Interim countywide schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson told the school board Tuesday, Aug. 27, that “jurisdiction issues” between the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office were the primary cause of security problems at schools this month.
Hopson added that he, Memphis Police brass and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office continue to review school security measures.
“We have more uniform officers at our schools than we ever have before,” he said. “But there was some misunderstanding or disagreement between the sheriff’s department and the city of Memphis as to who had jurisdiction. … Obviously that’s a jurisdictional issue that we can’t solve. We are working with both the sheriff and police director to make sure we get this right.”
Elementary schools began using handheld metal detectors last week as part of the reaction to a kindergarten student who brought a gun to Westside Elementary School in his backpack. The gun went off inside the backpack in the school. No one was injured. But the incident exposed the jurisdiction issues Hopson referred to.
Hopson told the board ordering more of the handheld metal detectors for the elementary schools for all to have them will mean spending an extra $18,000 to $20,000 in the current fiscal year.
He also said the emerging security considerations will not amount to a “one-size-fits-all” security policy for every school.
On the school board’s agenda Tuesday were three resolutions, each from members of the old Memphis City Schools board who were attending their last meetings as the 23-member board becomes a seven-member board effective Sept. 1.
The board approved a resolution recognizing unions that had represented employees under the old Memphis City Schools system as a representative of some employees. The resolution by board member Dr. Jeff Warren does not recognize the unions for purposes of collective bargaining.
It was the most debated item of the evening with Warren saying it was a simple recognition that the school system would talk with the union leaders representing teachers and other employees.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without unions,” Warren said. “It costs nothing but says we respect them.”
Other board members, including Chris Caldwell, thought union members in the audience might believe it was a formal recognition in terms of bargaining rights.
“This doesn’t give you any bargaining right,” Caldwell said. “I want you to know what the truth is.”
Hopson said state law prohibits collective bargaining with or without such a resolution. As long as employees and union leaders and board members realize that, he told the board he was “probably agnostic” in terms of his position on the resolution. He also noted signs in the audience urging the board to “support labor contracts.”
School board member David Pickler said the passage of the resolution reflected the intent of the 23-member board. But he added that he did not consider it binding on the seven-member board to come.
School board member David Reaves criticized the resolution as “nothing more than a feel good piece of paper.”
Plumbers, carpenters and other craft trade workers were among those in the audience. The workers from the legacy Memphis City Schools system complained that craft trade workers for the legacy Shelby County Schools system are paid more than them.
Hopson said the higher pay for some workers who are all now a part of a single school system will see a leveling up over a three-year period with the inequity remaining for now. The three-year period is part of the state law that sets the terms of schools mergers.
The other resolution approved Tuesday by board member Patrice Robinson requests the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office review the school system’s health care plan and report on the feasibility of the school system’s employees joining either the Shelby County government health care insurance plan or the state government’s group insurance plan.
Meanwhile, the board deferred action Tuesday on a resolution by board member Betty Mallott to move toward setting up some method for more objectively judging the performance of charter schools. Hopson requested the indefinite delay saying he and his staff plan to come back to the board with a more detailed plan.