National union gives big in Dougco school board race

Douglas County's school district logo
Douglas County’s school district logo

A union-backed committee is spending big money on the Douglas County school board race, despite protests from candidates that they have not received union support.

The Committee for Better Schools Now, which supports the candidates opposing the policies of the current board, has received $150,000 in contributions from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its local affiliate. The AFT represents Douglas County teachers, whose collective bargaining agreement with the district lapsed in 2012 after talks failed.

The committee describes itself as being for candidates “who are focused on what’s best for children, rather than adult style politics for Douglas County School Board of Education.” The slate of candidates who oppose the current direction of the district use similar language, calling themselves “4 for kids candidates.” They include Bill Hodges, a former school district administrator, Barbra Chase, Julie Keim and Ronda Scholting. None of them received direct union support for their campaigns.

Their opposition includes Judi Reynolds, CU regent Jim Geddes and incumbent board members Doug Benevento and Meghann Silverthorn.

According to reports filed Friday, the committee received $110,000 from the national branch of the AFT in Washington, D.C. An additional $40,000 came from the Colorado branch of the AFT. The committee also received $70,000 from the Committee for Great Douglas County Schools, which is not registered with the Secretary of State. However, the Committee for Great Douglas County Schools, which is based in Castle Rock, received $28,713 from the AFT earlier this year, according to IRS filings. A final $10,000 came in from Colorado Wins, a union representing state employees.

The Committee for Better Schools Now has raised more than all the school board candidates combined, who raised a total of $221,563. The committee has spent $197,310 since Sept. 26, including $74,449 on television advertising.

The Douglas County Republic Central Committee also contributed to the race, spending $45,786 in the latest reporting period. That includes $15,666 spent on advertising.

Despite union participation at the committee-level, candidates supporting the current board out-raised critics at the candidate level. Supporters of the board raised an average of $41,282, whereas opponents raised an average $14,108. They also outspent them at a narrower margin, $28,639 to $13,132. The most successful opposition candidate was Ronda Scholting, who raised $19,726 in the current period and spent $19,073.

All four candidates who are supportive of current board actions received $1,000 donations from former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Bush wrote an editorial Friday in support of the current board.

See below for a breakdown by race of how much candidates have raised and spent since Oct. 15.

District B

  • Chase – Raised $2,090 in this reporting period, bringing her total to $10,325. She spent $9,783 during the period, leaving her with $541 on-hand.
  • Geddes – Raised $1,720 during the reporting period, bringing his fundraising total to $40,518. He spent $17,695 since October 15, leaving him with $11,681 on-hand.

District D

  • Keim – Raised $4,040, brining her total to $11,162 over the course of the campaign. She spent $6,840 during the reporting period and has $530 on-hand.
  • Reynolds – Raised $1,565 since October 15. That brings her total contributions to $40,297. She spent $11,264 in the period and has $20,630 on-hand.

District E

  • Benevento – Raised $3,433 in the reporting period, which brings his total fundraising to $43,443, the most of any candidate. He spent $34,730 during the period, also the most of any candidate in the race. He has $8,410 on-hand.
  • Hodges – Raised $3,775 since October 15. That brings his total to $15,220. She spent $7,126 during the period and has $2,179 on-hand.

District G

  • Scholting – Raised $4,200 during the reporting period, the most of any candidate. That brought her total to $19,727. She spent $13016, making her second only to her opponent in spending for this period. She has $653 on-hand.
  • Silverthorn – Raised $1,710 since October 15, bringing her total fundraising take to $40,873. She spent $20,564 this period, the most of any candidate. She spent $30,229 total and has $10,896 on-hand.

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

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