forward-looking statements

Candidates slam Bloomberg school plans that they may inherit

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 2.15.35 PMMayoral candidates spent Tuesday criticizing a slew of controversial space-sharing proposals that they’d have to inherit if they are elected to succeed Mayor Bloomberg.

“I just find it incredibly arrogant,” Bill Thompson said of the plans while campaigning with the city teachers union this morning in Queens.

Though Bloomberg has just four months left in office, he’s approved or proposed 54 school siting plans that wouldn’t take effect until at least the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, more than eight months after his administration vacates office. The Panel for Educational Policy, which Bloomberg controls, approved 25 of the plans earlier this year, and the Department of Education on Friday released proposals for another 29 plans that will be voted on next month.

Nearly 900 of the city’s 1700 schools now share space inside buildings as part of an arrangement known as “co-locations.” At least 100 charter schools share space with traditional public schools, which supporters say has helped expand the number of school options that parents have to pick from.

But critics say they pit schools against one another and force them to compete for resources and students.Many proposals, they say, are pushed through with little input — and often despite opposition — from local communities.

Friday’s proposals reignited ire from opponents who see the moves as an overreach of Bloomberg’s authority.

“Mayor Bloomberg is trying to tie the hands of the next mayor and it is wrong,” said Natasha Capers, a spokeswoman for New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which opposes many Bloomberg policies.

Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, another candidate, renewed long-standing calls to put a moratorium on co-locations and vowed to halt any of the plans slated for 2014 and beyond.

“I’m not going to let him make those decisions today for me tomorrow,” Thompson said. “I’m going to make my own decisions.”

De Blasio said he’s already found significant problems with the proposals. He said that the building capacity in many of the plans would exceed 100 percent.

“I will rescind those proposals that have clear negative impacts on schools and communities, and retain those that are essential to the system as a whole,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Despite their criticism of mayoral control under Bloomberg, both candidates have stopped short of pledging to cede any decision-making authority to local parent councils, legislative action that the teachers union supports.

Bloomberg’s plans have already prompted a lawsuit from the union. On Tuesday, union chief Michael Mulgrew said that the new proposals would be added to their complaint.

“Every time they announce another one, we’re just connecting it to the lawsuit,” said Mulgrew, who joined Thompson this morning to greet teachers on their first day back in schools. “It’s beyond arrogant at this point.”

Speaker Christine Quinn, another frontrunner for the Democratic mayoral primary, has said she supports co-locations, arguing that the arrangement is vital for charter schools.

Quinn did not respond to requests for comment.

Adam Muhsen, a biology teacher at John Adams High School, one of Thompson’s campaign stops this morning, said that he was voting for Thompson because his candidacy would signal a departure from Bloomberg’s education policies.

“As a teacher, the last thing we want is Christine Quinn,” Muhsen said, citing Quinn’s close ties on school policy to Bloomberg.

[See video from Thompson’s visit to John Adams High School below.]

Bloomberg broadly defended co-locations today in response to the candidates’ criticism, citing a study released last week that showed students who attended small high schools opened in the last decade had a better change of graduating.

“I don’t know what people are thinking about when they think things aren’t going in the right direction,” Bloomberg said.

Bill Thompson speaks to teachers about his approach to improving struggling schools. from GothamSchools on Vimeo.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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