Shelby County School Board has lengthy discussion about missing equipment, passes self-evaluation

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
SCS board member David Pickler talks about strengthening district's equipment tracking system.

Shelby County Schools board members debated the need for stronger accountability measures for tracking equipment and property that belongs to the district during Wednesday’s special called meeting.

Last year, Maryland-based ProBar conducted the first equipment inventory in 30 years for both legacy Memphis City and legacy Shelby County districts. Probar reported 54,272 pieces of equipment–including computers and vehicles–were missing.

By March of this year, Shelby County Schools principals and staff had located 30,837 pieces of that equipment.

Board member David Pickler Wednesday called the district’s method for tracking items ‘broken’ and that a strong message needed to be sent to the community that the district would be good stewards of tax payer’s money.

Administrators said Wednesday that some equipment is still unaccounted for but couldn’t specify how much.  Most of those items were missing from 17 schools and nine buildings that aren’t schools.

“The district has allowed tax payer property to go through a sieve,” he said.  “And we need to bring in an outside team, with fresh eyes- a blue ribbon task force and with experience in financial asset control.”

Board member Teresa Jones didn’t think it was necessary to bring in an outside company, but that it was important to stop the blame game and focus on fixing the problem.  David Reaves added that the district needed to lock down the escape of equipment.

“We can do that through our one employee (Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II) and through policy, but our enforcement needs some teeth,” Reaves said.

Chairman Kevin Woods suggested what the ‘teeth’ could include.

Something may need to go in an employee’s personnel file showing they don’t manage property well,” said Woods, who also asked internal audit director Melvin Burgess about whose responsible for tracking the district’s new computers for the blended learning and cameras used in the classroom. 

Burgess told board members that there’s a shared accountability between school administrators and his office.

Pickler said such an arrangement could be the problem.

When accountability is shared, it becomes easy to point the finger,” Pickler said. “This is bigger than audit department, we need real policy reform.”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said the district will conduct a wholesale review of its tracking system, determine which processes should be reworked and seek guidance from the business company on best practices.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.