Behind the Headlines – March 17, 2017

Behind the Headlines – March 17, 2017


– [Narrator] Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by
the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund,
and by viewers like you. Thank you. – The Shelby County
School System tonight on Behind the Headlines. (orchestral music) I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Dorsey Hopson, superintendent of the
Shelby County School System. Thanks for being here again. – Glad to be with you. – [Eric] Along with
Chris Caldwell, chairman of the Shelby
County School Board. Thanks for being here. – Thank you. – And Bill Dries, senior reporter with
the Memphis Daily News. So Dorsey, I think it was
either in a public meeting or in talking to Bill, but
I read it in Bill’s article, you talked about most
times this time of year, you are pretty depressed
going into budget season. You both have had
some huge gaps. This year, you said, I
don’t know if you said you’re not depressed about
the financial situation, but less so. Why are you a little
more optimistic right now about the budget
situation for the schools? – Well this has been the
first year since the merger that we actually
are in a position to do some strategic
investments in our schools. I think that because of
some of the great work our board has done over
the past few years, some really smart
planning by our CFO, and consistently
identifying efficiencies over the past few years, we’re in a much better
state with regard to budget. I will say, though,
that we still believe we’re woefully
underfunded by the state. There was a report that
came out a few weeks ago, and it literally said
that Shelby County Schools has the highest poverty
index of any school district in the country. And it compared it
to the state funding, and it just shows that while we’re getting smarter
and doing more with less, we still have significant
funding challenges from our state. But even having said that, very glad to be able
to present a budget that invests about $50
million in schools, and just look forward to
the continued discussion. – When you say invest, the 50 million
investment in people, investment in physical
plant, investment in what? – In people. So we included
about $11 million, almost $11 million
in teacher raises, a lot of school-based personnel,
interventionist teachers, behavioral specialists,
more guidance counselors. We consistently
hear from schools that one of the things
that would be helpful would be just having
more boots on the ground and a strategic way to help
drive student achievement, so we’ve invested or we’ve
proposed a lot of investments really at the school
level to help with the academic lift we’re
trying to achieve. – And Chris, you’ve been
on the board how long? – [Chris] Five years. – Five years. And so, for your point of view, from the board point of view, do you share the cautious
optimism that Dorsey has? – Yes, to some degree. To his point, I think we finally
stabilized the situation, but we were woefully
underfunded when we merged, so then we had to
make drastic cuts. So that’s a hard thing to do because you can’t get rid
of all your overhead costs. At the same time,
you’re losing students and you’re losing funding. But as he said, we were woefully
underfunded to start with, so now we’re getting
to a point where we can actually
replace some things that got taken out of the system because of the
merger and de-merger. But we still really
have a long way to go before all the students have the kind of resources
they really need. – And before I go
to Bill, one more. The cuts in part came
from a loss of students. Is that correct? And that state money
follows the student. So you had a whole situation, there were a lot of dynamics
with merger, de-merger, but one dynamic was kids going
into ASD charter schools, or ASD schools, people
leaving the system. Is that, not flood, but
the outflow of students, has that stabilized? – Yes. I think this last year we
had about 1,000 students– – [Eric] Added. – Yes, but you had a
moratorium on ASD schools. So to your point, yes it was driven by a
decrease in enrollment, but the main driving force
in the loss of enrollment was the proliferation
of charter schools and the formation of the ASD. And I’d just add
that a lot of states that have used the ASD model where they bring in a
state operated district, they hold the current
district harmless financially. But the state didn’t
decide to do that, so that made everything worse. – [Eric] Yeah. Thoughts on that? – I’d agree with
everything Chris said, but I still don’t
wanna lose sight of the optimism and
excitement we have with being able to
actually not focus on cut, cut, cut,
cut, cut this year but rather on being able to
strategically invest in schools, and I think particularly
the teacher raises and the school-based personnel
that we’re gonna be adding is still exciting. Again, as Chris
said and as I said, we’ve got a long way to go. But unlike the previous years
where I’m sitting here saying, “We gotta cut this
and we gotta cut that. “We gotta cut this, and
we’ll worry about this “and worry about that,”
at least we’re stable and we can begin to be
thinking more strategically. – All right. Bill? – So you’ve made a decision as part of that, in
