Great Hearts Academy Denied Charter Again - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Great Hearts Academy Denied Charter Again

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by Heather Graf

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Metro School Board looks to be headed for a showdown with the state, and possibly a lawsuit, after board members said no to Great Hearts Academy for the third time.

Tuesday's five-to-four vote came as a shock to almost everyone present at the board meeting, because it came even after a Metro attorney advised against it.

The Arizona-based charter operation has been fighting to open schools in Metro Nashville for several months.

School board members already turned down Great Hearts' application twice, citing diversity and transportation concerns.

Then when Great Hearts appealed their decision, the State Board of Education agreed with Great Hearts, and issued a directive telling Metro Schools to approve the charter application because state law requires them to do so.

The school board delayed that vote until Tuesday.

At the start of the meeting, Great Hearts supporters were hopeful that four newly elected school board members might be just the change they needed to gain approval.

That did not happen.

'What my predecessors on this board were concerned about, and what I'm concerned about, is not only the children like mine who lottery into a school like Great Hearts or a magnet school, but also those children that might get left behind," said new board member Amy Frogge. "We as a board must act as guardians of those children."

The board also heard from parents both for and against Great Hearts.

"We do not need to engage in a charter plan that sets up schools like Starbucks in the posh areas of town, segregating our kids based on performance," said parent Chelle Baldwin.

Board members Jo Ann Brannon, Amy Frogge, Sharon Gentry, Anna Shepherd and Cheryl Mayes voted against the Great Hearts proposal.

Elissa Kim, Will Pinkston, Jill Speering and Michael Hayes voted in favor of it.

Mayes, who is the board's new chairman, was the deciding vote.

"Well I voted against it because of the people that elected me to this office," she said.  "I understand the information that was given to us by the state board of education, I understand what they wanted us to do, but I was voted into this office by constituents in Nashville, and it was difficult for me to look at that and say it doesn't matter."

After the vote, the attorney for Great Hearts said he was stunned.

"It's shocking that public educators, school officials, would choose to willfully violate state law," said attorney Ross Booher. "It's a direct attack on the rule of law."

When asked whether Great Hearts would file a lawsuit against the school board, Booher said he needed to consult with his clients about their next move.

A Nashville parent who'd hoped her child would one day attend Great Hearts said the board's decision is disappointing.

"I think it's a shame, because I really think that the board has made the decision based on false information," said Haley Dale.  "And I think if they would go back and read through the documents, they would see that they are basing a decision on information that is untrue."

Mayes said she recognizes the legal ramifications, and said the board will take it one step at a time moving forward.

In a statement, Mayor Karl Deal called Tuesday's vote "another step back", and said he believes the school board should follow the law.

NewsChannel 5 has not yet been able to get a response from the state board of education.

The board's decision could not only have legal ramifications.  It could also cost big bucks in the form of state funding for Metro schools. 

Email: hgraf@newschannel5.com
Facebook: Facebook.com/NC5HeatherGraf
Twitter: Twitter.com/NC5_HeatherGraf

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