School board again passes on legal fight with state over $3.4M

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:23pm

The Metro school board reaffirmed its decision not to sue over millions in education funds state officials withheld from the district earlier this fall.

The only person on the nine-member board voting in favor of pursuing litigation over the $3.4 million in withheld basic education funds was Amy Frogge, arguing against fears that the lawsuit would be costly and exhaustive for members.

“I’m all for compromise, too, but I feel our backs are against the wall because this is our last chance to have this discussion,” said Frogge, who brought the motion to the board at Tuesday night’s monthly meeting during a discussion about how to make up for the held back funds.

Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes, who cast the tie-breaking vote to ultimately block Great Hearts Academies charter application in August, said taking the issue to court wouldn’t be worth the time or money.

“There’s very little value, in my opinion, of suing,” Mayes said. “For me, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think litigation is the smart thing to do. I think the $3.4 million could very easily turn into $6 [million] or $7 million in some expense if it’s allowed to continue.”

The board has yet to decide how to make up for those lost dollars if the state refuses to release them to the district. Options include across the board staffing cuts and tapping into the district’s rainy day fund, although MNPS Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson recommended the members wait until spring to determine whether property tax revenues help make up some of the withheld dollars.

Last year, the district had $55 million in reserves at the end of the school year, more than 7 percent of the system’s operating budget. By law, the district needs to have more than 3 percent left at the end of the year, although Metro government’s policy is to stay above 5 percent, said Henson.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Gov. Bill Haslam opted to withhold a portion of the system’s October BEP dollars after the school board voted repeatedly to reject the Great Hearts charter on the basis it hadn’t soothed diversity concerns for the school that would sit in affluent West Nashville, despite orders from the State Board of Education to approve the charter.

This week, East Nashville state Rep. Mike Stewart joined in on the fight and urged Huffman to release the money to the district because the charter school operator has officially withdrawn its request, which he said “appears to render moot” the state’s decision to fine the system.

Great Hearts officials have said they will only reapply to open a charter school in Nashville after the state has assigned an alternative body outside the local school district to handle applications. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill expect to take up that issue when the General Assembly convenes in January.

8 Comments on this post:

By: amoobrasil on 12/12/12 at 9:23

Leadership is absent among the members; it is easier to cow before the money, wealth, and power of for-profit corporations seeking gain and even more power over our lives at the expense, in this case, of public education.

Davidson County citizens have little representation; corporate behemoths are the true constituents of our local and State governments. Is this OK with everyone?

By: pipecarver on 12/12/12 at 10:06

What's the rush. They might be waiting for Clover Bottom to close in 2013. Then they might try passing a hybrid version of Resolution RS2110-1158.

"transfer of title of 45-50 acres of the Clover Bottom Developmental Center site from The State of Tennessee to Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County would allow for the construction of a new public high school."

Nothing left to work out but the financial particulars.

Since East Donelson, Hermitage and Old Hickory would satisfy their argument over "diversity," West Nashville will be full steam ahead.

By: JohnGalt on 12/12/12 at 10:20

Calling on her work instincts, lawyer Froggie would probably like to sue whenever she doesn't get her way.

By: KENW on 12/12/12 at 10:42

Well at least there is some sense left in the board. Except for Frogge, who is only trying to cover up her own mistakes.

Frogge failed her district, the board and the parents and students in the community at large by voting against this charter. Now that it's time to be held accountable for this failure, Frogge tried to weasel her way out of her culpability with a lawsuit (paid for with public monies).

Accept the penalty Frogge. Look at it this way, it only cost us $3.4 million for you to kill another opportunity for quality education in our community. Keep up the good work, let's keep working toward mediocrity!

By: David_S on 12/12/12 at 3:34

I agree with what KEN said. The metro school board wasn't really in the right when they denied the charter in the first place. To double-down on a mistake you made by suing over it, seems like something only a lawyer would dream up. Guess that's why Frogge is there.

By: Mama Butterfly on 12/12/12 at 7:07

I do not understand why people continue to state that the MNPS board "wasn't really in the right" when they denied the Great Hearts charter. The State BOE stated that Great Hearts must implement a diversity plan that mirrors those used in current Metro charter schools. For example, current charter schools provide, at minimum, bus passes for children who receive free and reduced-price lunches. Great Hearts refused to do this, meaning that deserving, high-achieving children without access to transportation could not attend the school. How could Great Hearts justify use of public funds when they clearly demonstrated that they had no desire to truly serve all of the public?

An editorial by Amy Frogge that was published in the 11/12/12 edition of The Tennessean clearly outlines her rationale for her vote against Great Hearts: "To clarify, the state’s mandate included clear requirements that had to be met before approval of Great Hearts. When our board, in good faith, determined that the requirements were not met, the state responded by arbitrarily yanking $3.4 million in funding from our district. If we do not protect against such actions, we as elected representatives probably will find ourselves in a position of accepting punishment by the state for any vote with which appointed officials disagree."

Her editorial also highlights Commissioner Huffman's own concerns with charter schools that do not provide equal access to all students: "The larger issue this debate has highlighted is how we implement charter schools in our city. State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman penned a law review article that raises many of the concerns I voiced about Great Hearts in particular. In it, he points out studies showing that access to charter schools is determined by factors such as poverty and family education level, and discusses the potential to “tilt school choice, leaving children of poor and ill-informed parents behind, consigned to suffering the deterioration of neighborhood schools.”

"He notes that when “no transportation is provided by the district, students again become classified on the basis of parental time and wealth” and lose school choice. He mentions the possibility that charters may cause some local neighborhood schools to fail and concludes: “As states quickly move forward with charter school legislation, they risk establishing a process that merely provides further opportunities for well-informed families while ghettoizing the poor and uninformed. The movement toward deregulation allows schools to exclude the neediest students, either through explicit policies or simply through lack of adequate information.”"

Based on Huffman's law review article, it is baffling that he attempted to force a district to accept a charter school that appeared dead-set on "ghettoizing the poor and uninformed." It is especially confusing that he would fine a district for merely following the provisions set forth in the BOE's own order. What a fine mess Huffman and the BOE have created.

By: jonw on 12/12/12 at 7:28

"- - - - - Wouldn’t be worth the time or money."

Not to count the distinct probability that they would probably lose.

By: Balo on 12/12/12 at 9:20

KENW

Your comments have me to believe that you are doing the PR work for the Charter Schools. Your constant attack of Mrs Frogge, who seems to be the one and only obstacle to Charter Schools, is to diminish her credibility to the citizens of Davidson County.

Your comment about a quality education further proves your position. Charter schools provide an education centered around unemployed college grads who sign a 2 year contract to do something that they are not totally prepared. It is an education but does not come under the heading of "quality". I know the difference.

Mrs Frogge, unlike her counter parts, realizes a simple matter. It is our money. She chooses to stand and fight a carpetbagger who is not qualified to be the state director of education ( see Mama B. comments) while the other board members run and ask for forgiveness from the politicians.