Proposal to conduct $1.8 million school facilities study fails after debate over municipal buildings

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed an amendment that would've lowered the building study cost from $1.8 to $1.2 million and given Shelby County Schools control.

Divisive rhetoric about whether commissioners should include the six municipal districts’ buildings undermined funding for a study to determine the long term needs of old school buildings in Shelby County.
The commissioners’ public works committee proposed that the county spend $1.8 million to “identify and prioritize the major maintenance and improvement needs” of Shelby County School buildings.
The proposal failed in a split, six-to-six vote.
The original request for a long-term building study made by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson 18 months ago included all of the schools in Shelby County. But since six municipalities formed their own districts this spring — taking about thirty percent of the county’s schools with them — several commissioners felt the study should exclude their schools.
Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed lowering the cost of the study from $1.8 million to $1.2 million to exclude the municipal schools.
“I know some of the people like to stick it to the suburbs any chance they get,” said Commissioner Terry Roland, who protested Ritz’s proposal. “But at the end of the day you’re hurting the kids in the district.” Roland added that this funding would come from the budget for 2013-2014, in which the municipal districts were still part of Shelby County Schools.
Ritz and Commissioner Sidney Chism said that the study was just supposed to look at the state of old buildings and that most of the old buildings are located within the confines of legacy Memphis city schools, not the municipal districts.
Commissioner Heidi Shafer said she is tired of all the fighting between advocates of the municipal districts and Shelby County Schools and argued that eventually the commission will need to know about buildings in every district. “For those of us who would like to move forward in something that is positive for the entire community, this really moves the community forward together as opposed to making it us against them,” said Shafer, who wanted to approve the full funding.
Ritz also proposed turning control of the funds over to Shelby County Schools instead of the county. Although the study would be conducted by outside architects, Ritz said that it should be the district, not the county who should make the decision. That amendment failed.
“Shelby County (commission) does not run the county schools, does not run the municipal schools, and I think it’s a little overreaching and paternalistic,” said Ritz.
Other commissioners said they were more comfortable with leaving the county in charge of the study. Ritz’s proposal failed in a tied vote.
Shelby County Schools has gone three years without any capital investments, according to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II.
One school, Westhaven Elementary, was in need of so much repair, it was deemed unsafe by Hopson last spring and closed despite community protests.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.