A school board candidate forum planned for Thursday night has become another flashpoint over Nashville’s charter schools. Three sitting board members have refused to participate, questioning the organizer’s motives.
School board candidates don’t typically do this kind of vetting of groups that invite them to speak. But for weeks, incumbent Will Pinkston has been asking for financial information on Project Renaissance.
The nonprofit, which was founded by Karl Dean in his last days as mayor, has disclosed its top donors, who have given millions of dollars. They include philanthropic groups, like the Scarlett Family Foundation, that have also contributed heavily to privately-run charter schools.
Pinkston says he wants no part of their work.
“To claim that this is a grassroots coalition and demand that we show up when we have other community commitments is just way out of line, and I’m not going to do it," he says.
Board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering are also sitting out after signing a letter laying out their concerns last week. All three have tried to block the further expansion of charter schools in the city.
Project Renaissance CEO Wendy Tucker wrote an editorial debunking some of Pinkston’s claims, denying that the group supports school vouchers — for instance. She declined to be interviewed by WPLN, deferring to parent volunteers like Quanita Adams.
She’s been a teacher and had a child in a Nashville charter school. But she says she’s not necessarily an advocate.
“What I’m involved in is an organization that says, hey, I want to help make sure your child and my child get a quality education," Adams says. "And what parent is not going to fight for that, however it looks?”
There is one school board member up for reelection who plans to join the candidate forum — chairwoman Sharon Gentry. Organizers say all of the challengers have agreed to participate.