Municipality Split

Shelby County Schools’ proposed rezoning plan reflects goal to keep students in district

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat
Students outside a school that's part of the state-run Achievement School District.

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Shelby County Schools administrators proposed a plan to redistrict thousands of students from the county’s patchwork of unincorporated areas to reflect changing boundaries shaped by plans for six new suburban school districts.

The proposal was the latest skirmish in an ongoing war between recently-merged Shelby County Schools, which includes the former Memphis City district, and six municipalities that are scrambling to split from the behemoth district and form their own school systems in the next six months, about who should educate which students.

The Shelby County district and the municipalities (Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Arlington, Bartlett and Cordova) reached agreements about which district will run which schools in December, but only after months of heated debates and to the chagrin of many Germantown residents, who lost three flagship schools.

Since then, the municipalities have made attempts to convince parents who live on the outer edges of Memphis or in unincorporated Shelby County to transfer their children into the new districts next year.

At stake are millions of state tax dollars that follow students to the schools they attend. Both districts could use the money.

Municipality officials are trying to avoid burdening suburban homeowners with even higher property and sales taxes if enrollment estimates don’t meet their expectations. Shelby County Schools officials are working to close a $24 million budget deficit caused by the expected loss of students to the municipalities, austerity cuts and students transferring to charter schools and the state-run Achievement School District (ASD).

The success of their efforts isn’t yet clear. The regional superintendent for Germantown Elementary, which will remain part of Shelby County Schools, said that of families who had completed a survey, 85 were intending to remain in the school, 75 said are undecided, and 30 intended to leave the school. She said that those numbers were in flux, as optional school programs in Shelby County Schools affected some parents’ decision to go and stay.

Uncertainty also reigns near Bartlett, where students now enrolled at Bartlett Elementary would be sent to Dexter Elementary school according to the plan. “We don’t know how many students will choose to stay or go if they have an opportunity to stay in Bartlett,” said Denise Sharpe, the district’s planner. While these families live, in some instances, just blocks from what will soon be considered municipal schools, they are technically in Shelby County Schools’ boundaries, meaning the district is obligated to provide their children with an education.

Shelby County Schools board members have yet to vote on the plans.

The district’s plan, detailed in a 26-page power-point presentation, shows changes that affect thousands of students scattered throughout Shelby County, many of whom are now in schools that are slated to become part of the municipal school districts. Students will have to travel as far as 14 miles, according to district planner Sharpe. Two schools in rural areas will be converted to K-8 schools.

Though some of the schools in the northeast part of the district will be at more than 100 percent of their capacity due to the plan, Sharpe said principals were prepared to deal with the new students.

The rezoning proposal also includes a plan to send students currently zoned to Memphis’ Fairview Middle School to Hamilton and Sherwood Middle Schools in order to make room for a new optional school in the Fairview building.

Board members raised concerns about the rezoning proposals and asked for some changes. Board member David Reaves questioned the efficiency of the proposal involving students near Collierville. Board member Teresa Jones wondered if community voice was factored into any of the decisions.

Jones, board member Shante Avant, and board member Billy Orgel questioned whether the new optional school at Fairview should be optional-only or whether it should also admit neighborhood students.

The board will likely discuss rezoning plans again during its business meeting next week. Hopson’s administration has proposed at least five tentative rezoning public hearings on the issue. The board did not indicate when they would vote on the issue.

The proposed rezoning plan could reduce transportation costs for the district, but Hopson said that once the district factors in its state funding, which will largely depend on enrollment, any savings could be a “wash.”

A few board members expressed concern that a rezoning plan may drive parents to a municipal district if students are bused too far from home.

Board chair Kevin Woods suggested creating an “inter-local agreement” with Collierville schools to educate some students zoned to SCS.

“We don’t know who is going to show up and it’s tough to plan for that,” said Hopson after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re competing with the municipalities, charters and the ASD.”

<a href=””>SCS DistrictWide Rezonings Board Work 2 19 14 (PDF)</a></p><br /><br /><br />
<p><a href=””>SCS DistrictWide Rezonings Board Work 2 19 14 (Text)</a><br /><br /><br /><br />

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

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