Inside MNPS School Board’s No-Longer-Secret Lunch Meeting

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In a frank conversation over paper plates of chicken, mixed vegetables and a side salad, Metro School’s board members began tackling three pressing district issues in the group’s monthly lunch meeting.

These meetings had been held in private for months, referenced in the board’s calendar but not publicized to the media, nor attended by reporters. Last month, the Scene discovered the board discussed a legal opinion on how to go about challenging the state’s charter school laws in one of the luncheons, a meeting ultimately held in secret because public notice of the meeting was buried deep in a board packet.

“For the record for the reporters, it’s not usually this exciting," said Board Member Amy Frogge after the meeting.

Here are three things to take away from the hour-long lunch:

1.) Board considering shifting legal fight to BEP. The lawyer who issued the MNPS school board three options for fighting a possible state charter school authorizer law told members they should be unfazed by a competing opinion by the state attorney general. The AG shot down the MNPS lawyer’s suggestion the state’s charter school law could be unconstitutional in an opinion earlier this month. But the lawyer suggested the real legal argument could rest in the equity of the state’s Basic Education Program formula, known as the BEP. Although small schools districts have challenged equity of funding in the BEP, large urban districts have yet to go down that road, he said. Board Member Will Pinkston said he wants to further explore that option, although “it has the potential to be very messy,” he said.

2.) Budget battle brewing. Board members began to butt heads over how to go about fixing the district’s budget problems. At the moment, it appears the district will face a $23 million deficit next year. Pinkston lays the blame on the district’s growing list of charter schools and their grade-by-grade expansions while Board Member Elissa Kim challenged why the conversation is focused on charter schools when the district has a larger, $750 million budget to cut from. Board members also scratched the surface on the merits of consolidating schools that are half empty, falling on both sides of the debate. “Consolidation is scary to me, frankly,” said Register. He also stressed he wants to protect teacher salaries and plans to pitch a plan to beef up that effort, although that will come with a price tag of its own which will put further pressure on the budget. While the committee did not come to any conclusions on what direction take in addressing the budget, Register offered that the idea of cuts to the Central Office won’t amount to much. Board members are tentatively scheduled to meet with Metro Council’s education committee Oct. 17, said Pinkston.

3.) Board: Bring on the audit. Around the table, board members agreed with the Metro Council’s push for an audit of the Metro Schools system. In fact, the board wants input on which firm ultimately performs the audit. However, board members say the district should have nothing to do with paying for it since the examination would be done at the behest of the Metro Council. Some members voiced opposition with the idea half of the audit could be paid for with private dollars — driving a fear that the audit will not be truly independent.

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