if at first you don't succeed

On second try, de Blasio secures teachers union endorsement

BUemAtbCMAI4HiMThe city teachers union formally endorsed Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio this afternoon, putting a finishing touch on a delicate post-primary process that included a secret meeting at the the union’s headquarters over the weekend.

The endorsement comes two days after de Blasio’s closest rival and the union’s original pick, Bill Thompson, conceded in the Democratic primary. Made with little of the fanfare that accompanied the union’s decision to back Thompson in June, the endorsement also shifts the focus of the mayoral race fully onto the race between de Blasio and Republican nominee Joe Lhota.

De Blasio spoke to teachers who make up the union’s Delegate Assembly at UFT headquarters shortly after they voted on a resolution to give him their endorsement. He then appeared with President Michael Mulgrew and about a dozen supporters at a staid press conference in a building next door.

De Blasio credited Mulgrew for brokering the concession agreement with Thompson, which took place at UFT headquarters on Saturday night. Mulgrew said the conversation between the primary rivals was not contentious.

“In the end, the decision was made that what was in the best interest of the city was to unite the Democratic party to make sure that a Democrat becomes the mayor of New York City and not the Republican nominee,” Mulgrew said.

“On Monday, you saw a result of that conversation,” he added.

De Blasio aggressively sought the union’s endorsement earlier this year but was passed up in favor of Thompson, who was seen as having a clearer path to victory.

In the lead-up to the primary election, the union focused most of its campaigning efforts on supporting Thompson, spending $2.6 million on communications and advertising for his candidacy.

But occasionally, tension with de Blasio surfaced as he shot to the top of polls in August. First, Mulgrew mocked de Blasio’s unsuccessful pursuit of the union’s endorsement after de Blasio made comments about being unencumbered by union interests when it comes time to negotiate new labor contracts. De Blasio compared himself to Mayor Bloomberg to characterize his independence to bargain with the teachers union.

Mulgrew, in response, said, “I am surprised he would have found our endorsement such a potential threat to his independence, particularly since he was on my calendar so many times earlier this year, many of our staff members thought he had an office in our building.”

Mulgrew also joined Thompson’s supporters in criticizing de Blasio’s plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, a proposal that would require approval from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Today, Mulgrew signaled that he remained skeptical of de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes, even as he said he appreciates de Blasio’s promises.

“It’s getting it done is really what the vision and the goal here is,” Mulgrew said of de Blasio’s proposal. “We’ve been hearing about all day pre-K for 40 years and no one’s figured it out and he is saying he is completely committed to getting it done.”

A lot of attention was placed on the union’s failed endorsement, with suggestions that it would hurt its relationship with whoever occupied City Hall next. But de Blasio suggested that it would be water under the bridge moving forward.

And Mulgrew said that even though the union did pick the winning candidate in the primary, it had influenced the election results and would do so in the general election as well.

“The members know that where we endorsed Mr. Thompson and where he ended up was … very positive,” he said. “He moved up quite a bit and I was very proud of the work our union has done.”

De Blasio said that as a parent whose two children attended public schools (his now-famous son Dante attended M.S. 51 in Park Slope and now goes to Brooklyn Technical High School) the support from teachers meant more than a political notch in his belt.

“Chirlane and I have just the deepest appreciation for the dozens and dozens of teachers who took Chiara and Dante by the hand over the last 14 years and supported them, uplifted them, were there for them in so many ways,” de Blasio said. “We have had an extraordinary experience just as parents seeing just how good the teachers of this city are in every sense.””I think this support today strengthens our political coalition that will allow us to make the changes we need.”

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