MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — The tension in the room sat heavy.
“It was brought to my attention that there may be a person speaking against the Academy today who’s not even a resident of Rutherford County,” Rutherford County resident Michael Dewey said. “How insulting and disrespectful to everyone in this room and the citizens of our county for this Knoxville politician to come here for nothing more than a feather in their political cap.”
The aforementioned politician, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), attended but didn’t speak at the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission’s appeal hearing for American Classical Academy, which is affiliated with Hillsdale College in Michigan. It’s a culmination of the last seven months of buildup.
Of the 12 people who spoke, none spoke against the Academy. There were only 15 slots allowed—three no-showed but, according to a document obtained by WKRN, were in favor of the Academy—and the commission says it picked the first 15 to respond.
One of the arguments American Classical made was that it would save the district a whole lot of money. “We would save taxpayers at least $30 million by saving Rutherford County residents from having to build yet another school,” American Classical Education board member Dennis Pearson said.
But the local school board says that isn’t quite true.
“American Classical Academy included the use of disingenuous data, claiming they would save the taxpayers $30 million,” Rutherford County School Choice and Charter Schools Coordinator, Caitlin Bullard, said. “In fact, we are looking to build additional schools down the road. However, the next school that we’re looking to build is a middle school, which can hold potentially over 1,000 students. They’re only seeking to open a school that will hold 350 this coming year.”
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One of the more tense points of the meeting came during a back and forth between Tess Stovall, the executive director of the commission, and Rich Haglund, the American Classical Education legal counsel.
Stovall was trying to understand why ACE’s leadership board changed throughout the application process, and why the local school board wasn’t notified when it was. “I do want to go back to my original question of, why was this changed after the amended application, and was the district notified?” Stovall asked.
“I can repeat what I said before…this change happened, and we repeat, we shared this with the commission in our capacity hearing on Monday. The sponsor and the governing body are different legal entities,” Haglund said. “The sponsor’s governing body has not changed, except a little bit, what was included in the amended application.”
The commission will be accepting written comment for one week after each of its meetings on the Academy. The executive director told News 2 the comments in writing will be processed with the same weight as the oral ones.
A decision will be made one way or another on Oct. 5 at a special meeting of the charter school commission.
The charter’s next two meetings concerning Hillsdale will be Sept. 14 and 15 in Madison County and Montgomery County, respectively.