breaking news

Live-blogging the City Council education budget hearing

I’m at the City Council and will give updates as they happen.

4:09 p.m. Hearing is over, on a sad, mixed with let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves, note.

4:02 p.m. Another thing being cut is general maintenance. There will also be 71 skilled trades workers who are based centrally and then deployed to help with repairs — plumbers, carpenters, for instance — who will lose their jobs. And Grimm said earlier that the budgets given to custodians based in schools will be reduced by about $4 million this year.

What will that mean? Likely it will mean that some assistants to custodians will lose their jobs, Grimm said. And there’s another thing: the floors. “I always say we have the best floors in New York City; our floors sparkle,” she said. “Maybe they won’t sparkle quite as much.”

3:54 p.m. For such a big-deal kind of hearing, where the DOE is giving more details on planned cuts than ever yet, the room is shockingly empty. Guess that’s what you get for being a watchdog late on a Friday afternoon.

3:50 p.m. The DOE has already alerted principals to the cuts it expects to make during the middle of this year and then next year. But of course, those cuts aren’t real until the City Council approves them. Nevertheless, this hearing keeps sounding like it’s a done deal: Grimm was just explaining that today is the deadline for principals to submit a plan on how they’ll cut their budgets this year; then, we were told, the DOE will review those plans. Finally, Susan Olds, the department’s director of budgeting, said the process will be “complete” in just a few weeks, when the review process is through.

And what about council approval? Grimm cut in with a chuckle: “Of course, the process will not be totally complete until the council votes on the package.”

3:37 p.m. John Liu, of Queens, also asked a question about the federal No Child Left Behind law. Echoing the criticism of Democrats that the law has been an “unfunded mandate,” he asked how much un-funding is happening in New York – in other words, how much isn’t New York getting. “We need to know the number so that we know how much to ask the new president for,” Liu said.

3:27 p.m. Just want to clarify, because even City Council members keep asking: No layoffs at the schools! Teachers at schools stay at the schools, and so do guidance counselors and art teachers and parent coordinators. Only administrative personnel — bureaucrats — are being fired.

3:14 p.m. John Liu of Queens is interrogating Kathleen Grimm on the DOE’s decision not to centralize kindergarten admissions, after all. He asked Grimm how much money was “wasted” moving toward that goal before it was abandoned. “I would guess it’s a least a couple of million dollars, maybe more than that,” he said. Grimm said she would have to look into it.

3:06 p.m. A council member summarized the new “empowerment” budgeting that allows school to pick a support organization to be work with, paying a fee for each organization depending on their preference. The organizations then provide help with professional development and budgeting. The member said he likes that new setup, but wonders whether the empowerment idea could be expanded, so that schools could opt out of paying for support services altogether. “Why not really do it?” he asked, adding that he visited several schools recently that said they would rather spend the money on something else, like a new art teacher. Grimm said that is something the Department of Education is considering.

2:51 p.m. Council Member Lew Fidler said that a neighbor of his replaced all the light bulbs in hise house with energy-efficient ones — and reduced his energy bill 15%. He asked whether the Department of Education could do that in schools. Grimm said the energy budget is $202 million annually for schools and said she’d look into energy-efficient light bulbs.

2:40 p.m. Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, stopped in and sparred with Grimm over the report she commissioned from the Independent Budget Office, asking how much accountability initiatives cost. She complained that her office requested the report in February, and it only came this month. She said disagreements with the Department of Education caused the long delay. “You all were arguing with the IBO to such an extent that we felt, I felt, from hearing from them that the things you were arguing about just weren’t making a whole lot of sense, and that you really didn’t want to show us how much money is being spent on accountability,” Gotbaum said.

2:20 p.m. Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor in charge of budgets, is testifying. She broke down the 475 personnel cuts the department has said are coming. From the central offices at Tweed Courthouse, 284 jobs will be cut. She said “every single office” is experiencing a reduction. Not all 284 cuts have been made yet, but she read off a list of sample jobs that have already been identified. I heard her list the Office of Communications three times, meaning at least three jobs cut from there. Also the Office of Portfolio Development, which manages new small schools and charter schools; a few technology office jobs, and at least one from the Office of Family Engagement.

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