who should rule the schools

Quinn suggests strengthening City Council oversight of DOE

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's proposed changes to mayoral control are less drastic than Comptroller Bill Thompson's (right). Photo via Azi's Flickr.
PHOTO: Contributed photo
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's proposed changes to mayoral control are less drastic than Comptroller Bill Thompson's (right). Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/azipaybarah/2415786468/##Azi's Flickr.##

Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, is joining the chorus of voices urging state lawmakers to add checks and balances to the mayor’s authority over the public schools, but she’s proposing a different, slightly softer kind of check.

Rather than strengthening the citywide school board, as the teachers union, the comptroller, and several parent groups have suggested, Quinn wants lawmakers to empower the City Council to do stronger oversight of the mayor’s school policies.

In written testimony Quinn submitted to the state Assembly this week, she describes the arrangement she’d like to see as “municipal” rather than mayoral control. Currently, the Council’s ability to check the mayor’s education policy extends only “up to the door of a school,” she says, citing last year’s cell phone brouhaha as evidence. (The city argued that the council’s legislation overturning Bloomberg’s cell phone ban, which Bloomberg vetoed, but council members over-rode, did not have any effect on the final policy.)

Only state lawmakers have the authority to override the mayor’s school policy, Quinn argues. But she says that doesn’t make sense. “I would never look to weigh in on local education policies in Elmira County, and I don’t think a State legislator from Elmira (no matter how qualified her or she may be) should or wants to be responsible for decisions made about New York City schools,” she writes.

Politically, Quinn’s testimony puts her at a distance from Mayor Bloomberg, who wants the legislature to keep mayoral control essentially as it is. But Quinn, who was considered a likely mayoral candidate before Bloomberg decided to run for a third term, is not making suggestions that are as far afield as Comptroller William Thompson Jr., who is still a mayoral candidate, and who is pushing for a strengthened citywide school board.

Her testimony is also far less critical of the mayor’s work with the schools than Anthony Weiner, the congressman and possible mayoral candidate who says he is in favor of mayoral control but sharply criticizes Bloomberg’s work in the schools.

Quinn is also keeping her testimony relatively quiet; while other Council members testified at the Assembly hearings, she submitted hers in writing rather than coming in person.

Quinn singles out the department’s contracting process and budget data as being especially opaque to outside oversight, saying that the Council has struggled to “follow how funding is being spent.” She adds:

An example of this was last year, in early 2008, the DOE reduced school budgets by $100 million, but the Council was unable to track and report the impact of this budget cut on school programs because DOE has a different internal budgeting system.  This is not only a problem experienced by the Council but has been sited by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, the Independent Budget Office as well as the City Comptroller’s Office.

Here’s her full testimony:

Publish at Scribd or explore others: testimony christine quinn

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.