The Metro Nashville School Board tackled a monster agenda last night, sparking another round of debate about charter schools’ place in Nashville to OK-ing a $4.3 million early retirement plan and resolving capacity issues at one of the city’s magnet schools.
Here’s the breakdown, after the jump:
1) CHARTER DEBATE RAGES ON. Beginning this spring, MNPS will begin using a “deliberate and strategic process” for picking out charter schools it’s willing to open in the district. New charter applications will focus on: A) converting traditional schools considered failing for at least three straight years (at the moment, that would make four schools eligible); or B) opening start-up operations in cluster tiers where population growth exceeds 120 percent by the 2017 school year, namely South Nashville.
The plan would focus charter school energy in district areas with the highest need, said Board Member Will Pinkston who pitched the plan. Offered, in part, as a reaction to expecting charter school growth to eat up all the new dollars flowing into the system next year — and contributing to a $23 million expected budget hole — the resolution didn’t come without controversy. (Read his full statement and presentation in PDF below.) Member Elissa Kim was the sole vote against the resolution. While she said she likes the strategic spirit of the plan, she called it narrowly drawn to solve a budget with larger implications than costs at charter schools alone. She also argued that four of 11 top-rated schools the district considers “excelling” would not have earned approval under these guidelines. Meanwhile, charter school advocates question the need and the timing for the resolution, and wonder why the two and one half page document was approved in one sitting without chance for public input.
Now OK'd, the resolution has a one-year shelf life and is limited to groups applying next year to open charter schools. In the meantime, the document calls for the district to develop a tool to determine the the maximum annual fiscal capacity for absorbing new charter schools going forward.
2) MLK MAKEOVER. There is no longer the threat of dramatically changing the pathways system at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet school after the board unanimously approved a $6.6 million plan to add 12 classrooms, some more cafeteria space and redistribute the field space. The move will ultimately boost capacity at the school by 300 students to a max of 1,500 kids, according to the district.
The move officially abandons Director of Schools’ original plan to eliminate seventh and eighth grades after discovering less than a dozen seats were available this school year to county-wide students. After loud public outcry, he shifted to this plan which does eliminates the pathway for Head Middle School seventh graders, but reopens entrance in eighth grade.
3) RETIRING EARLY. School district employees with at least 30 years at MNPS under their belt can cash in on an early retirement plan. About 270 workers are eligible for the buyout, and would be rewarded with $700 for each year of service. With at least $21,000 coming to them, those who inform the district of their intentions by Feb. 28, 2014, would receive an extra $500.
Pitched as a way to begin addressing the district’s budget woes, the buyout would save an estimated $2.1 million to $7.4 million annually. The district expects some 120 people will take advantage of the program, which would mean a cost of $4.3 million from the district’s fund balance.
4) CLOSING CONSTERNATION. While much of the meeting’s fireworks were over the new charter school guidelines, more than a dozen people showed up to speak out about the temptation to close the under-capacity Stratford High School. There are no plans up for public consideration to do away with the school, only hints from board members the district may have to consider closing or consolidating schools should it need to close budget holes.
5) PAYING IN LAPTOPS. Board Member Sharon Gentry questioned the district’s plan to spend $4.3 million on laptops and devices like tablets for teachers training for the new PARCC standardized tests that kick in next year. Teachers would have their choice of device, which would be in lieu of a stipend for the training. After much debate earlier yesterday in a Budget Committee meeting, the proposal passed with her as the lone abstention.