Shelby County Schools

Shelby County Schools board cuts $240 million in spending

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Several Shelby County School teachers protested budget cuts during Tuesday's called meeting to approve the 2014-15 budget.

The  Shelby County Schools board unanimously passed a budget Tuesday night that slashed more than $240 million in spending and 4,563 positions from the district. The cuts impact virtually every department in the district including world language programs, teacher pay, transportation and alternative schools.

The 2014-15 budget cuts are largely due to the loss of thousands of teachers and students to the six new municipal school districts, the state-operated Achievement School District and the growing charter school sector.

Under the proposal, the district will spend $946 million next year to educate its students, far less than the $1.1 billion it spent this year.

The 2014-15 budget will now be reviewed by the Shelby County Commission on May 7.  The budget will return to the SCS board for final approval on June 2.  The budget must be received by the state’s department of education  by Aug. 1.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said his focus will be on strengthening literacy rates and investing in pre-kindergarten.  The district was eliminating more than 40 pre-k classes, now it is restoring 26 of those classes using leftover Race to the Top funds.

“We’ve truly done everything we can to be strategic,” Hopson said. “I wish I could pay teachers a couple hundred thousand a year and keep world languages, but that’s not our reality.”

Administrators have not decided how much individual teacher pay will be cut or whether they will get raises.  Teacher advocates have pointed out that the district is spending 22 percent less on teacher pay and 23 percent less on benefits next year. That compares to a 19 percent overall drop in budget cuts.

Initially, the district planned on using the state-promised 2 percent cost of living increase to fund a differentiated pay schedule.   Gov. Bill Haslam cut the state employee cost of living increase from the budget this month. The district was counting on more than $9 million from the state. Without it, the district is left with $6.2 million.

While the district’s proposed contribution to employee insurance benefits is higher than the current 63 percent, it is still lower than the 70 percent that the district contributed in prior years, advocates argue.

While many areas in the budget faced cuts, the district’s spending on charter schools is projected to grow from $67 million to $78 million – a 15 percent increase. The number of charter schools in the district is slated to continue to expand in coming years.

The new budget also trims 6 percent of the district’s spending on student transportation by outsourcing all bus drivers.

Though it was not discussed at the meeting, the district is also revisiting the structure of its alternative schools and cutting some $2 million in spending on those programs.

Several items protested by community members during last month’s budget forums did not change in the proposed 2014-15 budget including keeping the current school start times, which would mean operating a two bell start system, cutting world language classes in some elementary and middle schools and eliminating the driver’s education program.

Twenty-eight teachers will be impacted by the cuts to the world language classes in some elementary and middle schools.  There had been a big push among parents, teachers and students to prevent the cuts.   The push even involved the American Council on the Teaching Foreign Languages.

Chairman Kevin Woods assured the community that he would still be an advocate for issues brought up during the open budget forums.

“I’m still going to push for later start times in the future,” Woods said.

SCS 2014-15 budget is now available online. Follow this link to review the changes.


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.