Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How STRIVE Is Set To Become The New Great Hearts

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 3:42 PM

Welcome to Great Hearts, Round Two.

The Metro School Board will vote on an appeal by the proposed STRIVE Collegiate Academy Thursday night at a specially called meeting, and if Tuesday's governance committee meeting is any indication, there will be some harsh words for Director of Schools Jesse Register.

STRIVE was one of three schools recommended for rejection by Metro Nashville Public Schools in June, and the board followed suit and voted it down. But after revising its application and addressing concerns about its management and educational plan, the proposed middle school in the McGavock cluster was recommended for approval by an MNPS committee last week.

However, STRIVE falls outside of a board policy which directs new charter schools into the Glencliff and Overton clusters for 2015 due to overcrowding. So why is it being considered?

Register said that he asked STRIVE, which was developed in conjunction with the Nashville-based Tennessee Charter School Center, to delay its application for a year but STRIVE wanted to appeal. If the board rejects STRIVE again, they can appeal to the state board of education under the newly passed charter authorizer law. This would be the first test case. There are three other cases the state BOE will consider.

In 2012, Great Hearts appealed to the state, which ordered the Metro School Board to reconsider its rejection of the Arizona-based charter operator. The board rejected it again, and Gov. Bill Haslam's administration withheld more than $3 million in funding for Nashville schools.

In a tense exchange with board members, Register refused to say whether he was recommending the STRIVE appeal be approved, only that the committee's recommendation be considered.

Will Pinkston: You helped develop a very specific set of language which we then all approved as ground rules by which we were going to operate this year in order to avoid Great Hearts-type situations, which is where we've ended up again. We did it because we thought it was more fiscally sustainable, in terms of strategy. Sure, there's 100 percent overcrowded schools in the McGavock cluster, but there are more acutely overcrowded schools in the Glencliff and Overton clusters, particularly the elementary tiers. So what's your recommendation going forward? If you're going to ignore the language that you helped develop, where does that leave us?

Register: I'm not ignoring it. I considered it. And so the committee made a recommendation. I wasn't on the committee. I didn't vote that. And I will say publicly Thursday the advice I gave them, but I'm not going to block that committee report from coming to the board. It's significant and important and it's a policy decision going forward.

Pinkston: We've got one employee — that's you. What's your recommendation on the school?

Register: My recommendation is for that committee report to come to the board. I'll be glad to have this discussion with you on Thursday evening.

The entire conversation is after the jump.

Transcript

In attendance: Dr. Jesse Register, board members Will Pinkston, Anna Shepherd, Elissa Kim, Jo Ann Brannon, Jill Speering, Amy Frogge

What follows is an approximately 20-minute exchange between Register and school board members over the specially called meeting.

Jesse Register, MNPS schools director: We felt like it was something that should come to the board; whether it meets those criteria or not is debatable. In my opinion, it doesn't, but we feel like it's something that rises to the level of the board needing to approve it, because if that's the reason for rejecting it, then Alan and I both feel like it's going to be appealed to the state board. And I feel like that's worthy of discussion by the board, and for he and I not to make a decision on that. I suggested that the application be held for a year. I think since they're bringing an appeal, that's something that ought to come to the board.

Amy Frogge, MNPS board member: I understand that I need to have a discussion and have a vote on it, obviously because it's being appealed. My concern was that we are creating these resolutions, what kind of precedent are we setting if we are already violating our own resolution in the approval process, to say that it meets none of the requirements we've set, yet we still recommend that.

Register: I didn't take that authority away from that committee. On this one, I feel like it's appropriate to bring. It's a resolution, it's not a policy.

Will Pinkston, MNPS board member: A resolution is a complex motion. We laid out a set of ground rules for 2014 and you helped develop them. You were at the table, and Alan as well. Now we're just talking about throwing out our ground rules intentionally. And the resolution used words like "shall" and "will." These aren't optional words. This is what the board said by a 7-1 vote. And now, for you all to bring us something that completely flies in the face of what we asked for, it's not fair to us, frankly, to have to take a vote, sending it in with the stamp of a recommendation.

Register: I'll make my statement at the board meeting concerning what I'm recommending and the discussions I've had. But I think that it's appropriate to bring to the board floor for a vote, and I'm not going to discount or deny a recommendation coming out of that committee.

Frogge: Let me ask, when the committee is tasked with this, are they told what the Board has asked for, for the year? Are they working under an entirely different set of requirements? So they just disregarded it when they made the recommendation?

Register: I don't think anybody disregarded it. I think they looked at the application. They read the revised application and felt like it had merit to advance.

Jill Speering, MNPS board member: It sounds like what you're saying, reading between the lines, is that whether it's now or later, it's going to come back to us now or during the state appeals process.

Register: If it's worthy of being considered by the board, and you understand that there's an application that meets the standards that can be appealed to the state board and approved without coming back to the board, I don't think my denial of that application is going to stop them from coming to the board anyway. If you don't vote on it, to deny it or approve it, then it's automatically approved. You have to act on that by law. And then it goes to the state board and it doesn't come back here.

