Pinkston: Charter Compact Led to Turmoil

Submitted by MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston

Back in 2010, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a national charter school think tank, convened an elite group of Nashvillians and charter school leaders to ink a “collaboration compact” with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). The heart of the compact seemed reasonable: “Collaborate as partners in the city-wide effort to provide an excellent education for all students.”

 

What happened next didn’t resemble collaboration at all, but rather outright hostility. As it turns out, many of those who signed on didn’t really care about public schools. Their sole focus: Expanding the taxpayer-funded private schools known as charters.

 

For example, just two years after signing the compact, then-mayor Karl Dean, who’s now running for governor of Tennessee, roamed the halls of the legislature pitching lawmakers on a bill to strip local elected school boards in Memphis and Nashville of our ability to reject charters, which drain resources from existing schools. Dean’s legislation, which became law, instead gave the appointed State Board of Education the final say-so on charters – even though, here in Nashville, local taxpayers fund two-thirds of K-12 public education and the state is a minority investor.

 

Later, Dean went on to launch Project Renaissance, an anti-public education group funded by backers of charters and private-school vouchers, which would further drain our public-school system of finite resources. In 2016, Dean’s group tried but failed to defeat incumbent Nashville School Board members at the polls – less than three months after the board hired an energetic new director of schools who articulated a big vision.

 

So much for collaboration.

 

Another compact signer, Randy Dowell, CEO of KIPP Nashville charter schools, ditched the pretense of collaboration as soon as he saw an opportunity to ramrod new charter schools through the State Board under Dean’s newly minted law. Meanwhile, this year Dowell is effectively booting 43 MNPS students from Nashville’s Kirkpatrick Elementary School because they don’t fit in his business plan for a gradual conversion of the former public school.

 

Speaking of Kirkpatrick: Marsha Edwards, another compact signer and CEO of a pro-charter nonprofit group, somehow managed – after zero collaboration with the school board – to secure federal funds to build a new charter school right next door to Kirkpatrick. This will have a destabilizing effect on both schools. Last year, Edwards put her organization’s federal tax-exempt status at risk by partnering with Stand for Children, which has become a radical reform group, in failed efforts to upend local school board elections.

 

Jeremy Kane, a politician who finished last in Nashville’s 2015 mayor’s race, also signed on to the compact. Kane founded the local LEAD charter chain, which later declared war on MNPS when it sidled up to the failing state-run Achievement School District, which engineered a hostile state takeover of Nashville’s Neely’s Bend Middle School – a school that already was turning around.

 

Finally, Ralph Schulz, CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, was another compact signer. The business group, a longtime mouthpiece for charter special interests, supported Dean’s law to punish local school boards and has even endorsed vouchers. Schulz and the chamber enthusiastically joined last year’s failed efforts by Dean and others to blow up the school board and MNPS – so perhaps some collaboration was happening, after all.

 

These days, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which attacked the Nashville School Board in 2013, is now ideologically aligned with President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – and it’s pushing local school systems to recommit to charter compacts of the past. My view: If the turmoil of the past seven years in Nashville is any indication, I’d say we’ve had enough so-called “collaboration.” I’m guessing other school systems have had similar experiences.

 

Perhaps it’s overdue time to create a “Center on Recommitting to Public Education.” If anyone wants to learn what we’re doing in Nashville to fight the privatization agenda, email me at: will@pinkstonforschools.com

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Will Pinkston on the Nashville Chamber Education Report Card

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about yesterday’s release of the Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card:

After digesting the news accounts of yesterday’s 2016 Education Report Card staged by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, I am more convinced than ever that the Chamber is an enemy of public education — and frankly, it has been for a long time. Consider this passage in Nashville Public Radio’s report, taken directly from the Chamber Report Card: “Over the past two decades, Metro Schools has launched various district reading and literacy initiatives, with no discernible impact on overall reading results.” This is true. However, this line could easily be rewritten to read: “Over the past two decades, the Chamber has meddled constantly in the affairs of Metro Nashville Public Schools, with no discernible impact on overall results.”

The reality is: The last two directors of MNPS — Jesse Register (2009-15) and Pedro Garcia (2001-08) — were the Chamber’s hand-picked superintendents who presided over stagnant growth in reading proficiency and, in Register’s case, a proliferation of struggling schools and lack of innovation to assist English learners, who represent the fastest-growing segment of our student population. I know this because I serve Nashville School Board District 7, where 43% of our students are struggling to learn English. Our lack of progress in helping these kids was a big reason why I led the charge in 2014 to exit Register from the school system and install new management that can think and act strategically.

