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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for September 25, 2023

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.

We start with local news…

ACA State Appeal (CDH)

The proposed American Classical Education school was once again revisited last week in Maury County, this time in front of state education officials.

Members of the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission gathered at Horace O. Porter School on Thursday with a packed house of concerned citizens, parents and local leaders for a hearing. The Maury County School Board denied ACE's application to establish a charter school, American Classical Academy, on July 27 by a split 6-5 decision.

The hearing is the next step of an appeal of that decision filed by ACE.

The hearing consisted of comments from constituents for and against the charter school as well as comments from ACE representatives.

Public comments included about 20 speakers overall, equally divided between those who were for and against a charter school.

The state commission will make its final decision on whether to approve the ACE charter school application Oct. 5 in Nashville. Maury County is one of eight appeals the state is currently considering.

Thursday's hearing began with opening statements from Maury County Public Schools and ACE, prior to a Q&A moderated by Commission Executive Director Tess Stovall.

Maury County Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura, as well as school board member Wayne Lindsey and newly-appointed chairman Will Sims provided an overview of the application's history, which dates back to December of last year when MCPS received a letter of intent from ACE CEO Joel Schellhammer, with a goal of opening in 2024-2025. Now the charter aims for a 2025-2026 opening if approved.

This also involved the school board's previous decision to deny the application in April, also a 6-5 vote.

Lindsey, who voted to deny, said the reasoning was primarily based on "unanswered questions" regarding the application and its requested amendments prior to the final July vote, concerning academics and school operations.

"All of our concerns were based on that initial application, and so when the second vote was taken, at least as far as I can see it ... we were expecting some recognition of those concerns or some more information," Lindsey said. "The response to those questions didn't answer the questions, didn't clarify anything for the most part. So, some of the same questions that were asked at the first vote still remained."

During the April 25 school board meeting, Ventura outlined concerns or "deficits" in the ACA application as determined by the district-appointed ACA application review committee.

The review committee previously gave ACA a score of "does not meet standards" in multiple categories related to academic standards, citing concerns that the charter has not yet completed an alignment of state academic standards or laid out specific ways the school would serve students with disabilities. The school board also expressed concern about the lack of securing transportation and food vendors for the charter.

ACE legal counsel Rich Haglund said the charter school responded in the manner it felt was requested, and that maybe the answers simply weren't enough to sway the votes.

"It looked like one of two things, either they didn't consider [our responses] at all, or they did consider them, but it did nothing to provide anything to the overall vote," Haglund said.

As far as the school's potential location, which has not yet been identified, ACE Vice President Philip Schwenk said ACE first considered the north end of the county and Spring Hill but hopes it can find a spot "as close to Columbia as possible." The best way to find out the best spot has been ACE's engagement with the public, he said.

"I don't know many people who know Maury County better than Maury County residents. A lot of that conversation came from simply talking to people here that are interested in establishing a charter school," Schwenk said. "One of the flexibilities and advantages we have as a charter school is listening intently, and basically being motivated by where people say as far as where's the best place to have a school."

Schwenk added that initial enrollment is expected to be at about 340 students in grades K-5, although 150 would be the minimum required during its first year.

This included statements from citizens, parents, teachers, county and state leaders, even a freshman classical school student.

Former Columbia Vice Mayor Christa Martin, who favors denying the charter school, said she was concerned the charter school would only serve some of the county's diverse students, rather than all.

"It is tragic that we are here again looking at this school coming into the Maury County public school system that's been voted down twice," Martin said. "We need to increase the pay of our teachers, support staff and administrators so they can manage and encourage learning across 13,000 public school students, not just 340."

State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, who spoke in favor of the school, said one of his concerns remains "misinformation" about what the charter school is, as well as the process in approving the application.

"There has been a lot of misrepresentation during this whole process from both sides of what a charter school is actually about, which is a public school funded by the taxpayers," Cepicky said. "It will adhere to all the requirements we have at the state now and provide a good quality learning environment for students, and that includes minority students, many who are trapped in failing schools. This would provide an opportunity for them to seek a better outcome."

Opponents of the charter school have argued that the charter is not a "public" school.

Former county commissioner Sue Stephenson, who also spoke in favor, said one argument against the school has been its estimated "substantial negative financial impact" on the public school system.

Stephenson said no measurable methodology such as a quantitative analysis of data and metrics or financial impact study was ever done to support the claim.

Currently, the per pupil expenditure in Maury County is $9,744, according to the 2021-2022 state report card, which is approximately the amount of state, county and federal funding that would follow students enrolled in the charter school, or up to 340 students according to the charter application, equaling public funding of over $3 million.

At the meeting's conclusion, both sides provided closing statements, with MCPS standing by its decision to deny the school, while ACE focused on the benefits it could provide Maury County.

Comments from MCPS were provided by school board attorney Jake Wolaver, saying the state should stand by the county's decision to deny it, twice. The school should also be an entity overseen at the local level, he argued.

"This decision is best made at the local level by the people that know best the students, the teachers, the facilities of Maury County," Wolaver said. "If the state were to decide there were some deficiencies in the process and that the application should go through, I can understand that, and we can abide by that in the best way the applicant would intend."

Wolaver added that the fact a location has yet to be identified should make the state hesitant to approve it.

"People at this board made the decision not to move forward, and we ask you to honor that decision," Wolaver said.

