- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The superintendent of Knox County Schools said Wednesday that he’s surprised Hamilton County and six Chattanooga-area school systems filed a lawsuit against the state over funding after what he thought was a productive meeting with the governor.

Superintendent James McIntyre, Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith and the superintendents for Metro Nashville and Shelby County schools met with Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday to discuss their grievances about the state’s school funding formula.

Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville - which represent about 30 percent of the state’s 1 million students - have argued that the funding formula, known as the Basic Education Program, is not adequately funded, and they threatened to sue.

Following Monday’s meeting, the governor and the superintendents didn’t reveal specifics of their discussion to reporters. But Haslam did say he’s working on short-term and long-term plans to address the superintendents’ concerns, and the superintendents said they’d like to see those plans play out before taking legal action.

However, Hamilton County and the school systems filed the lawsuit the next day. It alleges the state has “breached its duty under the Tennessee Constitution to provide a system of free public education for the children of this state.”

“I was a bit surprised that Hamilton County Schools filed suit the next morning,” McIntyre told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t want to second-guess my colleagues, but it did feel like a little bit of a rush to the courthouse … when we had what I thought was a very productive dialogue. I think it’s unfortunate.”

Smith and the superintendents for Metro Nashville and Shelby County schools didn’t immediately return calls to the AP seeking comment about the Hamilton County lawsuit.

Smith told reporters after Monday’s meeting that he was pleased with the collective conversation with the governor.

“I think right now we need to talk,” he said. “We had a very good conversation today. I expect we’ll have further conversations as the governor mentioned, and we look forward to those conversations.”

Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed that the governor wasn’t pleased with the action.

“The governor is very disappointed after he … made the commitment yesterday to a collaborative process to work closely with districts on these issues, and litigation will obviously decrease potential for collaboration,” the statement said.

Haslam appointed a task force last year to study the funding formula.

Last month, he announced in his State of the State address that he’s putting $44 million into the program, which hasn’t been fully funded since it was overhauled about eight years ago under then-Gov. Phil Bredesen.


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