Five-hour budget meeting sheds light on possible teacher bonuses, cuts and expenses

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
SCS Chief Academic Officer Roderick Richmond presents his department's plans for budget cuts and spending.

Shelby County Schools’ administrators gave insight into their plan to reward teachers for their performance in the classroom during a five-hour budget and finance committee meeting Friday.

Teachers with a proven track record of success can look forward to either a general pay or differentiated pay increase in the proposed 2014-15 budget, administrators said. They have not made a final decision yet.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said $15.6 million has been earmarked to provide teachers with a monetary incentive and reward.

“At the end of the day we want to come up with something that is fair for teachers to thank them for working hard and doing well,” Hopson said. “Talent is always a challenge; people see our lowest-performing schools as places they don’t want to go.  We have to develop our own teachers.”

During Friday’s meeting, members of Hopson’s leadership cabinet presented board members with individual department budget cuts and areas of investment.  All of the departments were hit with staff reductions.

In some departments the staff reductions were less than five positions while other departments are set to lose 50 positions or more.

SCS’s budget was cut by $227 million as a result of a loss of 33 schools that will become a part of the six municipal school districts in 2014-15.

With the district’s teacher compensation program, Hopson said all of the districts are in competition to attract and keep the best teachers.

SCS’s idea to reward high-performing teachers is a starting point, he said.

The district is considering whether to offer one-time bonus pay for all teachers or a more specific scale that uses teachers’ valued-added scores to determine the percentage of a pay increase a teacher would receive.

Under state law, all Tennessee school districts will be required in the 2014-15 school year to provide a differentiated pay plan for teachers.

According to the budget, a strategic compensation plan will be proposed by Jan. 15, 2015.

In the investment portion of the budget presentations, SCS ‘s focus next year will be on literacy programs and $5.9 million in proposed spending on a blended learning program. The blended learning program is a pilot initiative that will provide 17 schools with access to computers students can take home to continue learning.

Hopson said with Shelby County closing 10 schools next year, the schools that will absorb students from those schools will  receive additional support to address literacy and low proficiency rates.  Funds in academics and federal projects are geared to provide kindergarten through third grade reading teachers with more training and investing in testing to determine reading levels of students.

In cost-saving measures, SCS is planning to outsource its busing services and sell its fleet of buses for a projected $4.8 million as well as outsource janitorial services.

The board’s goal is to have a balanced budget adopted by June 30 and submit the budget to the state by Aug. 1.

The next step in the budgeting process is to allow community input and questions.  There will be  four meetings throughout the district beginning on March 17 through March 21.  All meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.

After the meeting, the board’s budget and finance committee chairman Chris Caldwell said he believes blended learning is a good investment and he also praised the efforts of I-Zone schools.

“After studying the budget, I see more than 50 percent of the money is going toward low-performing schools and we’re also investing in programs for high-achieving students,” Caldwell said. “I think this budget is the most comprehensive that I’ve seen and it’s given us a good foundation to start.”

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