And there are big implications for doing that. It's a matter of local control, to some extent. It's a matter of whether or not there's legal action contemplated. And I know that you as a board are split. Some of you have some opinions and some of you have others. What I will say is this committee approved this, it recommended approval based on the merits of the application. I counseled them to hold the application for a year to get it in better shape. I have some concerns about it. But I don't think it's appropriate for me to block it from the board's consideration.

Pinkston: So just because some employees downstream think that something needs to come to the board for approval …

Register: So what are you asking me to do?

Pinkston: I guess the first question I have is that you helped articulate all of this language in November, which we then brought to the board floor. Do you now believe in the ground rules that we articulated before, or have you decided those just aren't worth anything?

Register: So how you define overcrowded, how you define underperforming, it's debatable.

Pinkston: [laughs] You helped define it. It's right here in cluster tiers where capacity exceeds 120 percent as of fall 2017 based on MNPS estimates.

Register: So, the capacities there exceed 100 percent. In the policy it's 120 percent. The schools in that area [McGavock cluster] are at 100 percent. And I'm telling what I feel. If you don't like it, that's fine. I'm bringing to the board an appeal that will go to the state board of education and I think the board needs to consider the implications of that. The legal implications and otherwise.

Pinkston: You helped develop a very specific set of language which we then all approved as ground rules by which we were going to operate this year in order to avoid Great Hearts-type situations, which is where we've ended up again. We did it because we thought it was more fiscally sustainable, in terms of strategy. Sure, there's 100 percent overcrowded schools in the McGavock cluster, but there are more acutely overcrowded schools in the Glencliff and Overton clusters, particularly the elementary tiers. So what's your recommendation going forward? If you're going to ignore the language that you helped develop, where does that leave us?

Register: I'm not ignoring it. I considered it. And so the committee made a recommendation. I wasn't on the committee. I didn't vote that. And I will say publicly Thursday the advice I gave them, but I'm not going to block that committee report from coming to the board. It's significant and important and it's a policy decision going forward.

Pinkston: We've got one employee — that's you. What's your recommendation on the school?

Register: My recommendation is for that committee report to come to the board. I'll be glad to have this discussion with you on Thursday evening.

Pinkston: I don't like, and I think others don't like, having to have a ramrod conversation at a special meeting. This is, by my count, the third or fourth special meeting on charter schools since I've been on the board. When are we going to have special meetings about priority schools? Or having special meetings about the literacy crisis in our high schools? I think it's a fair question — what's your recommendation?

Register: So if we don't have the special meeting, the appeal is automatically granted. If you don't vote on it, the appeal is automatically granted.

Anna Shepherd, MNPS board member: When do we find out what the legal ramifications? What might that be? Who might file suit?

Pinkston: Nobody's filing suit. This operator has contented to thumb its nose at all of us. They will appeal directly to the state board of education which now has the authority to overturn our decision and bring the school into existence, even though it's two-thirds locally funded. And at that point, our decision is, do we litigate to stop them from essentially confiscating local funds?

Frogge: But we'd also have a choice of whether we oversee that school or not.

Pinkston: That also assumes that the state board overturns that decision.

Frogge: Which they have said they would not.

Pinkston: Well, the chair of the state board said that he thought when Dr. Register and I presented these well thought-out ground rules that he thought they were a good idea.

Frogge: We would have the opportunity to oversee the school or have the state oversee the school.

Pinkston: This sends a terrible message to two groups of people. One, the operators who went to go partner with us in good faith and try to work with them in this new set of guidance; and it sends a terrible message to teachers, particularly in the McGavock cluster, that we're gonna just start waiving schools in. So you're going to come with a recommendation on Thursday?

Register: I'm going to tell you that this is the recommendation of the committee. Dr. Coverstone's going to present the report. I'm going to tell you that I advised the charter to hold for a year. Then I'm going to put it on your plate.

Pinkston: You are the director of schools. Just tell us what you think.

Register: It's a policy decision. This is a policy decision.

Pinkston: This is absolutely insane.

Frogge: I understand the need for a vote, to do that by state law. I feel like we need to get to a place where we're all rowing in the same direction. So that if the board says, "Here is our vision," then Dr. Coverstone's office reacts and passes that down to the committee that's reviewing it. Because otherwise, you've got this mucky decision where the board is saying, "We don't want it." Say if it does get passed through on Thursday, the board's saying, "We didn't ask for this, we didn't want it" in the resolution. But then you've got the committee recommending it regardless of the board's direction. It just becomes messy.

I'd like to see us, in the future, have some sort of process where it's very clear to the group reviewing these charter applications what we're trying to do as a district. And then stick with that as we go forward. Otherwise, we're wasting time and resources reviewing applications that we haven't asked for.

Pinkston: What's next? Some employee committee's going to approve a recommendation for a 10 percent pay increase, and you're just going to say, "Here it is, y'all decide?" And you're not going to weigh in on that? This is an abdication.

Register: Absolutely not. This application of your policy, that has significant impact on what happens going forward with the statewide authorizer. And I do not think it's appropriate, so if I kill it, and Cheryl does not call a special called meeting, then the school's automatically approved.

