Game changer

UFT set to suggest yanking majority of board votes from mayor

The mayor would lose appointment power over a majority of seats on the city school board, which would be strengthened into a powerful check over decisions ranging from when students can be promoted to the next grade to when and how schools should be closed, under recommendations the city teachers union is set to finalize this week.

By giving the mayor a minority 5 of 13 appointments to the city school board, a group now seen as a rubber-stamp for the mayor’s agenda, the union’s recommendations carve away more authority from the mayor than the two other detailed recommendations released so far. The union also said today that it intends to endorse some of the proposals contained in other reports, including an idea proposed by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s governance commission, which would form an outside agency to analyze Department of Education data.

Sharing the recommendations with reporters this afternoon, union president Randi Weingarten said the UFT’s proposal preserves mayoral control, insisting repeatedly that the chancellor and the mayor would retain great power under the proposal. “This is not shared decision-making,” Weingarten said. “This is a check and balance to make sure that policies are done wisely and well and that the kids in this school system get what they need on a timely basis.”

Weingarten said that forcing the mayor to obtain two votes in addition to his five appointees would force more debate over school policies. The new board would also change its name, from the Panel for Education Policy — a title that is not actually written into the state law — to the Central Education Policy Council, or CEPC. The other eight appointees would include one by each borough president and three additional members: the city’s public advocate, the city comptroller, and the speaker of the City Council. The schools chancellor would serve as a non-voting member.

Weingarten will go to Albany tomorrow, presumably to share the proposal — and concerns over budget cuts — with state lawmakers. The proposal does not become official union policy until UFT members vote for it at two meetings this week, starting with an executive board meeting tonight. Weingarten said the proposal is a “balance” that would check against “recklessness.” She cited unpopular decisions by the mayor, including a re-routing of bus routes that left children stranded in the cold, and said that they would not happen under the union’s proposed reconfigured structure, because the school board would vote the proposal down.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.