the spirit of that, that you’re not going
to lay off teachers? That’s gonna be your
recommendation to the school board, that there be no
layoffs of teachers, and at the same time,
you’re probably gonna lose about 900 students, you think? That’s best case scenario
without passage of a voucher bill, which we’ll talk about
in a few minutes. So walk me through what happens if you lose those students
and you keep those teachers. What do those teachers do? – So, a couple things. I think that one of the
things we’ve learned is that in this highly competitive
environment for teachers, when you have a
destabilized work force where teachers show up
and then they get excessed and then they’re
scrambling for jobs, it’s just not good for kids. But we know there’s
constant turnover. We hire probably 1200
teachers every summer anyway. So just the natural flow of
things, there’ll be openings. But the way we’re thinking
about it this year, Bill, is we’re saying, all right, well, if we know
you’re gonna be excess or we’re projecting a
declined enrollment this year, sometimes it didn’t happen, and then you have to go out
and hire a teacher anyway. So we’re gonna carry those
teachers in those roles until the count in August. If the position goes away because there really is
a loss in enrollment, then we will look to
place those teachers as interventionist teachers, one of the things that we’ve
asked for investments on, and then just place them in
vacancies in a interim role until such time as they can
find a permanent position. But I think with the
national teacher shortage, and I think we have around
60 or so vacancies now, prior to December we had
around 150 vacancies, so we know there’s always a need and it doesn’t make sense
to take a effective teacher, put them out there
in kinda Wonderland, have them scrambling. You may actually lose
’em to a municipality or ASD or somewhere like that, and then you’d have vacancies. So that just doesn’t make sense. So we just think that the math
will just ultimately add up. And if not, we think investing
in a stable workforce and making sure our teachers
are focused on teaching as opposed to, “Am
I gonna have a job?” is gonna be best for kids. – Before I go back to Bill, how many teachers
total, give or take? – About 6,000 plus. – [Eric] And about 1200
turnover every year? – Every year, yes.
– Gotcha. Okay, Bill. – Chris, how is the school board
on that idea of no layoffs? – I don’t know that we’ve
taken a position as a board, but I will tell you as
one school board member that I think it’s a good move. I think it does bring stability. And to the points that the
superintendent brought up about a teacher being able
to plan for the next year and not getting a phone call
to go to another district, I think teachers
have been under siege for the last few years,
and they’ve caught the brunt of all
this reform work, so anything that makes the
morale of teachers better, anything that helps them
feel like they have a career and not just a job that’s
from one year to the next, I’m all for that. And I would think that a lot of my colleagues
share that opinion. – Okay. Let’s talk about ESSA,
Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal legislation
that was passed by Congress. As I understand
it, does that mean that the Achievement
School District here will not be adding
any new schools and that Shelby County
Schools gets first crack, so to speak, at the
turnaround models? – So they have proposed
a matrix, rather, and it basically says
if you are a school and you are on the list
for the very first time, then the Shelby County Schools will get the first crack at it. They will only intervene if a school has been
on the list twice. And we think that certainly
helps us plan better, because I think we have a
pretty good track record of if a school gets
on and they get the intense treatment and
support that they need, we’ve shown in iZone been
able to move schools. So I think that is a huge shift. It also brings clarity because
what used to happen was they were on the list
and they can pick any school that they want
really with no guidelines, so I think just knowing
the universe of schools that are eligible for
the state intervention will be helpful in terms
of planning purposes. – And just to clarify
a couple things and we’ll go back to Bill, ESSA,
which is a federal program, is that correct? That was passed. Is that implemented by the federal Department of
Education or the state? – Basically, in broad terms, they push it down and
the state is responsible for helping with
the implementation. – Okay. And is there any
chance that changes with the new administration? Or do you just assume it won’t? – We just assume it won’t. I guess anything is possible, but I think they’ve
been pretty clear. I think that the commissioner came out with something
the other day and said, “Hey, we’re staying the course.” – And the iZone schools,
for people who don’t know, iZone was the Shelby
County approach to bottom performing schools. ASD was mandated by the state. There was Chris Barbic,
who was on the show, and the women who,
the name escapes me, who’s the superintendent now. – [Dorsey and Bill] Malika. – Malika, thank you. And you all had some competition
