Colorado

Monday Churn: Update on budget cuts

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The Colorado School Finance Project, which tracks K-12 spending and budgets, estimates that district cuts in the upcoming 2011-12 school year could be as high as $287 million. The project released its final report recently, after districts had completed their budgets ahead of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

The project’s two sets of numbers are samples and estimates, not a full data collection, but they give an overall idea of the situation.

Some 60 districts responded to a project questionnaire about budget plans. Those responses came up with a range of $191 to $211 million in cuts. Participating districts represent 60 percent of student enrollment statewide. (Read the report.)

The project also compiled a list from information reported in local news outlets. That survey found a range of total cuts from $274 to $287 million for 83 districts covering 90 percent of enrollment. The state has 178 districts. (Get full report and shorter summary.)

School finance legislation passed last spring cut $228 million from total program funding, which covers basic school operating costs from a combination of state and local revenues. (Another $67.5 million will be available to districts next year to partially compensate for enrollment growth and local revenue losses.) But, school districts have additional expenses, other sources of revenue and varying levels of reserves, so total program doesn’t necessarily reflect the full picture of cuts. (Total program funding is about $5.2 billion next year.)

Finally, the project culled questionnaire responses and news reports to spotlight budget trends. That document noted continued use of staff reductions, salary freezes and furlough days by districts. Other cost-cutting steps include increased class loads for teachers in upper grades, reduction of electives and other specialized classes, deferred building maintenance, outsourcing of some functions and higher fees for students and families. (See trend summary.)

A fourth candidate has emerged for the at-large seat on the Denver school board. Baker neighborhood resident John Daniel, 54, filed a statement of intent to run last week.

Daniel hasn’t run for office before and said his political experience consists of serving on the committee that successfully pushed in 2008 for passage of Initiative 100, which requires impounding of vehicles driven by undocumented immigrants. (That measure was repealed last week by the Denver City Council.)

If elected, Daniels said, he’d push to slash 10 percent of the DPS administrative budget, “putting it into teachers.”

Already running for the at-large seat are former City Council member and former DPS employee Happy Haynes, South High School social studies teacher Frank Deserino and Park Hill resident Roger Kilgore, a water resources engineer and consultant.

Good reads from elsewhere

Stack o’ pink slips: The Washington, D.C., schools on Friday fired 206 teachers for poor performance, about 5 percent of the teaching workforce. Most were let go because of unsatisfactory ratings in the district’s evaluation system, which includes meeting student growth targets on standardized tests and also uses multiple observation sessions. Some 75 teachers were let go in 2010, the first year the system was in use. Washington Post

Chiefs look for NCLB out: A group of state chief school officers are exploring ways to use their own accountability systems if Congress doesn’t overhaul the No Child Left Behind law this fall. Some state school leaders said recently that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has signaled he may be open to waivers of the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014. New York Times

Education Week also has details on the waiver chatter.

Loans may be in the crosshairs: Mainstream media coverage doesn’t offer much detail on what specific budget cuts are being talked about in the deficit grudge match between President Obama and congressional Republicans. One interesting specific is a proposal, reportedly by conservative GOP leader Rep. Eric Cantor, to require students to pay the interest their loans accrue while they’re enrolled in college. Inside Higher Education

AFT to the defense: Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told reporters recently that the union’s local affiliates will defend the rights of teachers caught up in test cheating scandals, including the mess in Atlanta. Weingarten hastened to add that the union doesn’t condone cheating. USA Today

The Churn is published periodically during the summer.

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