redundant reporting?

Advocates turn up pressure as city mulls overcrowding tallies

A citywide effort to make government more efficient has prompted the Department of Education to propose eliminating a handful of the data reports it compiles each year. But as a vote on the proposal approaches, opponents are ratcheting up the pressure in hopes it will not pass.

In 2010, voters approved a referendum to create the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which would identify “outdated or redundant” functions in city agencies. Each city agency was asked to suggest ways to trim its oprerations without disrupting government services.

The education department recommended that it report class sizes once a year instead of twice and eliminate one place where it compiles the number of classrooms held in trailers.

That proposal joined 12 other reports that the seven-member commission recommended eliminating at its first meeting in February. The commission, to which the majority of members were appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, also recommended eliminating seven regulatory boards that currently operate in the city.

The commission was supposed to take a final look at the recommendations on Oct. 30, in a meeting that has been rescheduled for Nov. 19 because of a scheduling conflict. Comptroller John Liu and other education advocates say they hope the commission will use the extra time to reconsider the Department of Education’s proposal, which they characterized as an effort to cover up overcrowding issues.

“The DOE’s desire to keep parents and students in the dark about class size is an affront to anyone who cares about the quality of our public schools,” Liu said in a statement earlier this week.

Department officials want to eliminate the first of two annual class size reports that they have compiled since 2005.  The department releases class size numbers once in November, based on Oct. 31 enrollment, and once in February, based on Jan. 31 enrollment.

The Oct. 31 data is based on each school’s audited register, which the city uses for its own accountability reports, to allot school space, and to receive state aid reimbursement.

But in a slideshow presentation outlining the proposal, department officials said the data was “not as refined” as the Jan. 31 data. The February report, they said, would suffice.

The department also wants to eliminate a requirement to report the number of temporary classroom units — trailers, mostly  — that schools are using. The department said that report is redundant since it keeps track of the trailers in different reports about school space utilization.

Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson, who advocates for smaller class sizes, said the Oct. 31 class size data is more meaningful than the Jan. 31 numbers because it comes earlier in the year. She said the February report would fail to account for high school students who leave the school system toward the end of the first semester of school.

“The DOE wants to delay reporting class sizes until January because classes are smaller as a result of thousands of students having dropped out or been discharged by then,” Haimson said. She said the January reports show class sizes that are, on average, 4 percent smaller than the November reports.

Class size has been a thorn in the side of the Bloomberg administration. Parents consistently say that lowering class sizes is a top priority, but sizes have steadily increased in recent years as school budgets have gotten tighter. This year, average K-3 class sizes topped out at 24 students, up from 21 in 2007, according to Liu’s office. And the union identified 6,220 classes in 670 schools that were over their contractual limits during the first weeks of the school year.

Additionally, the department committed to remove all temporary classroom units by 2009 as part of its 2005-2009 capital plan.  But that did not happen. There are currently 363 trailers operating as classrooms in the city, down from 368 in 2005, according to Liu’s office, and the department has more recently committed to decreasing the number of units by more than 10 per year.

City officials did not respond to specific requests for comment, but insisted that no decisions on proposals will be made until the commission first makes recommendations, which was postponed to Nov. 12, a week before the vote.

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.