dollars and cents

Early reactions to mayor's budget plan: Cautious optimism

Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers union, and Betsy Gotbaum, the public advocate, are usually hard on Mayor Bloomberg when it comes to education budget cuts. But because the majority of school cuts announced today will come from the Department of Education’s central bureaucracy, not individual schools, they have both issued cautiously optimistic responses to today’s budget announcement.

Weingarten’s and Gotbaum’s full responses after the jump.

UPDATE: Maybe this will turn out to be a budget fight. The principals’ union president, Ernest Logan, just came out with a statement, and it’s more confrontational than Weingarten’s. Weingarten said she is looking forward to working with the mayor; Logan says firmly that he opposes a mid-year cut. “Forcing another mid-year cut will hinder the progress we have made thus far,” he said. And he adds: “Let’s be clear – CSA is committed to standing up for the children of this city and will continue to fight for what’s right.”

Here’s Weingarten’s full response:

Given the state of the economy, we fully expected today’s bad news, and we waited to respond until we had a better sense of the whole citywide picture, not just how education will be impacted.

We are encouraged that cuts are being made to the central bureaucracy, which is a better alternative than cutting programs and services that kids depend on. We believe more can be done in this regard, particularly by looking at ways to create 360 degree accountability while also streamlining some of the existing components. We also must always be looking for new revenue sources, such as the property tax proposal, which we support.

Cuts don’t come without a price. The reduction of safety operations and custodial services has an adverse affect on schools. Reductions in pre-k services and summer school affect kids’ readiness to learn. Any cuts being considered in schools should be viewed through that lens. The Mayor has said this round of cuts will not impact on classrooms, and we’re going to have to be the eyes and ears on the school-level to make sure that holds true.

I firmly believe that layoffs should always be a last resort, because they impact on important services and have a devastating effect on families that lose their earnings. There are always other alternatives, such as redeployments, freezes on new hires and early retirement incentives. Teachers and other personnel in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool should also be better utilized.

There is clearly a lot to be concerned about as we move forward, and the severity of the city’s and state’s economic situations cannot be ignored. The tough choices are only going to get tougher, and that is why it’s important for all stakeholders to stand together. We are committed to working with the Mayor and the City Council as they confront the challenges ahead.

Gotbaum’s statement:

I am concerned about how the proposed cuts will affect education. The mayor assured me that the budget cuts to education will not directly impact the classroom, and instead will be made mostly to the Department of Education’s central administration. As I have long stated, DOE central can afford to trim some fat. For instance, there are still nine open positions listed on the DOE website under their accountability initiative, some paying up to $170,000.

Logan’s statement:

“At this critical time, it is essential that the best interests of the children be kept in mind before any budgetary decisions are made. We all know that education is the key to prosperity and the quality of education we provide to our students cannot be sacrificed during tough economic times. Our children won’t get a second chance.

We have been, and will continue to meet with the DoE to ensure school leaders are afforded flexibility in dealing with their budgets and to ensure schools have enough time to plan, prepare and strategize on the best way to continue to improve student achievement, despite budgets woes. Forcing another mid-year cut will hinder the progress we have made thus far.

With a growing financial crisis, now is not the time to roll out new initiatives, spend with reckless disregard, or continue with practices that have no proven record of success. We must re-evaluate and streamline our resources to focus on initiatives that truly increase student achievement.

Let’s be clear – CSA is committed to standing up for the children of this city and will continue to fight for what’s right.”

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

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