money money money

Albanese says he could offer both retroactive raises and pre-K

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CUNY Institute of Education Policy head David Steiner spoke with mayoral candidate Sal Albanese this morning.

Long-shot mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has a proposition for the city’s labor unions: Let me change your pension plans, and I’ll give you retroactive raises.

“What I would propose in exchange for retroactive pay is reforming our pension system,” Albanese said today at a forum at Hunter College. “I want the unions to allow me to reform the pension system. We have a clunker of a system. It’s not modern.”

One of the next mayor’s first responsibilities will be to negotiate new contracts with the city’s municipal unions, including the United Federation of Teachers. Mayor Bloomberg has allowed the contracts to expire, and many unions say they plan to push for back pay for their members once they get to the negotiating table.

Albanese said offering the back pay, which Bloomberg says the city cannot afford, is possible if the unions agree to other changes to their benefits. Albanese cited a Toronto pension system as a model for reform, saying that it outperforms New York City’s. If New York City’s system functioned as well, he said, “we would save about $2.5 billion a year.”

Albanese made the comments at the latest forum held by the CUNY Institute of Education Policy this morning at Hunter College. David Steiner, New York State’s former education chief, is hosting mayoral candidates to let them explain how they would run the city’s schools.

Albanese’s plan to save money on pensions is important because he has expensive ideas for the city’s schools, outlined in detail in his “Smartest City in the World” plan released last week. (A former teacher and City Councilman, Albanese gave GothamSchools a glimpse into his plans in an interview in June.)

The heart of the plan focuses on early childhood education. If elected, Albanese says he would open pediatric wellness centers for children ages 0 -3 in all five boroughs. The pediatric wellness centers, according to Albanese, would allow doctors, educators, and parents to create quality learning environments for their children — environments that he said he hopes will erase gaps between children growing up in low-income areas and their wealthier peers.

Acknowledging the work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children Zone’s “Baby College,” Albanese said he would establish universal pre-kindergarten and consolidate Head Start and preschool programs under one city agency called the Department of Early Learning.

“It’s clear to me is that, one thing we aren’t doing as a city and a country, with the exception of isolated cases, is we aren’t focusing on is early intervention,” Albanese said.

Steiner asked how Albanese would cover the costs of the early education project, which he the candidate pegged at $500 million a year. Explaining his pension reform plan, Albanese took aim at a proposal by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who vaulted into frontrunner status in today’s Quinnipiac poll, to raise taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 to pay for pre-K and after-school programs. The tax plan is “unrealistic,” Albanese said.

The Albanese education plan calls for the city to offer coding classes and bring more technology into the classroom.  Albanese also wants to invest in the New York City teaching corps, by creating one-year teacher residencies during college students’ senior years. Then, when new teachers begin their careers, they will be paired with an experienced teacher for two years so they can receive consistent feedback about their teaching practice.

“I based my educational philosophy on my own experiences as a student in the New York City public schools, and also as a teacher,” Albanese said. “I spent 11 years as a public school teacher. I understand education from the ground up.”

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