Schwenk argued that, as far as the application was concerned, the charter school abided by everything that was required, emphasizing that ACE's intent is to find a new community to promote classical education.

"My argument for the school is that we want to come alongside this district, work with the kids here and give them skills in reading, writing, speech and to just be good, sound people," Schwenk said. "There is a certain benefit it can bring to this community."

Schwenk also spoke of the school's overall purpose, but also said the primary educator in a child's life will always the parent, and that many parents want the charter as an option in the community.

"I think what you've heard from a lot of parents is that they would just like to have the option," Schwenk said. "That was my original intention as a public educator when it comes to charter schools. It's a unique opportunity to say, 'Hey, we want some options for our kids.'"

Blue Hydrangea (WKOM Audio 1:50)

On Friday, Blue Hydrangea opened their new location at the Factory at Columbia. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy stopped by the ribbon cutting to have look at what the shop has to offer its customers…

MRMC Golf Tournament (Press Release)

The annual Tony Starks Memorial Golf Tournament was held Sept. 21 at the Graymere Country Club in Columbia, raising nearly $95,000 for the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation. This year’s tournament is one of the largest in the Foundation’s history.

Foundation Executive Director Joe Kilgore said it was another beautiful day, with lots of memories made all while raising money for a good cause.

“The Tony Starks Memorial Golf Tournament is a joy to host each year. The day was full of fun with great people and beautiful weather,” Kilgore said. “We want to thank all of our sponsors, volunteers and golfers for another successful tournament.”

Prizes were awarded to the winners and runners-up of three flights in both the morning and afternoon groups. There were also contests for longest drive, closest to the pin, hole-in-one and the team putting challenge.

All proceeds from the golf tournament benefit the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Since 2006, the Foundation has funded more than $4.6 million in programs and services benefiting community members in need. These programs include medication assistance, a food bank, transportation assistance, educational support, community health initiatives and employee assistance. Learn more about the Foundation at

Brunch Collective Opening (WKOM Audio 4:54)

A new dining establishment opened in Old Town Spring Hill this past weekend. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy paid a visit to The Brunch Collective located in the historic “Kissing House” to learn more about the business…

Cowboy Up Fundraiser

Cowboy Up, Inc., a local suicide awareness non-profit in Maury County, is hosting their annual Light Up The Darkness Walk which will be held on Thursday 09/28/2023 at their office located at 604 N. High Street, Columbia.

Music starts at 6:30pm followed by a short awareness walk and candle lighting service in memory of those lost to suicide.

Approximately one young person dies from suicide every 1 hour and 45 minutes in the U.S. Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. Research tells us that almost 70% of the people who attempt suicide express their intentions to someone.

Cowboy Up, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Columbia, Tennessee, that focuses on the prevention of youth suicide through educational programs. Cowboy Up was originally started as a service project of Junior Auxiliary of Columbia in 2005 until becoming its own nonprofit in August 2020.

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Virginia Ruth Priestley Lamb, 93, resident of Columbia, died Saturday, September 23, 2023, at Maury Regional Medical Center surrounded by her family. Funeral services for Mrs. Lamb will be conducted Thursday at 2:30 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends 12:00 P.M. until service time at the funeral home.

Mr. Steven Lynn Hay, 42, died Thursday, September 21, 2023 at his residence in Columbia. Funeral services for Mr. Hay will be conducted Friday at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Friday from 12:00 P.M. until service time at the funeral home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Lobbying in TN on the Rise (LookoutTN)

Tennessee’s lobbying sector is doing just fine.

From Jan. 1, 2023 to June 30, 2023, groups spent a combined $35 million on lobbying activity, according to filings released by Tennessee Registry of Election Finance earlier this week.

It’s nearly $4 million more than groups spent during the same period in 2022, and a 66% rise since 2013.

The Tennessee Medical Association led the filing period, having spent around $330,322 to sway lawmakers. Their primary focus this year was a bill to address Tennessee abortion law, which initially didn’t provide doctors with exemptions to save the life of a mother. Republican Lawmakers passed a narrow exemption bill.

Rounding out the top five in lobbying spending were the conservative think-tank Center for Individual Freedom, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Health Care Association.

Groups lobbying Tennessee lawmakers must file two reports covering each half of the year with registry. Organizations file amounts in ranges for lobbyist compensation, lobbying-related expenses and exact figures for the cost of in-state events.

The Lookout calculates the total spending by taking the middle of these ranges, except for the range classified as “less than $10,000,” where the amount estimated is $1,000.

Corporations and lobbying groups tend to spend more money in the first half of the year because Tennessee’s legislative session is usually held from January to late April or early May. Last year these groups spent over $60 million.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Join Columbia Parks & Rec for its monthly Timber Tots program where children can learn through nature and play! Each program will begin with sensory bins then lead into a nature-themed storytime followed by a take-home craft. Timber Tots seeks to encourage participants to use their senses to engage with the world around them.

For our October program, participants will hear  “The Two of Us Belong Together: A Story About Friendship, Despite Being Different” — then participants will be guided through a habitat-themed craft. The program is recommended for ages 2-5. A parent or guardian must be present during the program.

Date: Thursday, October 19 | 10:00 am CST

Location: Maury County Park | Bridle & Saddle Pavilion

Address: 1018 Maury County Park Dr., Columbia, TN 38401

Register: This is a FREE program, however, Parks & Rec requests that you pre-register.

Questions? Contact us at 931-375-6103


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