kick the can

Union charter school gets a harsh review and an uncertain fate

When members of SUNY’s Board of Trustees consider whether the nation’s first union-run charter school deserves to stay open, they won’t have much guidance.

That’s because in what could be an unprecedented move, reviewers from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute have declined to recommend a fate for the struggling UFT Charter School in East New York.

The reviewers did not recommend that the school stay open, or that it be closed — despite saying that academic performance was not up to par, discipline bordered on corporal punishment, high-need students were underserved, and basic mechanisms to keep students safe were not in place.

Without the advice, the decision will be left up to a three-member SUNY Charter Schools Committee, which will meet Tuesday morning to consider renewals for 10 charter schools. The UFT Charter School was the lone school not given an endorsement for renewal.

In a report that was also harshly critical of the school’s operations and financial mismanagement, which left the school with a $2.8 million budget deficit, reviewers wrote that they opted out of making a recommendation because not all grades performed poorly enough to justify revocation. The school’s third and fourth grades, which the review recognized for their relatively high test scores, performed well enough to stay open.

James Merriman and Jonas Chartock, former executive directors at the Institute, both said they couldn’t recall an instance when SUNY issued a renewal report that didn’t actually make a renewal recommendation.

“I don’t know of another instance where a recommendation report did not contain a specific recommendation to either renew or not renew,” Merriman, now CEO of the New York City Charter Center, said in an email.

Since it began authorizing charter schools in 2001, the SUNY Charter School Institute has earned a reputation for closing schools that don’t meet its own high authorizing standards. In all, it has closed ten schools since 2004.

But UFT Charter School’s status is a politically sensitive one and the unusual renewal report was highly anticipated.

It also comes at a time when some charter school supporters have called on state authorizers to be more stringent when renewing struggling charter schools. Merriman told Schoolbook that that standard for renewal for authorizers in New York State — including SUNY — “is becoming increasingly low.”

When it opened in 2005, the UFT Charter School was held up by union leaders as a promising experiment that would prove a point to critics: Union contracts could exist in successful charter schools. By posting higher scores, the school would “dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success,” Randi Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said at the time of its opening.

But the school experienced a high rate of teacher and leadership turnover early on. Over the last seven years, five principals have been in charge of the middle and high schools; 30 teachers left the school two years ago during a staff shakeup. The school has lost dozens of students amidst the tumult and the ones who stayed have not performed as well academically as similar students who attend nearby district schools.

Executive Director Shelia Evans-Tranumn did not respond to messages left on her phone this afternoon. But in a statement provided by a union spokesman, she said school officials “take issue with some of the assertions made in the report.”

She said the school has altered its disciplinarian and school safety policies, which reviewers wrote had in past years resembled corporal punishment and contributed to the high student attrition.

“All substantiated incidents of inappropriate discipline – often involving verbal rather than physical confrontations – have resulted in further training for the staff involved,” Evans-Tranumn said. “The school has intensified its overall counseling on how to deal with disruptive behavior by students.”

High attrition was also one reason the school faces steep debt. The school lost $1 million in funding when 75  students left the school in a short period of time, according to documents provided at a school board meeting last year.  The school also has to payback another $1.8 million in loans made by the teachers union.

The report also said that the school was not conducting criminal background checks for its employees. Evans-Tranumn said that the school has since updated its fingerprint files for all employees or contractors working at the school.

And students with several disabilities were not adequately being served at the school, according to the report. But Evans-Tranumn said that some of their parents “have determined that they do not want to relocate their children and believe their children’s needs are being met in the less restrictive environment of the UFT Charter School.”

UFT Charter School Renewal Report — SUNY by

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

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.