and different test scores, and there was that sort of era that we talked about
of students, schools, going into the Achievement
School District. The iZone by some accounts, iZone schools that you’ve
run, have done better. But again, that’s
that turnaround model that you’ve focused on. We have a lot of names
and a lot of programs that we all are very familiar
with, but a lot of acronyms, so I wanted to make sure
we stopped for a second. – And I will say we were proud. Chris and I went to
Nashville a few weeks ago and spent time with the
Senate Education Committee and the House
Education Committee and really was able to
share some good news regarding the iZone and some
of the work we’re doing. I think at the end of the day, we were encouraged by some of
the responses and reactions from some of the legislators. – And you bring up
the legislature. At times, I think
you all have felt, but people in Memphis have felt that the legislature
has been on the attack, has been cutting
funding, dictating things to the school system
in Shelby County that were drawn up on a
whiteboard in Nashville and then had to be implemented without really thinking
it all the way through. I think that’s been a
criticism of the legislature. Do you still see
that the legislature, that the legislature
is on the attack in terms of Shelby
County Schools? – So I think attack
may be too strong. One of the things that
Dorsey and I tried to do, it’s very interesting
how Nashville works, and what we found is a
lot of the legislators were caught in a time warp in that they were still thinking when they thought about
Shelby County Schools now, they were just thinking it was
still Memphis City Schools, and so what we were trying to do is get the accurate,
up to date information that we’re not in any way
the same school district that when all this started
you had MCS on decline, you had the Race to the Top Act, and that’s where
the iZone was born. And I have to give Senator
Norris credit for that. That was his suggestion. And then the ASD was
the state’s approach toward turnaround work. So I think a lot of ’em
weren’t really aware about the Vanderbilt study and how well iZone
has been doing. And really, that’s one of the
key pieces of Race to the Top is to try to reach
those schools, and we think we have a model, well, we know we have
a model that works. And one of the things that
the superintendent and I did was to talk to legislators
about the success we’ve had. And so it’s really about
finding a model that works. We’ve found one, so now
we would just like them to invest in that, and we’ve got some pretty optimistic
remarks from them. – So, Chris, you’ve
expressed some real concerns over your five years
on the school board about the relationship
or the coexistence of the conventional
schools, the iZone schools, and the Achievement
School District. Does ESSA do anything to change those concerns that you have? Does it move it further down
the road toward a resolution? – So my understanding of ESSA is to get more of the decision
making down to the state and then the state
to push it down to the local
education authority. So in the sense that decisions are made closer to
the classroom, I think the closer those decisions
are made to the classroom, the more effective they are and
the less expensive they are. So it’s sort of the
peripheral stuff that throws a
wrench in the works, and then also, the key is how
this stuff gets implemented. And so that’s where the
rubber meets the road, so a lot of it you
have to wait and see what comes out of Nashville. You know how often
things change, bills. You think something
is happening, and then they bring
in a caption bill at the end of the session. So we really have to wait ’till this legislative
session is over and see where the dust
settles and the chips fall to know what we’re dealing with. And then we’ll, of course, like the superintendent
and the administration has done a great job
just reacting to that. – And by the same token, it seems as if with funding
for priority schools, whether they’re iZone or
ASD or if they’re just in the bottom five to 10 percent
and not in either program, some kind of general
guarantee from the state that there’s gonna be funding
for all of those schools. Are the iZone schools in a
period of evolution as well in the midst of this, Dorsey? – Yeah, I think
several things… So we have been told
that ESSA will guarantee some amount of funding
for all priority schools. Not quite sure exactly
what that amount will be, but we obviously will adjust. And obviously, the iZone
schools continue to evolve. When we started the work, they were supposed
to be in the iZone, like the ASD, for five years,
and they’d be turned around, and they essentially
could go back without all the
additional supports. Some of the schools that
we have in the iZone that have been there
five years would be fine without the additional supports. Some continue to need supports. But what we don’t
wanna do, Bill, is you have a
school that has been neglected and struggling
for a long time, you finally get
on the right path and you start to lift
yourself out of the bottom and then pull the rug out from
under ’em with the funding, so we try to be
