human capital

Among bureaucrats, curriculum jobs down, accountability is up

I reported in February that the degree to which the Department of Education’s bureaucracy is growing depends on which bureaucracy you’re talking about: the central brain at Tweed Courthouse has gained members, but the nervous system known as “the field,” whose suited desk-sitters are located throughout the five boroughs, is shrinking in size.

The degree of growth also depends on the kind of bureaucrat, and the way the kinds shake out — which have been kept and which have not — sheds some light on the Bloomberg administration’s priorities. (Recall that all departments inside the DOE were asked to write plans for budget cuts, but not all had to enact them.)

While those specializing in areas such as teaching and learning, food and nutrition, family engagement, and operations are losing ground, officials who work in accountability, budget, and transportation matters proliferate, according to new, more detailed numbers the department (finally) disclosed to me.

The department slashed 13 officials from the central teaching and learning office at Tweed and fired seven teaching and learning officials working in field offices between January 2008 and January 2009. It also eliminated 110 officials from the Integrated Service Center, which handles operations work for schools like budget, special education, and enrollment; 24 field staff who did youth and family work; and 18 people from Tweed’s Office of School Food and Nutrition Services. (A central family engagement and advocacy office added six staff members.)

Meanwhile, the offices at Tweed that added staff include the human resources division (18), the Office of School and Youth Development (11), the Office of Legal Services/Labor Relations (10), and the Office of Accountability (5). The department also hired three new people to do accountability work in the field.

The changes came during a year when school officials vowed to slash the size of the bureaucracy as a way to protect schools from state and city budget cuts. A DOE spokeswoman, Ann Forte, said that, in October, the department banned creating any new positions — and created a requirement that all new hires would have to get special approval from Chancellor Joel Klein. The department also pushed forward a plan in June to cut its budget by laying off family engagement staff and Integrated Service Center operations staff. The plan is summarized on page 14 of this Power Point presentation, which was presented to the Panel for Educational Policy.

Some of the rises in staff, Forte said, could be a result of changes that happened before October 2008. They could also be genuine additions. Forte said there is no formal hiring freeze at the DOE currently, though some offices have been banned from filling vacancies. The reductions, she said, could stem from budget cuts. “There could be a lot of things at play, but some of it is attributed to budget,” she told me.

Here’s a complete list of changes in staff at Tweed Courthouse from last January to this one (in Excel form). These are the headcount changes at field offices during the same period, which come to a net reduction of 114:

  • 8 added to school support organizations
  • 7 reduced from teaching and learning
  • 110 reduced from Integrated Service Centers
  • 3 added to accountability
  • 21 added to the Committee for Special Education
  • 24 reduced from youth and parent staff
  • 4 reduced from District 75 administration

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