Metro school board chair Gracie Porter lost to a charter school favorite, a board veteran’s win-streak ended and Amy Frogge overcame a 5-to-1 financial disadvantage to cruise to victory as Thursday’s elections produced four new faces on the nine-member school board.
Porter, a staple on the school board since 2006, lost by more than 200 votes to Elissa Kim, a Teach for America executive who mounted a sizeable $84,000 campaign war chest and garnered a flock of charter supporters in her race for District 5. Kim won by a count of 1,754 to Porter’s 1,518.
Ed Kindall, the board’s longest-serving board member, whose tenure dates back 27 years, finished second in a battle of incumbents, losing to one-term board member Sharon Gentry in District 1 by a count of 3,753 to 3,166.
Yet the most striking showing Thursday belonged to West Nashville’s Frogge, an attorney and political-unknown three months ago, who used momentum from an army of public school parents to crush Margaret Dolan, whose campaign haul of $113,000 was the largest ever for a Metro school board race. Frogge raised some $20,000.
Dolan had the support of Mayor Karl Dean and interest groups ranging from the Nashville Area of Chamber of Commerce to the local teachers union. She aired television ads, a rarity for local races. But none of it mattered. Frogge, the lone public school parent in her race, thumped Dolan by a 2-to-1 margin, 3,524 votes to Dolan’s 1,725.
“My message resonated with a lot of parents,” Frogge told The City Paper, crediting the decisiveness of the win to simple hard work. “It’s important we have someone who is a voice for parents in the schools — a positive voice. There’s a lot of negative things going on in our schools, but there’s also a lot of great things”
Frogge is now set to replace board member Kay Simmons, who opted against running for another term.
Rounding out results Thursday — which capped off an election that attracted more money and chatter than any Metro school board race in recent memory — retired teacher Jill Speering won in District 3 and former Gov. Phil Bredesen aide Will Pinkston easily defeated his two opponents in District 7.
Director of School Jesse Register told The City Paper he was watching returns but declined to comment until results were certified.
Kim fended off two other opponents and the power of incumbency in defeating Porter, who became the target of the local support staff union on one end and charter school advocates on the other.
“The overwhelming feeling I have is of gratitude,” Kim said, adding that the school district has some serious challenges ahead of it.
In recent weeks, media drew attention to Kim’s previous votes in Republican primaries and her out-of-state fundraising, which accounted for one-third of her dollars. Kim called such narratives “distractions” in a recent campaign mailer and ultimately used a strong contingency of avid backers to help claim victory.
“We knew going in that we had to get the word out,” Kim said. “Money helps. But nothing can replace the ground game. We knocked on 10,000 doors. We wrote thousands of post cards. We sent out lots of mail.”
Porter did not return a message from The City Paper seeking comment.
Porter’s loss, coupled with either outcome in the Kindall-Gentry race, means a board that currently has five black members, will soon have three.
“It was possibly a difficult choice for a lot of people,” Gentry said of her race, adding she believes the board has made considerable progress during her short tenure. “I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”
Kindall tipped his cap to the chamber-backed Gentry but also gave credit to her husband Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, a former Metro vice mayor whose name carries enormous clout in North Nashville.
“I’m not complaining, she ran a good race,” Kindall said. “Well, Howard ran a good race. I’ll put it like that. They had the five black councilmen in their corner. And as I understand, [former Tennessee Titans running back] Eddie George put out a robo-call for them.”
Piquing interesting in this year’s school board election was the rise of charter schools, particularly Great Hearts Academies, a proposal rejected twice by the local school board, but later overturned by the Tennessee Board of Education.
An affluent group of charter supporters created a PAC dubbed Great Public Schools with the specific purpose of funneling money to pro-charter candidates. The PAC gave $2,500 to Gentry and the maximum $7,100 contributions to Dolan, Kim and District 3 candidate Jarod DeLozier. In the end, the group got two of four of their preferred outcomes.
DeLozier came in third to Free Lee and Speering, a retired teacher of 35 years who scored big in the Madison area. She will replace Mark North, who opted not to seek re-election. Speering took home 1,564 votes to Lee’s 1,427 and DeLozier’s 1,328.
“It was a grassroots effort — people talking to people,” Speering said. “The people of District 3 wanted an experienced educator.”
In the District 9 race, Pinkston, a former Bredesen aide, used a sizeable fundraising haul of $63,000 to help him with a huge win over two opponents. Pinkston collected 2,256 votes, nearly double the total of second-place finisher Al Wilkins.
“The next school board has a tremendous set of opportunities and challenges in front of it,” Pinkston said. “Probably one of the biggest conversations that needs to be played out on a community-wide basis is where we go with charter schools in the future.”
Dolan, who used contacts from service on various nonprofit boards to help build her unprecedented fundraising total, said she’s “at peace” with her campaign and looks forward to working with Frogge. “I’m still committed to the cause. I’m just not going to be sitting at the school board table.”
As for Frogge, the new District 9 winner said she believes people “want a sense of community in their schools” as she discussed her victory. “I hope I can facilitate that. I want to be an advocate for public education.”
Results in the Davidson County judicial races are as follows:
• Rachel Bell trounced Mike Rowan in the race for Davidson County General Sessions Judge, receiving 65 percent of the vote. In a heavily democratic county, Bell's victory was almost a foregone conclusion after she upset sitting judge Mike Jameson in the spring primary.
• Phillip Robinson easily won re-election to the county circuit court judgeship he was appointed to in February by Gov. Bill Haslam. Robinson, who replaced a retiring Barbara Haynes, received 72 percent of the vote.
For a complete list of winners in Davidson County, click here.