thoughtful about it. Even though you’re technically not in the bottom
five percent anymore, we still wanna
continue with supports that we know that work. – And you’ve talked about
tier one and tier two schools, which are the two types
of schools, I’ll say, that are in the critical focus,
schools that you’re devoting a lot of attention
to in this budget. Tier one is bottom five
percent, as I understand it. Tier two are the schools
that are bottom 10 percent. – Exactly, exactly. I think that to that point, every year, we talk
about school closures, school closures,
school closures, and I think our board was
very thoughtful this time in saying, “Look, you can close
schools, but at some point, you begin to rip the
hearts out of communities.” And when the feedback is always, Well hey, we didn’t
know our school was in this bad of shape. You haven’t given
us any support in terms of helping
us with enrollment. You haven’t given us
the kind of support in terms of turning
schools around. So what we said this year was, Before we take that critical
step of recommending closure, let’s make sure we
support schools in the way that we know that they need,
and if they show improvement and if they show an ability
to garner more enrollment, then perhaps closure
would not be on the table. So that’s how we came up with the critical focus schools list, and I think there’s about
five million dollars in the budget to
support those schools. But we’re clear, though. If the schools don’t improve or if enrollment continues
to significantly decline, then an option certainly on
the table could be closure. – And so with school closures, and we have about 10
minutes left in the show, with school closures, how
many schools have been closed in the last five years? – [Dorsey] About 22 schools– – That are mothballed
essentially? – Yeah.
– Okay. And how many are on the list to definitely be closed
in the next year or two? – So, we didn’t make
any recommendations around this year– – But you’ve got these
ones that are on, essentially, on notice. – [Dorsey] Exactly. – About how many is that? – I think it’s– – [Eric] 10 or so or? – No. Yeah, let me back up. We did make a couple
of recommendations in terms of some consolidations
and some new bills. We were recommending
consolidating Alcy and Magnolia and building a new school, and then Goodlett
and Knight Road. Because also, in addition
to closing schools, we want our students to have
state of the art facilities, because I think at
the end of the day, you have all this
deferred maintenance, the data is undeniably clear that when you have a
better learning environment it just puts you on better
track for student achievement. So we did recommend
consolidating I think nine schools into three. That process is ongoing. The board has
already approved it. We’re talking to the
County Commission. And then I think there are
another 15 or 16 or so schools that are on the
critical focus list. – And so it’s an
interesting dynamic. You’ve been on the
show a number of times, and other people have been on, talking about school closures. Some people talk
about school closures as that was the answer
and that is the answer. You have these
half empty schools. Close ’em. Save the money. Budget balanced. Now, you’ve closed a
bunch, so were they right? Was that the magic of fixing quote-unquote the school system was just close these
half empty schools? – I don’t think so. I don’t think we can
close enough schools to get us in a position where
we have enough resources. So I think there are instances
where it makes sense, but actually to save money, I don’t know that that’s always the best way to save money
by closing the school, especially if you leave a
gap in those neighborhoods, because what we’ve found is that it’s not the closing
of the school that’s the canary
in the coal mine. It’s the last miner out. Those communities have
already been abandoned by the state, the
county, and the city, so in the natural decline, then you have a migration of
people that can move that move. It’s really, like so
many things in education, there are a lot of
factors that have to be taken into consideration. It’s not so simple that this
one thing directly causes this. – Is it the role, Dorsey, I’m gonna see if I
can frame this right, is that part of your
mission as a school system to keep a school open to
help that neighborhood, above and beyond teaching
the kids in that school? – No, I think that we
obviously have to be, our number one priority has
to be student achievement, and I think that there
are several factors that directly impact
student achievement when you close a school or
choose not to close a school. Having said that,
we do realize that there are some
unintended consequences for closing a school that directly impact
student achievement. For example, we recommended closing a school
earlier this year, Dunbar Elementary School, but then when you go
out to the community and you hear about,
“Now my kid…” this is a neighborhood school. They walked. Now they have to be on
a bus X amount of time. Now these things
happen, now this. And then it does impact
student achievement. So it’s not, we’re gonna be
the neighborhood association, but we have to consider
