the chopping block

On the budget cuts, more that we know, and more that we don't

I live-blogged the City Council hearing on the education budget today, where school officials explained in more detail than ever before how they plan to cut $180 million from the Department of Education budget in the middle of the year. Here’s an overview of what we know now — and what we still don’t.


  • If the plan goes through as the DOE has outlined, schools will have lost about $560 million total since the mid-year cuts last year. The cuts have come from both the central bureaucracy and school budgets. How it breaks down:

  • A substantial portion of cuts will come from cutting 475 administrative positions, moves that not only cut out their salaries but also add to the “fringe” blue portion of the graph above, since the department will no longer have to cover those employees’ benefits. Of the 475 total job cuts planned for the middle of the school year, none are teaching jobs, and no full-time school positions will be cut — although principals could choose to cut back on the hours that non-teaching staff like cafeteria aides put in.
  • The largest bulk of those jobs, 284, will come from the DOE’s central offices at Tweed Courthouse. So far, 51 jobs have been selected for elimination. Those come from the Office of Portfolio Development, which manages new small schools and charter schools; the Office of Communications, which includes the press spokesmen and people who put out internal newsletters; the internal technology department; and the Office of Family Engagement, which helps parents get involved in the public schools.
  • There are three other sets of job cuts: 43 vacant positions that had been slotted for social workers monitoring pre-kindergarten programs will not be filled; 54 jobs will be lost from the Integrated Service Centers, which are strung across the boroughs and offer schools legal help, human resources staff, and other help; and 95 are jobs related to maintaining school facilities, including 71 plumbing and electrician “trade” jobs and 24 administrative jobs.
  • Schools are bearing the largest brunt of the cuts in terms of hard dollar figures, though as a percentage of total spending, central administration is cutting more — 6% of its budget compared to 1.3% for schools.
  • Other cuts are from a smattering of programs and cost-saving methods, including not hiring Teaching Fellows during the middle of the year and changing the way faculty are paid to grade standardized tests, by taking $11 million out of the $22 million that had been slated to pay teachers to grade them in their after-work hours. (Now, non-classroom teachers will be expected to grade the tests during school hours.)


  • What will schools cut from their budgets to carve out the 1.3% that’s been ordered (pending City Council approval)? Principals had to turn in plans explaining this to the Department of Education, and the DOE promised to share the details with City Council members as soon as it knows them.
  • How will the department find 233 more positions to axe at its Tweed Courthouse headquarters? That’s the number that still haven’t been identified as on the chopping block — and which, presumably, school officials still haven’t figured out.
  • Will the City Council approve the cuts as the DOE outlined them, or will it ask for revisions? Today there were some voices of dissent: Robert Jackson, the education committee chair, said that he is not yet ready to approve the plan until he sees specifically what schools are going to cut, and other members pleaded for more efficiency at the department. Still, no council member specified a cut they wanted to see that the department wasn’t making, or drew a line in the sand that a planned cut would prevent them from signing off. The strongest voice was the public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, who asked the department to cut diagnostic tests given during the year as well as the ARIS data warehouse. But she does not sit on the council.
  • The Department of Education has not yet outlined how it plans to cut its budget in the next school year, and that will be an even bigger challenge. The cut the mayor asked from that budget: $385 million.

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