What was the Chamber’s response? Not surprisingly, the Chamber did not step forward and agree that a leadership change was needed at MNPS. To the contrary, the Chamber and its rubber-stamp Report Card Committee instead attacked me and other board members who actually were confronting problems, versus turning a blind eye to the situation. The fact is the Chamber, through its lack of understanding of public education and lack of leadership in this community, helped to enable poor-performing superintendents for the better part of two decades — while at the same time trying, mostly ineffectively, to destabilize the school board in local elections. Adding insult to injury, the Chamber has advocated to strip the school board of local control while vigorously endorsing vouchers and the unabated growth of charter schools, which drain finite resources at a time when MNPS is now universally considered to be an under-funded school system. If the Chamber and the Report Card Committee aren’t happy with the lack of progress, perhaps they should take a look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. I daresay they won’t see any profiles in courage.

All that said: I’m optimistic that MNPS is finally headed in the right direction. This year, the school board exerted overdue independence and sidelined the Chamber during the search for our new MNPS director. In typical passive-aggressive fashion, Chamber leaders pouted throughout the months-long search process, then tried to take credit for the favorable outcome, and then attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to oust from elected office one-third of the school board — members who played key roles in ushering in the new leadership. Our new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, now is doing yeoman’s labor getting his arms around years of problems that have been either created or exacerbated by the Chamber. Thankfully, the Mayor, the Metro Council, and the school board are finally on the same page. We’re all working together to lead public education forward, no thanks to the Chamber.

So now let me send the same message to Ralph Schulz and the Chamber that I sent to former Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels (whose sycophantic and obsequious support of the Chamber helped perpetuate some of this mess): MNPS is going to succeed despite you, not because of you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Stand For Children Unanimously Cleared

Today, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance unanimously dismissed two complaints filed against Stand for Children by a group named Tennessee Citizen Action.

It should be noted that fellow TNEdReport blogger, Andy Spears, is the executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

The complaints alleged illegal coordination between Stand for Children and four school board candidates: Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely, Jackson Miller, and Miranda Christy. The Registry unanimously dismissed those allegations because there was no evidence for them.

Dark Money or Charter Schools?

But were these complaints really against “dark money” as Tennessee Citizen Action claimed or more about charter schools? Sources who attended the press conference after the hearing stated that Gerard Stranch, attorney for Tennessee Citizen Action, brought up how Stand for Children wanted to bring more charter schools to Nashville. These school board candidates weren’t even calling for more charter schools.

The complaint had nothing to do with charter schools, so it was surprising to hear that’s what Tennessee Citizen Action’s legal counsel wanted to discuss. On Twitter, Stranch believes “pro charter folks” are treated differently by the bipartisan registry.

This was about the fight for charter schools disguised as a campaign against dark money. And Tennessee Citizen Action lost overwhelmingly.

Political Payback

It should be noted that anyone can file a complaint through the Registry. While the Registry can only hand down civil penalties, Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston told Stand for Children’s Nashville Director Daniel O’Donnell on Twitter: “Post election, we’re talking about your orange jumpsuit.”

Will Pinkston is advocating and hoping for the jailing of his political opponent. I feel like we are back in the presidential campaign.

Of course Will Pinkston knew (I would hope) that this was only a civil matter, but Pinkston wanted to make this complaint look more than it really was. The press went out of their way to cover these hearings as huge breaking news, with the Tennessean using large breaking news banners to discuss each hearing.

Early on in the Registry’s process, a commissioner said that they thought there wasn’t enough evidence to go on, but allowed Stand for Children more time to make a defense. If you ever look at the Registry’s monthly agenda, you will see there are so many cases in front of the Registry at one time. The media picked up on this one and really ran with it.

Everything is Rigged

After the unanimous decision by bipartisan Registry, Andy Spears called the Registry “rigged” because they did not vote the way he wanted them to. Is the system rigged when it doesn’t go your way?

We just finished an election where Trump said everything was rigged…until it went his way, and it wasn’t rigged anymore.

The bigger implication is when you have a coordinated effort against a group of candidates, it may discourage others from running. Even though there was no evidence of law breaking, these candidates had to retain legal counsel. Try talking a middle class parent into running for school board if there is a chance you will need a lawyer. Miranda Christy says it best:

Our city needs good people to step up and throw their hat in the ring without having to worry whether they might have to hire a lawyer or whether they might have to publicly endure false accusations of wrongdoing.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.

You’ve Been Warned

MNPS Board Members Will Pinkston and Christiane Buggs wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution urging voters in Georgia to reject that state’s effort to create an Opportunity School District modeled after Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Under this hostile approach, the ASD rips schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators that convert them into taxpayer-subsidized private schools. Rather than sticking to a limited scope with a baker’s dozen schools, as originally envisioned, the ASD now has nearly 30 schools in its purview — and it’s expanding every year in ill-advised ways.

They also pointed to a recent Vanderbilt study to note the ASD’s lack of results:

If the ASD actually was working, some of it might be defensible. But research by Vanderbilt University shows the ASD is failing. The online news outlet Chalkbeat recently reported that a locally led school-turnaround initiative in Memphis has “sizable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal.”

