mind the gap

IBO report hints that school spending could take another hit

The city’s budget watchdog predicted less money making its way to classrooms next year, even as it said the city’s overall economic outlook could be rosier than what Mayor Bloomberg has previously suggested.

The Independent Budget Office yesterday said that rising costs for contracts, employee benefits, and charter school payments appear poised to cut into the funds that the Department of Education is free to allocate to schools. The IBO analyzed this year’s budget and Mayor Bloomberg’s November financial plan and determined that spending for classroom instruction and school administration could drop by $300 million in 2013, a 3.3 percent decrease.

That’s because funds would likely have to be redirected to other areas of the DOE where costs are soaring, according to the report: pre-kindergarten special education contracts with private schools are set to increase by 10 percent, to $100 million; fringe benefits for school employees are expected to increase 2.5 percent, to $68 million; and payments to charter schools, which are enrolling more students each year, will go up 5.6 percent to $46 million.

City officials disputed the IBO’s projections of next year’s spending as premature.

“It’s impossible to say what we’re spending next year because we haven’t put out a budget, for schools or any other agency yet,” said City Hall spokesman Marc LaVorgna. A preliminary budget for the 2013 fiscal year is expected in January or February.

The report’s drop in classroom spending did not appear in the DOE’s October cost-cutting plan, in which the DOE proposed to lop off about 6 percent from its projected 2013 budget. Unlike last year’s plan, which focused on eliminating teacher positions, cuts from this year’s plan focused on reducing contract costs and securing more aid from the state and federal governments.

In October, Bloomberg instructed all city agencies, including the DOE, to prepare for a 6 percent cut in the fiscal year that begins in July. Unlike last year’s cost-cutting plan, which focused on eliminating teacher positions, the DOE’s plan this year focused on reducing contract costs and securing more aid from the state and federal governments.

Cuts in next year’s budget would mean a fourth consecutive year that principals have less money to spend on their schools. This summer, principals said a 2.7 percent reduction meant their schools were stripped to the bone. As a result, class sizes increasedschool supplies dwindled,  more principals filed for appeals, and some came up with other creative ways to save money.

“If they would give me another $10,000, I tell you, I could make some stuff happen here,” Diahann Malcolm, a principal at High School of Law Enforcement and Public Safety, told GothamSchools this summer. Malcolm was so restricted by her budget that she resorted to teaching summer school physical education classes for students who failed during the school year.

Citywide, the IBO report paints a slightly better economic picture than what Bloomberg projected in November. Job growth, fueled in part by more jobs in the private and higher education sectors, and tax revenue would be better than expected, the report estimated, and as a result, the budget gap would be about $800 million less than Mayor Bloomberg estimated for 2013 and $1.7 billion less for 2014.

Forecasting the economy is an inexact science. Two other budget monitoring agencies – the state and city comptrollers – have already projected that the deficit is actually wider than what Bloomberg estimated.

A number of factors could still swing education funding one way or the other. A proposal to reform the state aid formula would distribute more money to lower income districts, which would could bring in significantly more money to New York City.

And economic conditions are still shaky.  The IBO warned in its report of uncertainties surrounding the European debt crisis and the political stalemate in Washington that would affect how federal education funding. Given these factors, the report said, “it would not be hard to be thrown off course.”

2012 Department of Education Programs to Eliminate the Gap

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