board to death

Regents incumbents face ouster with last-minute round of interviews set

PHOTO: Wally Gobetz

State lawmakers have scheduled a last-minute round of interviews to fill vacant seats on the Board of Regents, which sources say is the surest sign yet that an incumbent candidate on the state’s policy-making body will be ousted.

The interviews are set for Monday at noon, a day before Assembly and Senate lawmakers vote on nominees. Assembly member Cathy Nolan, chair of the education committee, announced the interviews in an email to colleagues on Friday.

The election process has already included interviews of over 20 candidates in two days last month. But the move to add another round suggests that legislative leaders aren’t satisfied with the current crop of candidates, which include four incumbents seeking re-election. The four incumbents are James Jackson, of Albany; Christine Cea, of Staten Island; and two at-large members, Wade Norwood and James Cottrell. 

In most years, Regents seeking new terms are easily re-elected by a large Democratic bloc of lawmakers in both legislative houses. But the state’s rocky implementation of the Common Core learning standards, which the Regents approved, has stoked fierce backlash from both sides of the political aisle. The process has also caught the attention of parent advocacy groups who are aggressively lobbying for fresh faces on the board as a result of the Common Core, new teacher evaluations and other reform policies approved in recent years.

Sources say the maneuver to add a new candidate is an effort by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to ensure enough votes will be lined up to elect nominees on Tuesday. At least 107 votes are needed between the Senate and Assembly, but the normally reliable support from the legislature’s Democratic bloc has eroded.

Several Democratic seats in the legislature are currently vacant because of resignations or criminal indictments, meaning their votes won’t be counted at all. And this week, four active Democratic Senators announced that they would vote ‘no’ on the incumbent candidates in protest of the Regents’ policies, with others saying they intended to do the same.

“It’s so dramatic,” Senator George Latimer, of Westchester, said about criticism for the policies, “that I want to see members of the Board of Regents reassess these before they go further.” Latimer, the Senate’s ranking minority Democrat in the education committee, is among the four Senators who won’t vote for an incumbent, which he said is to “make a statement” about the Regents, which he said hasn’t been responsive to the criticism.

Nolan did not respond to questions about the new round of interviews. A spokesman for Silver said he could not immediately confirm the interviews. 


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.