Shelby County Schools

Shelby County Schools board will examine its contracting with woman- and minority-owned businesses

Board member Chris Caldwell has led the charge to sue the state for not fully funding the BEP formula.

Shelby County’s school board has created a subcommittee to investigate how many of the district’s contracts are with minority- and woman-owned businesses.

The district currently does not have a way to ascertain which contracts are with minority- and woman-owned businesses, according to spokesman Christian Ross.

The issue of whether government contracts are going to such businesses has been raised in other local government agencies in recent months. The Commercial Appeal reported in May that the Shelby County Commission, like the school district, has not taken stock of how many contracts go to black-, Hispanic-, -and woman-owned businesses in years—and when it did, the portion was very small, despite the fact that Shelby County is majority African-American. The Shelby County Commission is now considering a study into disparities in how contracts are awarded.

At Tuesday’s board work session, board member Shante Avant gave an update on a new board subcommittee’s work on the issue. “There’s been a lot of public domain conversation about making sure we have minority and local businesses receiving contracts with large entities such as our district, the city, and the county,” she said. “We’re happy to move forward and set goals to promote minority- and woman-owned businesses.” She said the work was in the early stages.

Earlier in the meeting, discussions about which architects would be used for new district building projects and which nursing service the district would contract with both touched on the question of whether businesses were owned by local minorities and women.

In the case of the nursing contract, one of the vendors qualified as being minority- or woman-owned while the other two did not.

In the case of the architects, board member Teresa Jones said that district officials had realized that the list of contractors who work with Shelby County Schools has not been updated for several years. She encouraged the district to create an updated list, and when a district official said the list would be updated after several projects were completed, she asked for a sense of urgency.

Superintendent Hopson said that the district would create a new list “ASAP.”

The issue also surfaced at a meeting of the school district’s facilities committee earlier this month. When board members were presented with a list of appraisers who evaluate the district’s property, they noticed that none were minority-owned.

Board member David Reaves said some practical barriers might stand in the way for contractors. He cited a friend whose company did roofing, but was not certified to use the specific materials the district requires contractors to use.

Jones asked the district to look into its contracting process. And facilities committee chair Billy Orgel suggested that the district determine the number of contracts from minority-owned businesses. “We have to have the numbers to have a good discussion.”

Bernal Smith, the publisher of the Tri-State Defender, agreed. “I’m of the school of thought that you can’t fix what you don’t measure,” he said.

“It’s a myth that the businesses aren’t out there,” he said. Smith and several other local business owners are hoping to push city and county leaders to consider their contracting procedures.

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.