Bartlett board bypasses protocol so employees will have health insurance on time

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
Board Chair Jeff Norris consults with Barlett' City Schools' attorney, who along with six other attorneys, will be responsible for drafting the new health policy that the board passed this evening.

In a rush to provide its new employees health insurance, Bartlett City Schools board members passed an unfinished health benefits package that they had not yet seen before their meeting Monday.
Bartlett City Schools, which will become one of six new municipal districts in Shelby County this fall, is joining with four other municipal districts and the cities of Bartlett and Colierville to offer new health insurance policies to its employees. Teachers keep their old Shelby County Schools health insurance until Sept. 1 but the district staff’s insurance expires July 1, so the board added the policy at the last minute.
“This will not be the normal course of business moving forward,” said Jeff Norris, the board chair. “This is not ideal to execute these things without allowing you to see them.”
The potential new health care agreement is a complicated process that involves the lawyers of each of the seven entities and takes time, according to board members. “But the attorneys are going to lock themselves in a room and have this done by the end of day tomorrow,” said Norris. Little detail was given about the policy at Monday’s meeting.
The five districts and two cities need to form a joint trust with a board of trustees in order to protect themselves legally and financially, according to Bartlett Superintendent David Stephens. “My  [chief financial officer] looked at the agreement and said I don’t want Bartlett to be responsible for transferring funds for other entities,” Stephens said.
While board members haven’t seen the policy yet, they are comfortable with the broad outlines of the health plan and said the yet-to-be-written parts are just legal details. “There is no expertise on the board that is going to change what happens,” Norris said.
The imminence of the start of its first school year came up again when discussing Stephens’ potential bonus earnings as superintendent. One of his performance goals will be for the year to get off to a good start, as measured on Aug. 28. But board members discussed whether that was enough time to judge his performance.
“What we want to be careful about is not to make an evaluation based on popularity or perception,” said Bryan Woodruff, a board member. “Sometimes a couple of bad bumps in the road catch some ugly press which may not be a reflection of actual performance in that area.”
Other board members disagreed about whether to even expect a great beginning.
“I think our people are not looking for everything to go smooth as silk,” said board member Shirley Jackson. “I think what we’re looking to do is when something happens say, ‘Let’s fix that,’ whatever that is.”
The board chose to push back the evaluation of the superintendents’s job four weeks from the start of the year, according to Norris. “That way we’ll be able to see what bumps occur and how they’re fixed and how quickly they’re fixed,” said Norris.
Norris also quoted Stephens as having said, with all his years of experience, that “the board will know [whether or not the school year is going well]. Your cell phones will know.”
The board started off the meeting by singing Stephens happy birthday and later passed the bonus package, which could be worth as much as $20,000.

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