Tennessee

More than 200 teachers complain about pay, evaluation at board meeting

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
In 2014, Shelby County School teachers protest a bonus pay plan similar to the one Knox County teachers sued the state over.

More than 200 teachers protested changes to the evaluation process and stagnated salaries at the Shelby County Schools board meeting Tuesday.

Keith Williams, the president of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, has spent the last several weeks rallying teachers to protest what they say are unfair policies and budget cuts that have hurt morale for the district’s 8,000 teachers.

Over the summer, the advocacy organization filed several lawsuits to save the jobs of hundreds of laid off and excessed tenured teachers. Earlier this month, they held a press conference in which several of those teachers told their emotional stories – one teacher feared losing her home while another had a friend help her with money for gas.

On Tuesday, teachers packed the board room, some stood against the walls and others spilled out into the hallway to attend the meeting. Sixteen people, mostly educators, addressed the board during public comment.

Their complaints came shortly after district officials lauded schools across the county for dramatic gains in state tests scores they partially attributed to the teachers’ hard work in the classrooms.

Teachers holding signs told board members Tuesday they were concerned about the fairness of the district’s updated evaluation system, TEM (Teacher Effectiveness Measure) 4; that some tenured teachers whose positions were cut last spring were still waiting to be hired by the district and that the performance bonuses the district doled out last year were not a substitute for an anticipated salary increase.

Teachers currently working in the district will receive a bonus based on their overall evaluation score from 2013-14 starting at $250 for Level I and Level II teachers, $650 for Level III, $800 for Level IV and $1,250 for Level V.  Teachers have said they prefer an annual salary increase that would impact their lifetime earnings; a one-time bonus, they said, does not. Retired educators will not receive the bonus, which is another issue the association believes is unfair.

Educators grumbled in disagreement Tuesday night as Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II argued that the bonuses gave teachers more income than if they were given incremental raises.

In addition to disagreement over the bonus pay plan, teachers complained that the newly adjusted evaluations, which will go into effect this year, made it impossible to receive the highest score.

Williams said there are now 69 objectives that a teacher must demonstrate during an observation period.

“No observer could document that many objectives that would allow a teacher a teacher to earn a 5,” he said. “We want the board to remove the requirement for teachers to meet ‘all’ objectives.”

Margaret Box, a kindergarten teacher who had been on a team that drafted the evaluation plan in 2011 said that the updated evaluation had not been created with teachers’ assistance and made it very difficult to earn a top score.

“You said TEM 4 is a leap forward,” said Box. “It’s a step forward to a checklist, and to fewer level 5 teachers. I wanted to plant the seed that we can fix this.”

Hopson told the crowd that some of teachers’ complaints apply to only a small number of staff. “There’s a lot of discussion of evaluations being unfair. But as far as the performance-based bonuses, when we do the calculation, 80 percent of teachers are level 4 and 5, and 95 percent are 3, 4, and 5.” Teachers with higher evaluation scores received larger bonuses last school year.

“In many cases, bonuses are larger than step increases would have been,” Hopson said. Several teachers audibly disagreed.

But he said that other concerns, including the high cost of health insurance and lack of salary increases, would be taken up by the board and district later this year.

Board member Teresa Jones wasn’t worried that the decisions would impact the district’s ability to keep or attract teachers.

“I value them and the work they do,” said Jones, adding that she’s heard teachers’ complaints about the revised evaluation system multiple times. “They don’t like it, they’ve said it’s a moving target in terms of what’s expected.  I would’ve felt more comfortable if we’d had a test run with the evaluation model, but we didn’t.”

Earlier in the meeting close to 50 principals in the district were honored at a short ceremony for schools that had earned earned their way on to the state’s “Reward” list, for high-achieving or fast-improving schools; or for earning their way off of the list of lowest-scoring schools. The district has set a goal of improving academics and graduation rate districtwide.

“I wish we could have had every teacher from the Reward Schools here, but that wasn’t feasible…but I always try to recognize and thank our great teachers for the tremendous results we received this year and over the years,” Hopson said.

Hopson said he will meet with teachers on Sept. 4.

 

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.