nice guys finish last

Administrator dinged for bailing out teacher facing foreclosure

When a special education teacher at M.S. 302 in the South Bronx found out in late 2009 that, like so many other Americans at the time, she was at risk of losing her house to foreclosure, she went to her assistant principal for help.

The assistant principal, Larry Thornton, offered her a deal: He would buy the house from her, but then he would rent it out to her so she could continue living there. The teacher accepted the offer and had a lawyer hammer out all of the details.

A month later, Thornton needed a helping hand himself. He went to the teacher — now also his tenant — to get a loan of $5,000. He must have seemed like a safe bet: A year earlier, he had borrowed from the teacher and paid back his loan in full. The teacher issued the loan and retired a few weeks later, in January 2010.

Today, the city’s Conflict of Interests Board announced that Thornton would pay a $3,500 fine for the transactions, which violated a city rule that bars employees from doing business with superiors or subordinates. Thornton accepted the ruling and agreed to pay the fine, according to a disposition the board released.

According to a press release, both the board’s investigative arm and a city office that looks into allegations of wrongdoing at schools, the Special Commissioner of Investigation, had worked on determining that the illicit transactions had taken place.

The Department of Education is not pursuing any further action against Thornton, according to a spokeswoman. The spokeswoman, Connie Pankratz, said the department considers employees’ conflicts of interest violations on a case-by-case basis and seeks additional consequences only if the violations also break department rules.

But sometimes, transactions like the one the conflicts board determined that Thornton had with the teacher he supervised do wind up costing school workers their jobs.

In one prominent example, the city moved to fire Jose Maldonado-Rivera, the founding principal of Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering, after city concluded that he had engaged in an “inappropriate financial relationship” with the school’s parent coordinator. The investigators found that Maldonado-Rivera had paid the parent coordinator to babysit his son and had allowed her to live rent-free in his home.

The offenses likely would not have yielded such harsh sanctions if they had been the only times Maldonado-Rivera had been cited for flouting department rules. But the department had placed him on a two-year probation just months earlier Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon found that he had not sufficiently supervised a field trip on which a Columbia Secondary School student drowned. The probation meant that any offense would be grounds for dismissal.

Today’s conflicts ruling was not accompanied by a report from Condon’s office, nor has the office previously released a report about Thornton or M.S. 302. Condon publicizes only a fraction of SCI’s reports, even when allegations are substantiated.

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.