impact on communities when we make the decisions. – With the time that’s left, let’s switch back
to the legislature. There’s a voucher
bill that I think Senator Kelsey from
Germantown is pushing, and others are supportive. There’s a voucher
bill every year. This one, given, I think,
the state budget situation, seems to have a little
more legs to it. Your take, Chris, on voucher. Voucher programs would
be giving qualified, and I think in this case, low income or a certain
income level families a voucher to take that can
be used at a private school, and approved private school. That money would come out
of the school district and go into the hands
of that private school. Fair description? – Right, right. – [Eric] Your take on this bill. So it depends on, I think
there are two or three bills, so it depends on which
one you’re talking about. And again, it’ll
be the final bill that we’ll be concerned about. But there’s no data to show that the kids will be better
served in a private school, and so I would
hope the decisions are data-based and informed. A more recent study out of
New York, I think it is, showed, again, that
there’s no evidence that that’s an answer toward lifting kids in lower
performing schools out. – But in general, people
think of as private schools, and I’m sure there’s some
people listening going, “Wait, no, private
schools, the test scores “and the college achievement
and the college entrance is much, much, much, much
higher than public schools.” I’m just saying, I’m sure
someone is saying that as they listen to you. – But if you take into
account socioeconomic factors, the families that are involved
in those private schools, just the experiences
they have by the time they’re in the sixth grade compared to a kid
that’s in public school that’s come from a broken
home with maybe one parent that, as we’ve pointed out,
there are 40,000 students that live in households with
less than a $10,000 income. How in the world can that
child have the same experiences as somebody that’s
in a private school that’s had access to other
things outside of the school? So yes, there are some more
supports in that school, but I think even, but then is the experience
gonna be the same? And again, it goes back to,
how is it gonna be implemented? And so I’m very pessimistic
that it’s gonna be an asset. – Well, you’ve got a
huge percentage of kids, just as one example,
then I’ll go to Bill, who get, what, three meals a
day through the school system. And most private schools don’t
offer that kind of support, just to the whole
point of support. And after school
programs cost more money, they’re not free, and
so on and so forth. But just a couple minutes left. Bill, go to you. – We’ve talked a lot
about school closing, and I think sometimes
people think that these changes are exclusive to the schools in the school
system that are within Memphis. That’s not the case at all. You’ve been looking
over several cycles in several different ways
at north Shelby County. And one of the longer range
plans you’ve got is to, I think it was
initially to bring back a Woodstock High School,
now you’re talking about a Woodstock, possibly
K through 12. Where is your
thinking at on that? That’s still a few school
years at least down the road. – I think it’s, if you’ve
ever been out to Woodstock, the facility is
just in bad shape. Then you have North
Haven, it’s not that far, and their facility is
not in great shape, and the same thought process
has to be considered. Those schools are, not
just the physical plants but the achievement level
in those schools are low, and so they need additional
supports, as well. So the thinking is, too, Woodstock has been promised
a new school for decades. And we think that given
the population out there and given the fact that we
lose some kids to Millington just because there’s
no other option that people are interested in,
it just makes sense to have a K through 12
facility out there, a new iZone,
additional supports. But obviously, we wanna do a
lot of community engagement because we haven’t done a K through 12 school
in a long time. So we initially
said six through 12, but then some of the feedback
was, “Why not K through 12?” so we’ll be engaging
the community over the next few
months on that. – Okay. And Bolton High School,
there’s been some talk about that becoming what amounts to, I guess you would call
it an optional school that has an agricultural focus, agriculture and technology
around agriculture on that. And the last I heard,
Commissioner Reaves, who used to be a
school board member, had, I think, a cost
estimate of maybe $35,000 for a consultant
to look at that. – Yes. I think that Commissioner
Reaves was actually gonna use some of his county commissioned
grants and fund it, and they spoke with our
optional schools coordinator and our academic folks and
decided to hold off on that because we’ve got a
plan that I think people will be interested in around
the agricultural standpoint. – All right. We’ll end it there. We’re out of time. I’m sorry to cut you off. Thank you both for being here. Thank you, Bill. Thank you all for joining us. Join us again next week. (orchestral music)

Author:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *