(WBIR) Knox County's first charter school now has a stamp of approval.
In a 7-1 vote Wednesday night, the Knox County Board of Education voted to authorize the Emerald Charter Academy. Board member Karen Carson was the lone "no" vote, although Gloria Deathridge was unable to attend the meeting.
The decision is controversial -- many teachers, parents, even board members are opposed to the idea of a charter school.
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"We're concerned with our lean budget about starting another school, in another building -- where we're really not sure where they're going to build," said state lawmaker and Knox County educator, Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville). "We're not sure where they're going to get that extra funding. Do they already have it?"
Johnson organized a rally before the meeting to oppose the charter school. The group met at Market Square and marched to the City County Building to watch the vote. Many wore red -- a color that has become symbolic this year among teachers who speak up about certain school issues.
Steve Rodgers spoke in opposition to the charter school during the public forum Monday night. The South-Doyle assistant band director was interrupted several times when the crowd applauded.
"It's not that we don't want to give special attention to the people that need it, but it doesn't need to be done in an isolated setting that's not cost effective that way," he said after the meeting.
"It also means we're taking away the positive sides of things from certain schools, because the people that are going to be interested in the charter school are probably the people that are interested in the public school side of things. If a parent is going to parent teacher night, now they're just going to a different parent teacher night. That school now loses an interactive aspect of that child's education. They're losing that parent involvement."
Some board members said they felt their hands were tied, thanks to a new Tennessee law that allows the state to overturn a local district's vote on a charter application.
"If the charter application meets the criteria and the expectations laid out by the state," explained KCS Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre, "If the school board doesn't approve it, it's likely to get overturned at the state, and chartered at the state. And I think that certainly played into the decision of the school board."
He added, "Now that it's been authorized, we look forward to working with Emerald Academy to make sure it's the best possible education experience for our kids."
Emerald Academy President Steve Diggs hopes to deliver on those expectations.
"I really hope we can prove the resources are a great investment," he said. "And if we're not making progress then we can be shut down. So we plan on this being a great investment and a great return for inner city Knoxville."
Responding to the charter's critics, Diggs said, "It's the right kind of debate to help close the academic achievement gaps among our urban kids."
The charter school will open in 2015. Diggs said he will start looking for a principal immediately.