compromising control

Cuomo’s three-year mayoral control extension gains steam with Assembly support

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

Assembly leaders have agreed to support a three-year extension of mayoral control for New York City schools, offering a proposal Thursday that does not include any other changes to the city’s governance structure.

The proposal, which emerged after a closed-door meeting among Democrats in the Assembly on Tuesday, is a mixed bag for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who would get a shorter extension than he hoped but would avoid other tweaks that could diminish his power. The new expiration date for mayoral control would move to June 30, 2018 under the Assembly’s bill, which was sponsored by Speaker Carl Heastie, education committee chair Catherine Nolan, and Richard Gottfried.

The move signals that the city’s school governance, one of several education questions still facing lawmakers this legislative session, could be among the first to get settled. The three-year extension matches Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal and drew praise from the de Blasio administration, a close ally to the Assembly. (The Assembly originally proposed a seven-year extension.)

Senate Republicans, who will need to sign off on the agreement, have stayed mum on the issue for most of the legislative session. That changed this week when new conference leader John Flanagan said he would support a mayoral control extension without specifying for how long.

Matthew Titone, an assemblyman from Staten Island, said keeping the law the same could avoid contentious negotiations at a time when both houses of the legislature have other priorities.

“It’s already in place,” said Titone, referring to the framework of mayoral control. “There’s nothing new.”

Mayoral control has been in place since 2002, but will expire in June unless state legislators reauthorize the law that dismantled the city’s 32 local school boards. Under the centralized system, the mayor was given the power to choose the schools chancellor, oversee the system’s $26 billion education budget, and set policies for the city’s 1,600 district schools. The law also created the Panel for Educational Policy, which signs off on many changes but is controlled by the mayor.

The law briefly expired in 2009, in part because lawmakers were haggling over small changes. Assembly Democrats said they did not want to open up the law to detailed negotiations this time to avoid a repeat of the confusion that followed, which included a short reappearance of the Board of Education and weeks of legal ambiguity.

The trade-off for de Blasio is a shorter renewal period than the one his predecessor received when lawmakers finally reached a deal on mayoral control six years ago. Titone said it allowed for a timely review of de Blasio’s program to improve struggling schools, which ends in 2017.

Earlier this year, de Blasio was so concerned about the status of mayoral control that he made it the primary focus of his lobbying efforts in Albany. The mayor asked legislators to make mayoral control permanent, saying that would ensure the stability of a system that had been proven to raise the achievement of city students. But his administration’s legislative priorities have since shifted to eliminating real estate tax breaks, something prolonged negotiations over mayoral control could distract from.

“We’re appreciative that both the Governor and the Assembly Democratic conference have registered their intent to see Mayoral Control extended,” city spokesman Wiley Norvell said, adding that the city believes that it should be extended permanently.

The Assembly’s proposal is likely to frustrate some advocates who believed the mayor has too much unchecked power over education policy. At forums held by Public Advocate Letitia James earlier this year, some raised the ideas of giving the city’s 32 Community Education Councils the ability to nix plans for schools to share space, taking contract oversight duties away from the Panel for Educational Policy, and putting more members on the panel who are independent of de Blasio.

James has yet to release policy recommendations from those forums, although a spokeswoman said they would be released next week. In a statement, James said “provisions that expand parental and community involvement,” but did not offer any specifics.

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