Nashville school board opts for conversation over litigation

The board for Metro Nashville Public Schools voted unanimously Tuesday to delay exploration of a lawsuit against the state over inadequate school funding.

Instead, the board opted to approach Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen about chronic underfunding, with the hope of striking a multiyear agreement to fully fund the district under the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP).

If the state fully funded the BEP, the Nashville district would receive an additional $19 million annually, said board member Amy Frogge. If the state followed recommendations by an annual BEP review panel, it would receive $73 million more, she said.

Weary of similar underfunding, school boards in Shelby, Knox and Hamilton counties voted in February to gather information for a possible legal complaint against the state. MNPS board members said the timing was not right, however, for Nashville’s district to join that approach.

Board member Anna Shepherd noted that the board is focused on hiring a replacement soon for outgoing Director of Schools Jesse Register. “As a board, we need to keep our laser focus on this task. We do not need any distractions,” she said.

Shepherd also urged the board to give McQueen, who has been commissioner for only two months, a chance to weigh in. Discussions about a complaint against the state began in 2013.

The board’s decision came one day after Register sent a letter to board members and other officials recommending that Nashville’s district attempt to work with Haslam’s administration on the issue rather than pursuing litigation.

Board members reiterated that the state’s ongoing underfunding of local school districts must be addressed in a timely manner.

“We cannot get from where we are to where we need to be without resources,” Will Pinkston said. “Let’s do something about it.”

The board is scheduled to revisit the topic on April 14.