Mayor Wharton seems to have come full circle on how he feels about the Memphis Police Department's involvement in Memphis schools. Back in 2010, he couldn't abide anyone besides MPD officers in schools. Since the surrender of the charter, he's had trouble concealing his glee about no longer having a "maintenance of effort" for the Memphis schools, and finding new ways to spend the $68 million annually that had gone to the schools. This has included ending the presence of MPD officers (School Resource Officers, or "SRO's") in Memphis schools. As of the end of January 2012, it had been made clear to the TPC that school security in the merged district would not include the MPD. Now, here we are two-thirds of the way through the first quarter of 2013, and we find that Mayor Wharton is again an advocate for the MPD's presence in Memphis schools.
Back in November, in one of my earliest posts, I wrote that Memphis has a responsibility to continue to provide police services in Memphis schools - just as all of the municipalities that have police departments plan to do. At the time, I incorrectly assumed that this was a Police Director Toney Armstrong decision. Mayor Wharton is now making clear that this decision - whichever way it goes - is all "his administration's". Mayor Wharton seems to have come to a renewed understanding of the benefits for the city and its police enforcement efforts that stem from a police presence in schools: here he comments to Channel 3, and here, he explains his position to the Memphis Daily News. This is very late in the planning process, and we can hope that Mayor Wharton will expedite his decision making process so that everyone else can get underway with necessary planning. It may also be that Mayor Wharton has missed his window entirely, and that because other government entities have had to make do without his administration's input, they have already made their plans.
As I explained in the November post, neither district is able to fully reimburse either the MPD or the Sheriff for the services that our provided in our community's schools. Most of the safety and security services, therefore, are paid for as part of the MPD and SCSO budgets - unlike both school systems, who fully fund both of their in-house security teams and make lump-sum payments to MPD ($1 million/year) and SCSO ($200,000/year). Back in November, I was surprised that without any input from the School Board, the County Commission selected the most expensive way to provide safety and security services to schools, and decided to hire additional sheriff's deputies at a cost of $2 million per year (actually, a low-ball effort since Mayor Luttrell acknowledges that the actual cost is likely more than double that amount at about $5 million). But maybe it's easier to give more funding to the Sheriff than it is to give more funding to schools.
My view is that as long as most of the municipalities in Shelby County are stepping up to the plate with in-school services, Memphis should not be the only one to walk away from schools within the city limits - especially where that means some other law enforcement agency has to shoulder that burden, possibly at a higher cost. All of that said, it may well be that specially-trained in-district security staff at significant cost savings may be a strong option.
So here's a perfect project for our new Special Master - an issue that is vital to the smooth operation of all of our schools on Day 1, involves multiple parties, where pretty clearly no one is talking to anyone else about how to resolve it, has to do with multiple funding streams, and presents a good opportunity to gain efficiencies for the taxpayer if only Someone would limit the need for negotiation and just tell the parties how it will be done.