Colorado

Districts begin tough budget talks

GOLDEN – For teachers in Colorado’s largest school district, Thursday’s $110 million cut in state education funding means their 1 percent raise in April will be a stipend and not a permanent increase.

Jefferson County teachers, like those in several districts across Colorado, agreed to a contract for 2009-10 that included a contingency – if the state doesn’t cut that $110 million, teachers get more.

In Denver Public Schools, it means teachers will not get an additional 1.65 percent increase. In Adams Five-Star schools, teachers will receive a .82 percent stipend in April, instead of a .82 percent salary-building raise.

And in Cherry Creek schools, teachers will not get an additional .5 percent increase.

“I think, truthfully, they have expected it, looking at what’s been happening with the state budget crisis,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, who will begin formally notifying her teachers today.

Few seemed surprised or particularly upset about the funding cut, equal to 1.9 percent, that was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter. That’s partly because it was expected, as increasingly dire state revenue forecasts have issued from the Capitol since state lawmakers in May ordered districts hold $110 million in reserves.

It’s also because districts are now preoccupied with preparing for bigger cuts ahead, including a projected 6 percent cut for 2010-11.

“This will trigger in a number of districts some kind of direct salary implication for teachers,” Colorado Education Association spokeswoman Deborah Fallin said of the 1.9 percent reduction.

“But … this is probably minor compared to what the impact is going to be in the 2010-11 budget.”

Bracing for what’s ahead

For school districts, which typically spend 80 percent or more of their budgets on staff, cuts in state funding often translate into fewer teachers hired and larger class sizes.

At least two districts, one large and one smaller, are putting controversial ideas on the table in an attempt to keep that from happening.

In Pueblo County, school board members this month re-opened talks about switching to a four-day school week. Board members voted 3-2 against the idea last year but, facing more cuts, they’re taking another look.

The plan could save as much as $1.1 million in transportation, utilities and part-time workers such as classroom aides. A Jan. 11 board meeting brought out more than 100 people, many of them holding pink fliers proclaiming “No 4-day week,” the Pueblo Chieftain reported.

More than 100 people attended a recent budget discussion in Pueblo District 70. Chieftain photo.

A July 2006 state report found 62 districts on four-day weeks but noted “most are rural and sparsely populated.” The 9,000-student Pueblo district would be the first of substantial size to switch.

In Jefferson County, two school board members want budget talks to include consideration of a reduction in base salary for all teachers – rather than the more common salary freeze.

It’s not unusual in tough budget years for boards to save money by freezing teachers’ traditional annual raises for another year of service or for more college credits earned.

But board member Laura Boggs on Thursday said that stopping those raises, known as “steps and lanes” or “steps and levels,” doesn’t impact all teachers the same.

“Why have we not had a conversation about reducing everybody’s base salary instead of freezing steps and levels?” she asked during a board meeting.

Both Boggs and board member Jane Barnes, who brought up the issue at a budget meeting last week, said they were passing along community suggestions.

Jeffco’s difficult budget dilemma

Dallman, the teachers’ union president, said about 25 percent of Jeffco teachers do not receive “steps and levels” each year.

But while Dallman said she appreciated Boggs’ quest for equity, she described any proposal to reduce teachers’ base pay as “insulting.”

“Teachers are tired, the workload has been phenomenal,” she said. “The district has asked us to do so much and we have risen to the challenge and we have gotten results.”

The 86,000-student district outperformed state averages in all subjects and grades tested on Colorado’s 2009 annual exams. Its 2009 graduation rate was 81.3 percent, reflecting a 4.2 percentage point spike led by a nearly 9 percent jump in the number of Hispanic students graduating.

Jeffco School Board member Laura Boggs

“For two board members to be suggesting that teachers’ salaries be rolled back is completely, completely unacceptable,” Dallman said.

Boggs made it clear that she wants to avoid increasing class sizes, declaring at one point, “I’m not going to put a 2nd-grader in a class of 27 kids, it’s not going to happen.”

Already, in anticipation of budget reductions including the 1.9 percent cut, Jeffco eliminated 50 elementary teaching positions as part of $11.8 million in cuts for 2009-10.

For 2010-11, budget work groups have come up with proposals that include eliminating another 114 teaching positions. And in 2011-12, when school funding is expected to continue its decline, the proposals include eliminating another 162 teaching jobs.

Altogether, the proposals call for cutting nearly 470 jobs – from teachers and administrators to custodians and bus drivers – across the district to help save $43.8 million over two years.

Holly Anderson, a community superintendent charged with reporting school-level impacts to board members, tried to answer questions about the potential for larger class sizes and for fewer electives such as art and music.

“It really touches every classroom, every school,” she finally told them.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

To learn more:

Click here to see a district-by-district breakdown of the 1.93 percent cut. Column D shows the amount each district is losing.

Here’s a sampling of budget cuts being discussed by other districts around the state:

Aurora Sentinel: Superintendent mulls layoffs, class size changes for APS.

Denver Post: Littleton Public Schools board hashing out $9 million in cuts.

Greeley Tribune: District 6 isn’t alone in quest for cuts in Colorado schools.

Pueblo Chieftain: D70 slashes $377,100 from special education.

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