Colorado

Jimenez: “I have never overspent”

Denver Public Schools board member Arturo Jimenez has notified district officials that he has no intention – contrary to prior comments he has made – to repay the $1,153 by which they say he overspent his personal account last year.

Arturo Jimenez, center, talks with supporters at his election results watch party Nov. 1.

In an e-mail distributed on Wednesday and obtained on Friday by Education News Colorado through a request under the Colorado Open Records Act, Jimenez refers to public discussion of board members’ spending as “ridiculousness, initiated and exaggerated during the most recent campaign season.”

And, he states, “I never incurred any expenses that were not related to my work on the Board. In addition, I have never ‘overspent,’ under Board practice as it existed prior to the new policy clarification.

“Just to clarify once and for all, I will not be ‘paying back’ any expenses to DPS. In fact, much of the expenses that I charged to the DPS Board credit card were expenses that should have properly been charged to other departments in the district.”

Jimenez could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

The seven DPS board members are permitted to charge up to $5,000 per fiscal year for expenses related to their service to the district. Spending by board members came under scrutiny last year when then-board president Nate Easley confessed at the conclusion of the Aug. 18 board meeting that he believed he had overspent his account by $843, and was writing a check to reimburse the district by that amount.

A subsequent EdNews investigation showed that two board members, Jimenez and Andrea Merida, had both exceeded their limits. Merida’s overage far exceeded that of Jimenez; records showed she had overspent by $7,427, with at least $4,000 of her total going to restaurants and coffee shops. She has defended those expenses as “the cost of community engagement.”

Jimenez initially raised questions about the district’s accounting after the tallies for his overage changed, from $1,623 over down to the $1,153, but said, “If there are overages, I will pay them back.” Merida at first said she would not pay the overage, then quickly reversed herself, before ultimately claiming she had attempted to repay the district, but that Easley had rebuffed her offer – which Easley has denied.

Easley, whose public comments on the issue had triggered the controversy, was ultimately found through recalculations by the district to be under the $5,000 limit by the amount of $202.

In the wake of publicity concerning board member spending, the board passed a new policy Oct. 20 clarifying the way board members’ $5,000 can be spent, how it is to be reported and providing that their spending be posted online quarterly. The policy is not retroactive to the 2010-11 fiscal year, and does not mandate that overages from that year be repaid.

Seawell authored a guest commentary Wednesday in The Denver Post, highlighting the new policy. In the piece, she stated, “It is important to note the Board of Education did not exceed the budget for total board spending last fiscal year.

“The combined amount budgeted for member spending was $35,000 … and the board as a whole came under the amount,” she wrote. “For this reason and because the new policy is not retroactive, no board member is required to repay expenses incurred doing legitimate board business.”

Jimenez wrote to Seawell on Wednesday, copying the board office, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and district legal counsel John Kechriotis, thanking Seawell for “all of the clarification” provided by Seawell’s Post commentary.

“It should have been done earlier in your presidency to avoid repeated embarrassment to the entire district,” he wrote. “Altogether, it is a pleasant surprise that we agree and unpleasant to have to read it online.”

Seawell, at the time that the spending controversy erupted, was the board’s treasurer and in that role she took the lead in fashioning the new spending policy. An at-large representative in her first term on the board, she was elected Nov. 17 by her colleagues to serve as the board president.

In his letter to Seawell and the district, Jimenez also states that he has not signed an authorization to receive a new district credit card and that he is “not sure” he will do so “until you can assure me that procedures are in place so that ‘others,’ and they know who they are, will not be allowed to utilize our board expenditures for political fuel.’’

Jimenez won election to his second four-year term serving northwest Denver in November, holding off challenger Jennifer Draper Carson by a 142-vote margin. His spending did not become an issue in the campaign.

Merida told EdNews in early December that “I am now covering all my own expenses,” including those the board policy stipulates are eligible for reimbursement. Referring to the previous year’s overspending, she said, “that’s how I’m making it right.”

Seawell declined comment on Jimenez’s email.

“My goal was to let people know this board is moving forward together,” she said of her Post commentary. “I don’t think commenting on the specifics of his email is helpful for our relationship or for the board as a whole. ”

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