The incumbents on the Metro school board all kept their seats on election night, despite heavy out-of-state spending from charter school advocates for most of their opponents. Some voters saw the races as a referendum on the privately-run schools.
Yves Toleno, who is a video engineer, voted to keep board member Will Pinkston in office, primarily based on Pinkston’s skepticism of charter school expansion. Challenger Jackson Miller, who came within just 36 votes of winning, was seen as more friendly to charter schools
“While I appreciate and approve of charter schools in concept, I’m concerned that it really is just taking money away from public schools, and this is my district,” Toleno said. “This is where my kids are going to end up going to school.”
Pro-charter group Stand For Children spent unprecedented sums — at least $200,000 — to help one candidate in each race. The only one who pulled out a victory was school board chair Sharon Gentry.
Even in the open seat representing District 5 in East Nashville, the charter-backed candidate lost by a wide margin to former teacher Christiane Buggs, who was supported by the teachers union.
Board member Jill Speering beat Jane Grimes Meneely 58 to 40. Amy Frogge won by the largest margin — nearly two-to-one over Thom Druffel.
East Nashville voter Ann Green says she has mixed opinions but takes issue with the outside money.
“I think there’s a belief that some of the support that’s coming for these charter schools are coming from areas that don’t even know the neighborhood and don’t really know the context for what they’re pushing through,” Green says.
One voter in favor of charter schools was Shandi Paro, whose husband serves on the board for one of the city’s charters.
“It’s taking care of a lot of people that get left behind,” she says. “So I don’t see any problems with it.”
The Verdict On Pinkston
Beyond charters, Pinkston’s race was also about personalities, and the contest was the closest of the night.
Miller tried to appeal to voters as being a unifier. Pinkston is known for his abrasive style and this week was even accused of threatening former district officials.
Bryn Sierra, a Vanderbilt program coordinator and mother of an 18-month-old, considered Miller for all of those reasons. But then she talked to her teacher friends, who all seemed to be speaking up for Pinkston.
“Even if his words and his fight may have rubbed me the wrong way, because that’s not how I would do it, it’s been appreciated,” she says. “And it’s been effective.”