keeping tabs

Network system saving the city money on school support, IBO says

The city has cut spending on school bureaucracy over the past decade, a budget watchdog says.

According to a new report from the Independent Budget Office, the city spent about 22 percent less to provide schools with teacher training, budget planning, staff recruitment, and other administrative services in 2011-12 than it did in the 2002-03 year, after adjusting for inflation.

The cost savings came as the city shifted and consolidated its bureaucracy under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Prior to 2003, support was primarily provided to schools through 38 community and high school superintendents who each governed their own local district. By 2009, the city had settled on a new “network” structure largely divorced from geography.

Schools rely on support structures for crucial functions, like helping them select technology and curriculum vendors and to improve instruction, and the networks were the topic of much debate among principals at the end of Bloomberg’s tenure. Total spending on school support in 2011-12 reached $293.1 million.

But the current system may not remain in place for long.

“Change may be coming again,” the report’s authors write, alluding to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to restore some authority to district superintendents. De Blasio has criticized the current system as being unresponsive to parent concerns.

If the de Blasio administration changes the structure for school support, he’ll be following in Bloomberg’s footsteps. The previous mayor oversaw three such shake-ups between 2003 and 2009.

Bloomberg’s first big change came in 2003 when he consolidated power from 38 superintendents to 10 regional superintendents. One of the new administrators was Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has spoken positively of that structure since taking over the Department of Education.

That 2003 overhaul resulted in a $72 million inflation-adjusted spending decline, according to the report, the biggest spending drop to result from the three reorganizations.

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Since 2009, principals have received support by partnering with one of more than 60 Department of Education or nonprofit-run providers, regardless of geography. The “network” system emerged as one way to offer principals greater authority, but has also been criticized for separating schools from their communities and allowing some networks to be less responsive to their schools.

Those networks have remained intact eight months into the de Blasio administration. In April, Fariña told principals that the current system would remain in place “with minimal interruption” for the time being.

Ray Domanico, the IBO’s director of education research, said the potential for changes in the near future and an increasingly cryptic budgeting system made it a good time to note the implications of the restructuring under Bloomberg. School-support spending is increasingly spread out across various parts of the Department of Education’s budget, a trend that Domanico said makes it harder for the public to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

“Just in terms of transparency it’s significant,” Domanico said.

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.