a done deal

Senate leader: Questions about NYC schools spending fueled one-year mayoral control deal

Senate Republicans’ decision to make sure Mayor Bill de Blasio won only a one-year renewal of his control of New York City schools was prompted in part by the city’s spending on struggling schools, their leader said Thursday.

As the legislature prepared to vote on a bill that includes a host of education and housing issues Thursday evening, including the mayoral control extension, Senator John Flanagan offered the most expansive explanation yet for why Republicans stood in the way of giving de Blasio more time. He personally backed mayoral control, he said, but the city’s spending on education had not received enough scrutiny.

“The city of the New York needs a significant round of school aid, which they’re getting,” Flanagan said at a press conference at the Capitol in Albany. “And if it’s a $9 billion check, I think it’s within our purview and our responsibility to ask appropriate questions of, where is the money going?”

He took aim specifically at the city’s spending plan for its School Renewal program, which de Blasio announced in November as a $150 million, three-year initiative that would be used to prompt academic improvements and add support programs at 94 low-performing schools. The city has continued to allocate new resources to the program over the last few months, including by moving money from other summer and after-school programs.

“If you’re dealing with struggling schools and you’re coming up with money, $150 million, to run the program, where is that money coming from?” Flanagan said. “What school is it going to? Does that mean money is being wisely spent or potentially money being taken away from other areas of the city?”

The city now says it is now preparing to spend more than $370 million for the initiative over three years. That money will go toward new health clinics and mental-health services, paying teachers who volunteer to provide an extra hour of tutoring or instruction, new coaches for teachers and principals, and boosting school budgets, among other items.

Flanagan raised concerns about the city’s education spending earlier this month, and one Senate proposal would have required the city to report more information about its education budget to state officials. But, for all of Flanagan’s criticism, the final deal did not include those requirements.

Flanagan ticked off a number of other reasons for the Republicans’ resistance to a longer renewal of mayoral control, putting more emphasis on the de Blasio administration’s actions than any concerns about the merits of mayoral control itself.

Flanagan said he had tried to organize a series of public hearings on the issue earlier in the year, but that he “didn’t really have any cooperation.” Previously, a Senate hearing in New York City was scheduled for early March, but was postponed. Flanagan later said he would hold the hearings “as soon as the mayor and [New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña] make themselves available.”) And he suggested that de Blasio had not done enough to work with the city’s Republican senators and Simcha Felder, a Democrat who votes with Republicans.

A de Blasio administration official disputed Flanagan’s account, saying that Flanagan’s office was told that both de Blasio and Fariña would be available for a hearing.

Flanagan was joined Thursday by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said that mayoral control would be more seriously discussed in the next legislative session. Cuomo said that would offer a chance for the school governance model to be considered for other cities.

“If it works in New York City, well maybe it would work in other cities across the state,” Cuomo said. “So next year I think we’re going to have the opportunity to visit it in a broader context. There are other cities that are now talking about it, thinking about it, upstate cities. And I think that’s a good conversation.”

But other lawmakers said they believed more personal factors were at play.

“Clearly there are some people who are concerned about who the mayor might be,” said Assembly member Deborah Glick. “That’s the issue.”

Despite having notoriously passive-aggressive relations with de Blasio, Cuomo again called him a “personal friend of mine.” Asked why he criticized the mayor anonymously, referring to news stories this week that quoted an unnamed Cuomo official, Cuomo said, “It’s a little faster to talk off the record, you know?”

Glick added that she doubted that extending mayoral control for just one year would prompt a productive debate.

”No, I don’t have any hope that there will be any thoughtful discussion about governance,” Glick said.

Flanagan and Heastie said that lawmakers would vote on a host of legislative issues simultaneously later Thursday night. Legislative language was released to the public and shared with lawmakers for the first time Thursday afternoon, shortly after Cuomo said he would waive the typical three-day public review period for legislation.

The legislation contains few differences from the “framework” deal that Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan laid out Tuesday. It does include two changes that charter-school supporters wanted: Now, charter schools can favor employees’ children in lotteries, and charter schools can employ significantly more uncertified teachers.

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 [email protected]

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