who should rule the schools

To chancellor, Assembly members offer a litany of complaints

At the Manhattan mayoral control hearing, Assembly members are seizing an opportunity they say they haven’t had in four years: the chance to interrogate Chancellor Joel Klein directly.

The chair of the education committee, Cathy Nolan, is leading the interrogations with personal examples of her own difficulties as a parent. She said she has been hung up on by a school official she called trying to get information about her son. “Not everybody is having an ideal experience, chancellor,” she said.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal complained about a lack of transparency, saying that she had resorted to using a Freedom of Information Law request to find information on class size data that state law requires the city to provide — and then finally got a CD with the wrong data on it.

Nolan then piped up saying she had the same experience.

“That’s unacceptable,” said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, shaking his head. He then asked Rosenthal to keep him posted on her access to data the next time she makes a request.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell challenged Klein’s claim that mayoral elections are a sufficient check on chancellors’ authority, pointing out that Mayor Bloomberg is favored to win a third term. “With a hundred million dollars, I could probably convince the city of New York that I was thin,” O’Donnell said.

Assemblyman James Brennan also challenged the chancellor on the extent of “democracy” in the system. “I just question whether or not there would be a cataclysm if you have to persuade two people,” Brennan said.

Mark Weprin criticized Klein’s effort to “empower” principals by giving them more authority. “I think you’ve created 1,500 orphans,” Weprin said. “These principals don’t know what to do with this power if they don’t have the support staff.”

Weprin also said he believes Klein is breaking the law by having school district superintendents spend only a small proportion of their time actually overseeing the schools in their geographic area. “These school districts were put into law for a purpose and I believe you’re violating the law,” Weprin said. “To paraphrase George W Bush, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice – well, we ain’t going to get fooled again.”

Assembly members also complained about school siting decisions and the state of parent councils that are often short members and not especially active.

Nolan, the chairwoman, repeatedly apologized for taking so mich time to ask questions and criticize. “I don’t think we’ve had an Assembly hearing where we’ve had you in at least four years, so people have to bear with us,” Nolan said. “We have a lot of anxious members.”

Klein defended himself passionately, arguing that mayoral control is a democratic governance structure, not an authoritarian one, as some members painted it.

“The state commissioner serves at the pleasure of the Regents. The education secretary serves at the pleasure of the United States President,” he said. “You want you people to take sometimes controversial positions.”

Klein also said he takes responsibility for mistakes and wants to work to improve parental involvement.

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.