City, school district on cusp of lawsuit settlement

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

If the Memphis City Council approves a proposal to settle a six-year-old school funding lawsuit between the city and Shelby County Schools, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Tuesday he plans to invest the city’s first payment of $6 million in the district’s Innovation Zone.

Hopson encouraged the school board Tuesday night to support the proposed settlement saying “a compromise has been reached, and it’s time to put the lawsuit behind us.”

The board took Hopson’s recommendation almost unanimously, with Chairwoman Teresa Jones abstaining because she works for the city.

Hopson and Memphis Mayor AC Wharton brokered the agreement over several months of conversations, with the final hashing out of a payment plan taking place over this past weekend, Hopson said.

But there’s one final hurdle the proposed lawsuit settlement must clear:  the city council. This could prove difficult since the city has challenged two court rulings that determined it underfunded Memphis City Schools by $57 million in the 2008-09 school year.

The 13-member council met Tuesday, shortly after learning, in a letter from Wharton, about the proposed settlement. The council didn’t take up the lawsuit issue. Its next meeting is Jan. 6. The Commercial Appeal reported discussions on the issue will continue on Jan. 8.

“The tricky thing with this proposal is that it requires everyone to be on board. The school board is on board, I’m on board, and Mayor Wharton is on board. Now it’s up to the city council to see if this proposal moves forward or not,” Hopson said during a post meeting interview with Chalkbeat Tennessee.

The agreement allows the city to pay the debt without raising taxes and provides the district with Memphis Police school resource officers and assumption of an $8 million debt the former Memphis City Schools incurred in 1998.

Under the payment plan, the schools would receive $32.7 million over a 13-year period with the first payment of $6 million due by Feb. 1, 2015. During the first three years, the city would make annual payments of $1.3 million and in fourth year through the 12th years of the plan, the city would pay $2.2 million.

“We strongly urge city council to put this behind us,” Hopson said.

This is not the first time Hopson has mentioned investing in the iZone. Before talks of a settlement were public, Hopson talked about combining some school buildings to provide iZone services and searching for expansion funding.

The iZone, is the district’s effort to turnaround low performing schools by giving them flexibility over their budgets, staffing, schedules, and programming. It has been funded through federal School Improvement Grants, or SIG money, which runs out in 2016.

It has proven successful so far with six of the 13 schools in the effort improving enough that they are no longer at risk for state intervention.

Word of how the money would be spend was not lost on Sharon Griffin, regional superintendent of the iZone.

“That’s good news, but I want more clarity about the details,” said Griffin after Tuesday’s meeting.  Griffin said the iZone schools are working on a plan for sustaining their work without additional funding, but that they also pursuing philanthropic money to support their work.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.