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Williamson County Charter School Application Denied by TN Commission

The Williamson County the parents occupied much of the room in the state government building in Nashville. They were all wearing matching Founders Classical Academy t-shirts. The group clapped loudly after each speaker’s comments in support of the Williamson County charter school proposal.

However, the strong turnout and public comments from parents did not change any votes at the October 17 meeting of the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Commission. The commissioners said they sympathized with the parents, but rejected the organization’s call to start the Founders Classical Academy in Brentwood, as well as Hendersonville in Sumner County.

Tess Stovall, executive director of the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, said she sided with the Williamson County School Board’s exam denial, writing in her analysis “that the amended application for the Founders Classical Academy of Brentwood has not reached the level of meeting or exceeding the standards required for approval.

The charter school board, relying on Stovall’s recommendation, voted to deny the charter school.

In April and again in July, Williamson County Council rejected the founders’ candidacy. The board agreed that the application materials did not meet the required standards. The charter school approval process in Tennessee begins with a vote by the local school board. In the event of a refusal, applicants have the option of modifying the application and resubmitting it to the council. In the event of a new refusal, the applicant may appeal this decision to the charter commission.

During the appeal hearing before the Public Charter Schools Board, supporters of the Founders Charter School touted the track record of ResponsiveEd, the charter management organization supporting the Founders Classical Academy for Brentwood, as well as Founders in Hendersonville.

“Parents and families need choice, and not all of them have the luxury of going to private schools,” said Founders board member Mitch Emoff.

Emoff said the council and community supporters — more than 400 students are set to attend, he said — disagree with Williamson County Council or Stovall’s assessment according to which the budget proposed by the founder was underestimated and incomplete.

He said Texas-based ResponsiveEd has a history of success with charter schools. The organization opened charter schools in Texas and Arkansas.

“Our board’s role is not to manage day-to-day school affairs, but rather to hold accountable those who do, just as we do in our private organizations,” Emoff said.

Tim Burbage, who has seven children at Williamson County Schools, was one of the parents hoping for the commission’s approval.

“Our world is filled with people today who want to tell our kids what to think and get them to follow through,” Burbage said.

He added that a “classical” education gives students tools “to navigate complex topics or issues and arrive at decisions that are not based on feelings and emotions, but on facts.”

“Serious Concerns”

Stovall explained his assessment of the founders’ financial plan.

“The Sponsor’s budget did not include the required expenditures, and without these considerations, I have no confidence in the accuracy of the Sponsor’s financial plan as a whole,” Stovall wrote. “The budget omits key items such as pension contributions, social security contributions and debt service payments.”

She was also unsure of the founders’ plan for students with disabilities and “special populations.”

“While the sponsor has a clear mission and vision for the school, I cannot recommend approval of the sponsor’s amended application after reviewing the plan to serve special populations, particularly students with disabilities,” said writes Stovall.

One of the public charter commissioners echoed Stovall’s comments. Wendy Tucker, a Williamson County resident whose children attend Williamson County Schools, said she appreciates the parents’ desire to find a good person for the children.

Still, Tucker added that she had serious concerns about the request, including a lack of planning for children with special needs.

“There doesn’t seem to be a real desire to serve all children, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a plan to serve all children,” Tucker said. “There’s a difference between wanting what you want and a school that can provide it.”

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