KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Knox County Board of Education met Thursday to discuss whether to approve an application for a new charter school — Knoxville Prep School.
The motion to approve the school’s application failed in a vote of 4-4. According to state law, board members needed to issue a resolution listing the reasons why the application failed. Proposals listing these reasons also failed Thursday night.
The KCS now has until May 1, to pass a resolution explaining why the original application failed. According to Christie Christie, chairman of the board, if nothing is passed by May 1, Knoxville Prep will become a private school by default due to “inaction.”
“I know there’s a process, so if the local school board doesn’t approve, it can go state. But we want local approval,” said Brad Scott of Chattanooga Middle School.
Gary Doppler, the board’s legal advisor, said the applicant would be able to claim it was an “improper decision,” he said during the meeting.
Board members said they found inaccurate data in the application before the vote.
“The Code talks about submitting those written reasons, so the applicant can take 30 days to file an amended application,” he said. “If there is a refusal, there must be written and objective reasons as to why.”
Jennifer Owen, a board member, said she had some specific issues with the app. She said the app referenced an opinion piece from a Knoxville publication with no source available for the data listed. It said another part of the app also linked to a “broken URL”.
“KGIS lists it as a source of information regarding a school’s location, and it kind of says that District 5 is a geographic location as well as being synonymous with Commission and Board of Education voting districts as well. We know that’s not accurate,” she said. “The claim that this is a response to the community and need to demand, with no data to support this claim, no meetings of any local neighborhood associations and no survey data, also raises questions.”
She also said that a hyperlink to that claim goes to a news article where the claim was made, without any data to back it up. She also said the data she sought indicated the school served about 21% of the economically disadvantaged students in her class, instead of more than 70% like the app.
Categories of economically disadvantaged students are usually based on requests for help, Christie said, and she said there could be explanations for discrepancies in the data.
“The numbers don’t quite match up,” she said. “State numbers and federal numbers are in the same row. The numbers that don’t line up are the ones on the app.”
Katherine Pike, a board member, said she had a list of reasons why she declined the application. Some of these reasons included “false information”, “lack of transparency”, “lack of a SPED plan” and a lack of commitment to accepting transgender students.
“I don’t feel like being in the Boys and Girls Club is a real long-term plan, and I’d rather see something more real. It would give me better feelings about the longevity of this school in our community,” she also said.
Betsy Henderson called Brad Scott, CEO of Chattanooga Middle School, to speak about board members’ concerns with the app’s data.
“We stand behind our data,” he said. “Our state report card does not accurately represent us because there are certain demographics in our school that are not represented in that data because they don’t have the documents that appear in that data. The Hamilton County Schools sent an email to all of you to confirm our data, and they stand behind it.”
He said the school aims to provide parents with choice in their children’s education.
“That’s all we try to do, and in the end, parents have the right to choose whether or not to send their children to our school,” he said.
He also said that the school had received 75 letters of intent from Knox County parents who said if the school opened, they would send their children to Knoxville Prep.
He also said that a point in a news report that claimed the school performed better than Knox County schools was only when compared to other schools serving “similar backgrounds and similar demographics.”
The Board of Education decided not to discuss the reasons for rejecting the application during the April 27 meeting as a decision. They also decided not to submit the minutes of the meeting as reasons for rejecting the request. Both proposals failed by 4-4 votes.
If reasons for refusal are not given, Knoxville Prep will open as a charter school by default.