Pinkston: It's one thing if you're saying, "Look, the board needs to consider this and vote it up or down as a procedural issue." But to send us a recommended approval and then say, "I don't have any opinion on it," is something different. I understand the need to go through the procedural step of voting it up or down, but that's not what this is.

Register: I disagree.

Shepherd: So I have a question … just because we've passed a resolution, that doesn't mean that it's policy for that committee to consider. They should consider it, because it is a resolution that we've passed — but they're not bound to it, because it's not policy. It's a resolution, and the two are not the same.

Pinkston: It was a complex motion. It's just like if we vote to go to two business meetings every month. It's the same practical effect.

Frogge: If it needs to be placed in policy, I think we need to do it. Because we need to have some sort of clear direction. We're up here and the people now making the decision are down here, and they're not following anything that we're saying.

Speering: That's what concerns me.

Frogge: We're just wasting time and energy. We're setting a vision for what we think we can afford and where we need charters. And if we have a small committee somewhere else just doing their own thing …

Shepherd: I'm not saying they're right or wrong. I'm just saying that they have certain guidelines and procedures and policies that they have to follow to determine capacity. And that's the bottom line for whether they recommend a school.

Frogge: I think Dr. Coverstone's office should be following the same rules.

Shepherd: Unless they incorporate our resolution into their policy, how can they follow it?

Pinkston: We articulated what we thought the ground rules should be, in large part based on Dr. Coverstone's input. The logical thing that should have happened next would be for that to be communicated down to the people doing the evaluations, but apparently that didn't happen. And now, we've got another ambiguous charter debate on our hands.

Shepherd: What I'm saying is that maybe we just need to work with that office and make sure they have our resolutions and our goals in their sights as part of their capacity decision.

Frogge: But didn't they have that already?

Pinkston: Yes. They did. The director of schools and Dr. Coverstone helped craft that language, crafted a lot of it.

Elissa Kim, MNPS board member: To steer the market. Because we know based on state law, which is pretty wide open ... we know that at some point state law is going to trump it. My thought is that it actually did work, the resolution, in the sense that it did direct the market. All of the time we approved exactly how we wanted, and this is the one case it didn't. To me, that's where the nuance is. We have policies and resolutions; then there's state law. So what we did locally is to try, knowing that there's this very open law. I just feel like as long as there's that appeals process, then at some level what you try to do is steer the market. And that's exactly what happened.

Frogge: The state law is very broad in that we have to vote on it and consider it. But where the breakdown happened is below that, which is in our own policies within the district. All of the vetting process is based on policies directed by Dr. Coverstone's office, right? So to me that's the breakdown. The law just says we have to vote on these and consider them within a certain period of time. We have to make sure all of our internal policies are working together. We don't need it in policy, because it's going to change yearly based on our needs.

Speering: Where I feel bad about this situation is that Alan's office, because had he communicated this and respected the board's desire for this, it would have stopped somewhere along the line before it got approved. Once it got approved by that committee, that puts us in a precarious position. That's where I'm upset.

Shepherd: Keep in mind that Alan does not sit on this board. We are the ones that make these decisions. Alan and his office determine capacity. Period.

Frogge: Alan was part of the …

Shepherd: He helped with the resolution, which is not policy. We're confusing the two.

Pinkston: It's not in policy in terms of "it's an EE3" policy governance. But anytime we vote on something of substance, it is a policy. We are policymakers. We passed what amounted to a highly complex motion which amounted to a set of ground rules for how we wanted to interact with the charter market this year. Alan, Dr. Register, and lots of other people were integral parts of crafting that language. Now, management is basically recommending that we throw out all of these rules that everybody worked together on so hard. That's where I fail to understand what the heck's going on here. Is it political expediency? Or just not believe that's the approach anymore?

Register: As I said, I think it's an important issue that needs to come to a vote for the board, and I am passing on to you the recommendation of the committee and I told you what I did. Now I think it has to go to the board, and you have to determine whether or not to approve that policy and let it go to the state board. And I think it would be an error on my part for me not to communicate to you what that committee felt like the capacity of that charter application was.

Pinkston: And you seriously have no position on this one way or another?

Register: I advised them to pull the application for a year.

Pinkston: I'm asking for your advice to us.

Register:My advice to you is to consider the alternatives of approval or not.

Pinkston: Where is our fiscal capacity model, which we asked you to develop 10 months ago?

Register: It's in draft form now.

Pinkston: And how does this factor into that?

Register: That fiscal capacity model doesn't really affect an individual school application.

Pinkston: So charter schools don't have a fiscal impact now?

Register: I'm not saying that at all.

Pinkston: Where do we draw the line, then? I've been talking about this for 10 months now.

Register: So there is the [inaudible] study that's in draft form that [an MNPS employee] is now studying. There's the performance audit. There's a fiscal impact study that Metro council's getting back now. And the state comptroller has delivered a fiscal impact study at that level. And the charter schools association is going to do their own. There are going to be four fiscal impact studies and I hope we'll be able to consider them all and make long range decisions about fiscal impact.

Frogge: All right, I guess we'll consider this Thursday. I will say, this will be my last comment, I think that when we are voting on a resolution or anything else, that is how we speak as a board and we have all spoken as a board on that particular issue.

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