The board of education for Shelby County Schools is reviewing another contract with a Memphis firm hired last year to look into allegations of grade tampering at Trezevant High School. Board members will discuss the new contract Feb. 20 and vote on it Feb. 27.
Shelby County school board members are considering keeping onboard a Memphis lawyer they had hired last summer to advise them on matters that might conflict with the interests of the district or superintendent.
Herman Morris Jr. was hired by the board in August to help members negotiate terms of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s contract. The board at the time indicated that it was advantageous to use an outside lawyer — one that did not also represent the superintendent and district.
A proposal to extend Morris’s contract for a year is up for discussion Tuesday, with a likely vote next week. Shelby County Schools estimates his services would cost $80,000 a year. He would be paid out of the board’s budget, and his contract must be reviewed annually.
The district has its own lawyer, Rodney Moore, but Morris would represent the school board, the district’s governing body. Such an arrangement is not uncommon among school boards. Board member Chris Caldwell said hiring a lawyer would assist the board in using “good business judgment.”
“Our roles diverge at times,” Caldwell said. “So the advice of a legal counsel to look at something through the board’s perspective” might be different from that of the district’s counsel. They “might also be diametrically opposed to each other,” he said.
For instance, some board members want to add to Hopson’s contract accountability for district objectives like its overarching Destination 2025 goals for literacy and preparing students for life beyond high school.
Morris, a Memphis City Schools graduate, worked as an attorney for the city of Memphis for six years and also led Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. He is also a previous chairman of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Memphis Branch NAACP.
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The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.
The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.
The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.
Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.
Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.