Opinion: Timing makes a difference for charter schools and for Kuehn

Staff File Photo / Students work on an activity during a sixth grade history class at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, a local public charter school, on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Timing is everything, isn't it?

Two news stories in the past week, both to some degree involving our local school district, indicate that is so.

The first involves Hamilton County's eight public charter schools having to amend their contracts with the school district to comply with state law.

Each charter school, per 2018 state law, must have a performance framework (language that defines the academic, financial and operational success metrics on which it is evaluated), and districts are to annually review each charter based on that framework.

Apparently, that important work hadn't been done this year because the district lacked staff, according to the district's charter schools coordinator, and that fact was called to the district's attention by a state charter review process.

Many reading this may wonder when the county schools have ever lacked for staff, especially when the district is wallowing in federal stimulus money ostensibly granted for COVID-19 relief.

Others who travel in conspiracy theories may wonder if it's a plot to get the charter schools' licenses pulled. It's no secret many public school advocates detest charter schools because they offer students a choice and are said to take money away from the sometimes failing public school the students would otherwise attend.

Charter schools are initially approved by the Hamilton County Board of Education and must meet all state standards, but each one operates autonomously from the district and has its own governing board. Districts must evaluate the charters based on those standards, but board chair Tiffanie Robinson said members hadn't been apprised of the results of the last evaluation.

The district's charter score of 1.83 on a scale of 4, termed "approaching satisfactory," required a corrective action plan by January.

The school board was to have approved the corrective contracts at their meeting last week -- thus, the importance of timing -- and we hope the delay in such critical work was just an oversight this year and one that will not happen again in the future.

Charter schools here and across the country offer critical lifelines to parents who want something that better fits their child's interests, who want to get their child out of their failed zoned school (when they can't move away) or who want a more rigorous, potentially more safe environment for their child.

The second news story involves school board member Gary Kuehn, who officially was elected to the body in August, though he had no opponent in that general election.

The Republican, a former school teacher and principal, was arrested in October, five years after a complaint by a nurse alleging that he exposed himself to her at a doctor's office.

Now, a spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says the arrest shouldn't have happened because the warrant had expired for at least 45 days. Per Tennessee law, outstanding misdemeanor warrants not served within five years are to be recalled, or deleted by the court.

The timing, once again, was critical.

Kuehn, who said after his arrest he had no knowledge of the 5-year-old warrant, turned himself in to the Sheriff's Office after being notified of the warrant.

The District 9 board member is to appear before Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Lila Statom on Jan. 10, when his attorney could file for the charge to be dismissed.

While Kuehn would likely prefer a dismissal to any hearing or trial, the latter two choices at least would have allowed him to mount a defense against the information that already has been disseminated to the public from the arrest in October. Indeed, regardless of his guilt or innocence, he already has been tried in the court of public opinion.

Whenever we hear of serious charges that ultimately come to nothing, we remember Ray Donovan, secretary of labor under President Ronald Reagan who was the first sitting Cabinet member to be indicted. When he was acquitted of larceny and fraud, Donovan was famously quoted as asking, "Which office do I go to get my reputation back?"

Had the arrest warrant been served in time, Kuehn already would have been free of the charge or, if found guilty, probably not have run for the board post.

As things stand, he is still on the school board and still has nearly four years to help the body -- and district -- develop sound policy ... in what we hope is a timely manner.