the facility factor

Charter school rent costs to hit $32 million by next summer

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

The costs of last year’s battle over charter-school space are becoming clearer to the de Blasio administration.

The city’s tab for charter school rent is estimated to exceed $32 million by next summer, a spokeswoman for the city budget office confirmed Monday. The sum is the first clear indication of the price of state legislation passed in April 2014 that was meant as a rebuke of Mayor Bill de Blasio and his plans to end the city’s policy of giving charter schools free space in school buildings.

The city’s bills will grow as new charter schools open and existing schools expand. Just how costly they get depends on the outcome of a new set of political battles: One involving the state’s charter-school cap, and the other being the de Blasio administration’s ability to find public space for new charter schools, a move that cuts costs but alienates political allies.

“It’s starting out relatively small,” Raymond Domanico, director of education research at the Independent Budget Office, said of the city’s charter school rent bill. “But depending on what happens with the charter cap, this thing is only going to grow over time.”

State law allows for up to 25 more charter schools to open in the city, a restriction lawmakers are expected to address over the final six weeks of the state legislative session, which ends in June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed increasing the cap by 100 schools for the entire state, while the United Federation of Teachers, de Blasio, and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have said the cap should not be lifted.

More schools means bigger bills for the city, which must provide new and expanding charter schools with free public space, or cover their rent in private facilities. And even if lawmakers don’t raise the cap, rental costs are still expected to soar in future years, as 46 existing charter schools add seats and the remaining new schools open.

Next year’s estimated costs, $22.4 million, are more than double what the city is spending this year, according to the spokeswoman. The department will begin making those payments this month, but officials have stayed mum until the release of new budget documents last week about how much the new law would cost the city.

The budget department spokeswoman said Monday that the city will have spent $10.2 million on charter-school rent this year. Most of that — $5.4 million — will cover rent at former Catholic school buildings that are housing three Success Academy charter schools whose co-locations the de Blasio administration nixed last year, setting off a showdown with Success CEO Eva Moskowitz that culminated in the rent legislation. Success Academy and the city reached the pricey lease agreement last April separate from the new legal process.

The other $4.8 million the city is spending this year will go to schools that have appealed for rent help through a process set up in the law. A Chalkbeat analysis indicated those costs could have risen to nearly $10 million.

With spending projections set to hit $32 million by the end of the next fiscal year, the city is on pace to hit a $40 million spending thresh hold by the 2016-17 school year, after which state funds will be provided to help alleviate the growing costs.

The City Council will hold hearings on the budget before a final version is adopted in June. An education committee hearing is scheduled for May 28, and the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the number of charter schools allowed to open in New York City. 

 

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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