Contentious union meeting leaves deal to avert layoffs in question

A meeting among the city’s public unions over a proposal that would help avert more than 4,100 teacher layoffs erupted in “fireworks” today, leaving prospects for a budget deal uncertain.

According to a union official who attended, dissension was sparked over the proposal to withdraw millions of dollars per month from a union-controlled health insurance fund. That money would be redirected toward closing a $270 million budget gap in the education department.

“Let’s just say there was a lot of fireworks,” the person said.

The meeting was called by Harry Nespoli, President of the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization of all of the city’s public unions. Earlier this week, he floated the idea of tapping into the fund – known as the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund – at a smaller meeting between just union leaders.

The meeting today, which was open to a larger swath of union members, was also planned by Nespoli. He said he hoped to build consensus on whether or not to move forward with negotiations. Now, it’s clear that’s not the case.

After this afternoon’s meeting, Nespoli issued a brief statement. “I can tell you that there is a lot of mistrust of City Hall based upon the way we have been treated in the last eight months or so. That is all I am going to say right now.”

Mayor Bloomberg has maintained a hard line on teacher layoffs since November. But this week, he expressed an openness to compromise to avert the cuts after Nespoli and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed the idea.

But unions that wouldn’t directly benefit from the proposal aren’t fully on board, especially since the fund is available to all city employees.

Yesterday, Nespoli estimated that the fund totaled just over $300 million and said tapping it dry was off the table. “I can’t take everything out,” he said yesterday.

One version of the proposal, according to the official, involved withdrawing between $20-$30 million per month from the fund. Projected over 12 months, that would total a range of $240 million and $360 million.

That would meet the estimated $270 million that Mayor Bloomberg says the city would save from laying off more than 4,000 teachers. A separate estimate, conducted by the Independent Budget Office, pegs those savings at $100 million less.

Negotiations are by no means halted, but Nespoli insisted yesterday that any deal would have to involve bargaining from all three players.

“We can’t cover everything,” he said. “This has to be a combination of the unions, the mayor and the city council.”

Unified support from the union coalition is crucial, however. In order for any deal to pass, it has to be voted on and approved by the MLC, which is made up of 90 unions.

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.