Tennessee’s ASD came about as a result of legislative approval of the (ultimately winning) Race to the Top application. As Buggs and Pinkston note, in its current form, the ASD has moved beyond the original vision. In doing so, the ASD has encountered problems that include troubling audit findings and a struggle to demonstrate results.

Georgia voters get to weigh-in on whether or not their state creates an ASD clone. Buggs and Pinkston offer a cautionary tale of well-intentioned reform gone wrong.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Is the MNPS Charter Proposal Illegal? This State Lawyer Says Yes

We learned this past week in a committee meeting that Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston will ask for a policy change to require charter school proposals to list their location in their application. That would add difficulty to the proposal process because it would require a charter operator to secure a location before they even know if their application is approved by the district.

Many charter schools know the area they will open, but have not secured a location because it’s left to the will of an elected body to approve or deny their application. You can’t get financing to lease or buy a facility before your proposal has been approved.

According to a tweet by Nashville Scene reporter Amanda Haggard, Metro Legal said “if MNPS denies a charter based on not having location,  that (the) state could give them appeal if they chose to.”

School Board Member Sharon Gentry brought up the same fact in the committee meeting that this requirement could result in the State Board of Education overturning the denial decisions from the district.

The State Board of Education agrees, and says that it’s illegal to require charter applicants to have a specific location in their application.

The State Board of Education’s legal counsel, Elizabeth Taylor, said this past week during a State Board meeting that Tennessee law does not require a charter school to have a facility in place when they apply to open a charter school. The law, TCA 49-13-107, lists all the requirements that a charter application must contain, and a facility is not one of those requirements. “No, an exact brick and mortar address is not required at time of application,” Taylor added.

When asked if a local district denied a charter school application because they did not provide a location, would the state board uphold that?

“That would not be legally permissible as the only reason to deny an application,” said Sara Heyburn, the State Board of Education Executive Director.

The proposal brought forth by Will Pinston passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote. The five members voting to send the proposal out: Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Anna Shepherd, and Christiane Buggs.

With 5 members voting this proposal out of committee, there is a good chance that this legislation will pass and become school board policy.

If members vote for this policy change, they are voting for a policy that is possibly illegal and will end up having charter schools approved at the state level more often because of it.

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals.

This policy proposal should be voted down.

TNDP’s Mary Mancini Calls Pinkston’s Comments Unacceptable

After Holly McCall’s allegations of threats from Will Pinkston and the response by Will Pinkston calling her a “sleeze” and unfit for public office, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini called his comments unacceptable:

“Bullying behavior from anyone is unacceptable anytime and anywhere and it is especially unacceptable from elected officials and leaders in our community.

Will Pinkston has brought a notable level of intelligence and hard work to the Metro Nashville Board of Education and it’s clear that he cares tremendously about the quality of the city’s public education. That said, disrespectful language and behavior from elected officials and leaders in our community is always unacceptable.

It’s unfortunate for all involved that Will did not use better judgement in both his public and private interactions.”

Facts Not Included

Steve Cavendish at the Scene offers some insight into the Tennessean’s recent dealings with MNPS board member Will Pinkston. Specifically, Cavendish notes that key facts seem to be optional in the paper’s reporting.

He writes:

That Sunday story by Jason Gonzales, which described Pinkston as a bully, interviewed a lot of critics. It quoted a former director of schools that Pinkston stopped from getting a contract extension, an innovation director who routinely fought with Pinkston and other board members and a paid political operative working for (Jackson) Miller.

And points out that the Tennessean also endorsed Pinkston, a fact not mentioned in the Gonzalez piece.

Of course, on the same day, the Tennessean did allow Pinkston to respond.

But, as Cavendish points out, it would have been a lot easier to just include the relevant facts in the first place.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Will Pinkston Responds

Will Pinkston offers his response to a piece that appeared about him in the Tennessean by way of the paper’s Op-Ed page.

Here’s how he starts:

“I have excellent relations with MNPS employees and I am proud to have earned the endorsement of our teachers and support employees. Our employees have told me countless times that they’re grateful I stood up to a Central Office bureaucracy that had failed students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers

“Nashville’s schools are thankfully under new management, and we’re now heading in the right direction. The voters in South and Southeast Nashville know me personally, and they will see through this flimsy attack by a handful of disgruntled individuals, four days before Election Day.”

This is the statement I provided to the Tennessean in advance of a smear piece that appeared in Sunday’s Tennessean. The newspaper declined to publish the statement in its entirety. Instead, it printed a report based on lies and half-truths leveled by a four former Metro Nashville Public Schools employees.

I won’t dignify the baseless allegations. But I will briefly address the two former employees who orchestrated this smear:

Read his full response here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport