Dougco decision: Black or blue?

Instead of being beaten black and blue by state cuts in education funding, the Douglas County School District will try to opt for one or the other.

The district unveiled two possible 2011-2012 budgets Tuesday night, a “blue” one and a “black” one. Both are in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2011-12 budget, which would slash education funding by $332 million.

For Douglas County, that equals $465 per student.

The blue budget is the more draconian measure and was called a “live within our means” budget by Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen. It would be implemented if school board members decide not to ask voters for a tax increase for operating dollars in November.

If the board agrees to seek additional funding from voters, they’ll use the black budget. In either case, the district will make up an expected shortfall of $25 million resulting from less revenue and greater pension and health insurance costs. But the means will differ.

Elements of “blue” budget

Under the blue budget, the single biggest chunk of savings would come from cutting per-pupil allocations to schools.

Elementary schools would receive $200 less per student while middle and high schools would receive $300 less per pupil, for a total savings of $13 million.

Another $5.6 million in savings would come from instituting four furlough days for district employees, according to Bonnie Betz, the district’s chief financial officer.

Other pieces of the blue plan include cutting $2 million from the central office.

“Black” budget uses reserves

Under the black budget, most of these cuts would be avoided because of the use of reserve funds, Betz said.

The district would pull $14.4 million from reserves to offset the expected shortfall in 2011-12.

Furlough days would be avoided and so would cuts in per-pupil allocations to elementary schools. Middle and high schools would still see $100 less per pupil. Central office reductions would still total $2 million.

The use of the reserve funds would be a one-time option to “get us through next year,” said Assistant Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Considering a tax question

Board President John Carson said a tax question will certainly be considered, but the board took no action at Tuesday’s meeting except to release details of the two proposed spending plans to the public. Only four board members were present at the meeting, held at Cresthill Middle School in Highlands Ranch.

Betz outlined a potential ballot question that would cost $7.50 for the average homeowner in Douglas County, based on a home valued at $337,500.

If approved, the increase would bring an additional $20 million in 2012, growing to $27 million in 2015.

That additional revenue would void the worst-case scenario of the blue budget, Betz said.

Charting the financial need

Douglas County voters have twice declined to approve tax increases for operating dollars in recent years, said Susan Meek, the district’s communications director.

One result is the amount of funding from operating increases, or mill levy overrides, has decreased in Douglas County from $700 per student in 2004 to less than $400 per student in 2010, Betz said.

At the same time, the district has added more than 14,000 students and, with more than 56,000 students, is the third-largest school district in the state.

Betz produced a chart showing Douglas County, one of the state’s most affluent districts, receives fewer dollars than other large metro-area districts in state education funding, which takes factors such as poverty into consideration. In 2010-11, for example, Dougco is receiving $6,541 per student compared to Denver’s $7,232 – a difference of $691.

Add dollars that districts currently receive for tax operating increases into the mix, and the gaps between Dougco and some other districts are even greater. Dougco receives $7,123 per student in both state funding and mill-levy dollars compared to Boulder’s $8,676 – a difference of $1,553.

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