published Friday, February 10th, 2012

Hamilton County charter school proposal to get state board hearing

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    Dr. Gary Nixon, Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education
    Photo by D. Patrick Harding

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Mail written comments on the school's appeal to Dannelle F. Walker, General Counsel, Tennessee State Board of Education, 710 James Robertson Parkway, Nashville, TN 37243. Comments also may be faxed to 615-741-0371 or emailed to Dannelle.Walker@tn.gov. Comments must be received by 4:30 p.m. CST on Feb. 16.

The fate of a proposed Hamilton County charter school now rests with the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Gary Nixon, executive director of the state board, presided over an appeal hearing for SMART Schools Inc., which earlier applied to open a business- and law-themed charter school here.

The matter now will go to the state board for a decision.

The Hamilton County Board of Education went with administrators' recommendations and voted to deny the group's first application in November. After the proposed school scored higher on an amended application, administrators recommended the board approve the proposed sixth- through 12th-grade school.

But at a specially called December meeting with only six members, the proposal to approve the school got just four votes, short of the necessary five.

Because state law is unclear, state officials weren't sure whether that vote counted as an outright denial. State law says an initial application to a local board automatically is approved if no action is taken. But the law is vague on what happens during the second round, officials said. Because the amended measure didn't receive five votes in December, legally no action took place. However, the state board's attorney chose to proceed as if the application were denied, prompting the appeal.

But representatives of the proposed New Consortium of Law and Business said Thursday they didn't believe their application was denied properly.

"We don't feel like we're appealing a denial," said Glenda Adams, vice chairwoman of SMART Schools.

Hamilton County school officials said the local board did deny the application on the second round, even though the board did move to approve. Officials noted problems with the group's proposed finances, which rely heavily on grants and fundraising.

"We see a lot of holes in their financials," said Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade.

School officials also had concerns about the school's ability to provide services for at-risk or special-needs children, generally a big part of charter school enrollments.

School board attorney Scott Bennett said the district's issues with the applications should be considered as admonitions, not criticisms.

"It is our hope and our expectation that you will be successful going forward," he said.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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