Follow the money

Fariña, grilled about summer program cuts, hints that a solution is on the way

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York, at a rally outside City Hall on Thursday as budget hearings continued inside.

Education officials struggled to explain an abrupt cut to middle-school summer programs at a budget hearing Thursday, as pressure mounted for the city to restore funds to avoid layoffs and cancellations.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told council members she thought they would see a resolution “soon” to the cuts, which advocates and program directors estimated will affect at least 35,000 children and were first reported by Chalkbeat. It was the de Blasio administration’s first acknowledgement that officials were negotiating to restore the funds, but program directors and council members said they were still waiting for details.

“It’s totally creating havoc in many families’ lives, and it’s incredibly frustrating for us from the council’s perspective,” said Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the council’s finance committee.

Fariña did not elaborate when Ferreras and other council members asked why the cuts happened after money was allocated and program directors had begun hiring staff and enrolling students.

“Well, this is obviously something we’re working on,” said Fariña, who then deferred questions to the department’s chief financial officer, Raymond Orlando. Orlando also did not offer insight into the timing, but said the money would benefit struggling schools that were starting up their own after-school and summer programs.

That was one of many instances during Thursday’s hearings when council members expressed frustration with the education department’s budgets, which total $34.5 billion. The council is charged with overseeing the city’s spending and budgeting, but Ferreras said that process had been “completely hampered” because the city was two months late submitting its proposed five-year capital budget.

But it was the maneuver to cut funding to after-school summer programs that roused the most criticism. In the middle of Fariña’s testimony, several council members left to join a rally outside City Hall organized by a coalition of organizations affected by the cut.

“Mayor de Blasio, ‘We’re looking into it’ is not an answer,” said Council member Helen Rosenthal, who said a program planned for a NYCHA development in her district lost 64 seats.

After-school program directors say they were cut off guard by the cuts. The Department of Youth and Community Development had told them months earlier that they had been granted additional funding to continue their programs over the summer, extending the de Blasio administration’s signature after-school initiative.

Earlier this month, the providers were told that the money had been redirected to support the city’s program to turn around 94 struggling schools. Programs not affiliated with public schools were also cut, including Beacon community centers and the Cornerstone programs that operate in public housing. The Campaign for Children, a 150-member coalition of early education and after-school groups, says it still has not been told how many programs were affected.

The cuts totaled $27.7 million, according to the council’s analysis of the budget. All told, $55.5 million in after-school funding will be redirected, according to a report from the Independent Budget Office.

It is the city’s second round of budget hearings since Mayor Bill de Blasio came into office. While the City Council and the administration remained aligned politically, the tension showed that some of the goodwill afforded to the administration during last year’s budget negotiations was wearing off.

Still, the hearing was friendly in comparison to the testy budget meetings during the Bloomberg administration, when officials often withheld funding to social-service programs to gain leverage in final budget negotiations.

“We don’t want to negotiate in this fashion,” Ferreras said. “We were supposed to be eliminating the budget dance. We were supposed to be eliminating these moments of contention because we’re all in this together.”

Fariña’s hints at a coming resolution did little to reassure the after-school providers, who said they had not received an indication from the administration that it would be settled this week. Advocates cautioned the city last week that they need assurances by Friday in order to have enough time to get background checks for new staff, buy art supplies, and book field trips by the time programs begin on July 6.

“Without a commitment of a solution, we have to start the wheels turning to cancel everything,” said Michelle Yanche, an assistant executive director at Good Shepherd Services, which stands to lose 750 seats across 11 programs. “And once those wheels are set in motion it is really not possible to change course again to pull off a quality program in any kind of timely way.”

Four of those programs would have operated in public housing projects, Yanche said. Two programs operate in developments the city has deemed its most violent, leaving Yanche concerned for the safety of children she had planned to serve.

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