Nov 22, 2021 - News

Nashville Classical location debate heats up

W.A. Bass Learning Center, where Councilmember Mary Carolyn Roberts wants to put a new charter school.

W.A. Bass Learning Center, where Councilmember Mary Carolyn Roberts wants to put a new charter school. Photo: Adam Tamburin/Axios

Metro Councilmember Mary Carolyn Roberts is pushing the school district to put the newly approved Nashville Classical charter school in the neighborhood she represents, The Nations.

  • Even though elected leaders in Bellevue adamantly don't want the school in their part of town, that's where it is currently slated to go, thanks in part to bureaucratic gridlock.

Why it matters: The debate over where to locate the new Nashville Classical encompasses multiple challenges facing the district — overseeing charter schools, maximizing school facilities, and retaining students who may otherwise leave for private schools or suburban schools.

What she's saying: Roberts thinks the W.A. Bass Learning Center at 5200 Delaware Ave., which currently serves as a vital district-run learning environment for 27 students as an alternative to expulsion, would be a perfect building for Nashville Classical.

  • "I have these millennials who are buying houses and after the first child, they stay, but by the time they have the second child they're moving out," Roberts said. "And the reason is the schools."

Background: Nashville Classical already has one school in East Nashville, which boasts a 160-student waitlist for enrollment, one of the longest in the city. Charter schools are funded with tax dollars but operate independently as standalone nonprofit organizations.

  • On two separate occasions, the school board rejected Nashville Classical's application for a new school on the west side of town, citing doubts about its ability to meet enrollment goals.
  • Bellevue-area school board member Abigail Tylor and Metro Councilmember Dave Rosenberg also had concerns that Nashville Classical would recruit students from Bellevue at a time when schools in their part of town have been improving.
  • After those rejections, Nashville Classical leader Charlie Friedman applied to the pro-charter state authorizing board, which granted approval last month.

Driving the news: Friedman then offered a compromise: If the Nashville school board would finally approve his charter application, he would try to locate the school closer to downtown, away from Bellevue.

  • The board voted 5-4 on Nov. 9 to approve the new school, but did not address the location issue. By approving the application, the school board was primarily voting for local oversight instead of state oversight.

The other side: Tylor tells Axios she is seeking a legal opinion for whether Nashville Classical is able to move into a different location than the one listed in its application. The school would likely have to re-apply and submit itself to another knock-down, drag-out fight to get approved.

  • Tylor says she is skeptical of why, after such a long approval process, Classical is now seeking a different location.
  • MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted tells Axios, "I can’t really speak to what Nashville Classical will do or if they plan on requesting use of one of our other facilities. It is not our responsibility to identify a property for them."
  • The Bass building is not on a list of under-utilized facilities the district provides to the state comptroller annually as possible buildings that could be leased by charter schools.

The bottom line: Friedman reiterates to Axios he's happy to work with the district to find a different location. But in the meantime, he's moving forward with plans to put the new school in the Brookmeade school property off Charlotte Pike.


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