is a partner in our efforts, and we embrace the privilege of helping to lead Tennessee’s bold reform strategies. While the matter at hand today is Great Hearts, there no doubt will be another school or issue in the future that has the potential to put us at odds. I would like very much for us to think through ways we can work together. I look forward to meeting with you at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sincerely,

Cheryl D. Mayes, Chairwoman

 

Cheryl Mayes Letter to Kevin Huffman

Statement on Great Hearts Academy’s Charter School Application – August 16, 2012

The new Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education will have its first meeting, with the election of the Board’s Chair and Vice Chair, Tuesday, September 11. The Great Hearts application will be on the agenda for that meeting.

In addition, the district is working to schedule a time for the board to hear from Dr. Len Stephens, who is an expert in inclusive practices for schools that welcome all families. Dr. Stephens was a witness in the Spurlock v. Fox case and is preparing a comprehensive report to the Board to frame our future vision of diversity in the district.

Statement on Metro Nashville Board of Education Action on Great Hearts Academy’s Charter School Application

At its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, August 14, 2012, the Board of Education took action on the Great Hearts Academy charter school application as ordered by the State Board of Education.

The Board’s action deferred approval of the application pending Great Hearts Academy’s satisfaction of the stipulations ordered by the State Board of Education.

The application will be reviewed again when Great Hearts Academy has submitted its transportation and teacher certification plans and its acknowledgement that the application is for one charter school.

Letter to the State Board of Education: Uphold our Great Hearts denial

We respectfully, but strongly disagree with the recommendation of Dr. Nixon and believe that it oversteps legitimate authority to review charter decisions by local boards of education (TCA 49-13-108(a)(3)).

TCA 49-13-108(a)(3) states that the state board’s decision to remand must be based on “objective reasons.” The main reason given for remanding the decision (that MNPS did not follow our own policies/process) is factually incorrect. MNPS did follow all written policies regarding the role of the review committee and the Office of Innovation. Because Dr. Nixon’s decision was based on a false premise, this decision does not meet the “objective reasons” standard. Dr. Nixon’s recommendation relies on mischaracterization of the published review process. The process in its entirety is aligned with NACSA Principals and Standards and is followed by the Achievement School District.

Left unaddressed are the statements by Great Hearts that they cannot open a school in 2013 and that “in an email to supporters, Great Hearts Academy CEO Daniel Scoggin and President Peter Bezanson said they would like to open their first of five schools in 2014. Great Hearts will submit its appeal to the state this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said” (Tennessean, July 5, 2012). Since the application cycle for schools to open in 2014 is not held until April of 2013, action to remand for approval pre-judges and future application. TN Charter Law 49-13-107(b) states: “On or before October 1 of the year preceding the year in which the proposed charter school plans to begin operation, the sponsor seeking to establish the public charter school shall prepare and file with the chartering authority an application…”

This recommendation has been issued two years prior to “the year in which the proposed charter school plans to begin operation.” It remands a school proposal for approval that has not yet been through the proper application cycle for schools that will open in 2014. We welcome this application through our regular review process at our 2014 application deadline of April 1, 2013.

The recommendation validates three substantial and objective reasons for denial as important to the best interests of students, the district, and the community and affirms that the school should not be opened unless and until these reasons can be overcome.

  1. The recommendation requires the school to employee certified teachers. The application says it will be impossible to maintain the quality teacher pipeline they use in Phoenix if such a requirement is made.
  2. The recommendation limits the school to opening a single site. The application says they will be unable to execute their business plan without a guarantee of five schools.
  3. The recommendation requires a diversity plan using the “blind, lottery process” that MNPS uses in its choice schools. This is the process that the applicant claims to use in Phoenix, and the resulting segregation is unacceptable.
Demographics  of Great Hearts Schools in AZ

Demographics of Great Hearts Schools in AZ

The Great Hearts application went through the same review process, using the same standards as four other charter schools that were approved this year. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to find the district acted contrary to its best interests, those of the students, or the community it serves. Dr. Nixon’s recommendation replaces a thoughtful, transparent and rigorous review with a less thorough, less effective process. It also penalizes local, elected school boards for seeking to hear from all sides in making important decisions.

We respect Dr. Nixon and appreciate the gravity of the challenge he faces in trying to evaluate a three month process on the basis of a 1-hour hearing and a mountain of documents filed less than 24 hours before his recommendation was due. Deciding the case under such constraints, it is difficult to make a clear-eyed assessment of the facts.

If the recommendation disagreed with the reasons for denial instead of validating them, there might be a reason for the state board to intervene. Accepting this recommendation does substantial damage to the accountability relationship with the authorizer that lies at the very heart of the charter school bargain (autonomy for accountability).

Based on the recommendation affirming our objective reasons for denial, we sincerely hope that you will vote to maintain the balance of decision-making authority that this opinion threatens to upend.

Sincerely,

Jesse Register