Election aftermath

Needs linger where voters reject building bonds and funding requests

PHOTO: Photo courtsey of Mapleton Public Schools
Global Leadership Academy, in Mapleton, will not get the improvements budgeted for in a 2014 bond request.

Lamenting the low turnout that they believe doomed a slate of bond and levy questions, superintendents across Colorado said Thursday that the building and budget needs that would have been alleviated by the tax measures will still have to be met eventually.

Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future.

“We’re going to see a lot more of the breakdown of infrastructure. The community we serve will feel it more,” said Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sánchez. He said the Commerce City district would likely request funds again next fall to renovate elementary schools and build a new middle school.

In Mapleton, where officials had requested $67 million to update and repair roofs, electrical systems and bring buildings up to safety code, Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said that the district’s board would meet to determine how to move forward after the election. “It continues to be clear how many in our community lack understanding of the needs of a public school district, and how many people are choosing not to engage in conversations.”

Statewide, districts were seeking $50.9 million in 26 mill levy overrides. Just 11, totaling $17 million, passed. Mill overrides are additional tax hikes that must be approved by voters. Districts use the extra revenue to support various programs and fill funding gaps, which have increased during the past few years as the state begun using the so-called “negative factor” to cap state spending.

Colorado superintendents plan to push for more money from the state during the next legislative session.

School boards were also seeking $1.5 billion in 18 different bond overrides to support building construction and maintenance; voters passed nine worth $710 million. The bonds were proposed to create new buildings in fast-growing areas of the state or to replace deteriorating infrastructure in rural and suburban counties.

Colorado voters have a mixed record on supporting local referenda. While just over half of the mill levies and bonds passed both in 2014 and 2013, more than 90 percent passed in 2012, and fewer than a third passed the year before.

This year, mills and bonds passed mainly in rural districts, such as Pawnee and Platte Valley, and in more affluent areas, including Telluride and Boulder, which passed a $567.4 million bond for construction — the largest in the state’s history.

But in fast-growing Adams County, where all five districts requested additional funds, five capital construction bonds and four mill levy overrides all failed.

“I’m a little blue…Statewide, it seems like a lot of people didn’t get involved and didn’t vote.” said Commerce City Superintendent Sánchez. He said the lack of bond funds in particular would be a challenge. “We have to do the best with what we have.”

Groups in each Adams County district had organized to support the additional funding measures.

A spokeswoman for the campaign that supported the bond measures for the R27J school district that serves students in Brighton, Commerce City, and Thornton said of the results: “We are disappointed in the outcome of the election, because the bond would have helped the district address the very serious overcrowding happening in our schools. This situation will not get any better, and in fact will only get worse as more and more families move to the community.

Adams County district leaders said they were disappointed both by the outcome of the vote and by low voter turnout — just 43 percent in the county. Statewide, voter turnout hovered just below 55 percent. That’s still higher than the overall national turnout — 36.6 percent.

Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski said in a letter to parents that some voters might have assumed Amendment 68, which would brought more revenue from gambling into schools, would address funding woes. That amendment did not pass in Tuesday’s election.

In El Paso county, voters in Falcon school district 49 supported a mill levy override that would give $7.5 million in operating expense to the district, but blocked a measure that would have brought in $107 million to support new buildings.

Peter Hilts, the district’s chief education officer, said in an email that the override would “allow [the district] to pay our excellent teachers wages that are competitive with the more affluent districts to our west.”

Still, he wrote, the district needs to determine how to accommodate a student population that has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede