Shelby County Schools

After shuffling, SCS administrators reduce teacher layoffs by 178

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.

Shelby County Schools is now cutting 42 teaching positions, not the initial 220 that it estimated earlier this week, administrators said in a board meeting Thursday. Those teachers will be able to apply for 37 new teaching positions the district created using funds from a federal grant.

The cuts are in response to enrollment numbers that are well below the 117,000 students the district had estimated would come to school, according to Dorsey Hopson II, the district’s superintendent. At this point, Shelby County has closer to 113,000 students and some 7,000 teachers, district officials said. An additional 10,000 Memphis students are attending charter schools, and 6,500 attend schools in the state-run Achievement School District. Schools receive state funding based on enrollment figures that are taken after the 20th day of the school year.

At the same time, the district is creating 37 new teaching positions, most of them in reading or literacy, funded with leftover money from a federal Race to the Top grant. Although the grant period ended July 1, the district received a waiver from the state to continue approved work with the remaining funds. Shelby County has $5 million left earmarked specifically for turning around low-performing schools and promoting effective teachers and leaders, among a few other categories.

The district will hold a hiring fair for all open positions for excessed staff on Monday.

At a meeting of the district’s board’s Budget and Finance committee meeting Thursday, Hopson said that while approximately 1,500 of the students were estimated to have gone to the new school districts in the Memphis suburbs, 2,500 students expected to enroll the district simply have not appeared this year. “We think some may have gone to DeSoto (Miss.),” Hopson said. “We think a significant portion are just not in school.”

The district also plans to cut six assistant principal positions, six counselor positions, and 17 clerical positions.

Hopson said the cuts would be concentrated in schools that had serious mismatches in staff and enrollment. At Vollentine Elementary, which was supposed to take in students from nearby Klondike Elementary, now an ASD-run charter school, he said that three second grade teachers had classes of 11 students each. The school will cut one of those teachers.

He said that other cuts would be determined partly based on teachers’ scores on their evaluations.

“We really dug deep to make sure these cuts aren’t going to have an adverse affect on schools,” said Hopson.

Some schools were able to stave off cuts. Sharpe Elementary principal Gary Zimmerman said that after he received his projected student enrollment report, he sacrificed a much-needed reading specialist position and moved that teacher into a first-grade classroom.

“Every principal received the report. Some of us gained or lost a teacher, and some were able to maintain current staff,” he said.

Hopson said that not all of the 37 new positions would be matches for the qualifications of the 42 teachers whose jobs are being cut.

“Those positions will be mostly be in priority schools, schools with efficiency issues, schools that need gap closures and schools that have been rated level 1 or level 2 [the lowest scores on the state’s accountability system] for years,” Hopson said. “We’re going to deploy those teachers strategically.”

It is unclear how the district will sustain the new positions after the money is gone and as the district continues to experience drops in enrollment.

All teachers, including those being excessed, will receive bonuses based on their evaluation scores from last year in October.

Memphis-Shelby County Education Association president Keith Williams was surprised to learn the district reduced the number of teachers facing layoffs Thursday evening.

“It’s encouraging news, but we want to know if the teachers who’ve been waiting on the re-employment list can also take part in Monday’s fair,” Williams said. “They have been waiting to find positions as well.”

The district’s excessing guidelines require a principal ensure the school stays within state-mandated class-size requirements and provides all classes necessary for a student to graduate.

The district has gone through several rounds of job cuts in the past year. Close to 50 teachers are still on the district’s re-employment list, according to the M-SCEA. The M-SCEA filed a lawsuit arguing that tenured teachers should be placed in positions before other candidates and should not have to interview for a job.

At Thursday’s meeting, Hopson said that the district is likely to have some extra funds by the end of this coming year, due to reduced facilities costs after school closings and because so many staff resigned to work in the new municipal districts. He suggested the district might make a one-time payment to teachers to help them with health insurance payments. The board and the county would need to approve any use of those funds.

Board members suggested that the district act quickly to create a committee or work with local organizations and the justice system to identify where the missing students are and to encourage them to come back to school.

Board member Chris Caldwell also presented an update on the governor’s committee on BEP, the state’s funding formula for schools. He said that the committee recommended giving teachers around the state raises of either $5,000 or $10,000 in 2015-16. The state’s legislature would have to vote on that change.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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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