The Investigators: The High Cost of School Security - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators: The High Cost of School Security

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - School leaders from all over the country are in New York this week to discuss what is and is not working within our schools, and with taxpayers paying nearly one billion dollars a year for Memphis City Schools, the Action News Five Investigators are watching very closely.

One part of the budget that is raising eyebrows is the high cost of school security.

The Security Chief at Memphis City Schools, Gerald Darling, makes 40 percent more than the director of the Memphis Police Department - and that's just the beginning.  Some of the salary numbers shocked local police and school leaders across the country.

While Darling makes more than $167,000 per year, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin earns $120,000.  Darling oversees roughly 120 employees, while Godwin is in charge of more than 3,000.

The second-in-command of school security is the Director of Administrative Support, Carolyn Jackson, who earns nearly $115,000 per year - 70 percent more than what she earned while employed by Memphis police.

"She makes more than my Deputy Director," Godwin said.

That's right.  Jackson left the Memphis Police Department for Memphis City Schools, where the pay is much better.

"I'm a taxpayer. As a taxpayer, I question why no one has to answer. I have to answer to (Memphis City) Council," Godwin said.  "Over there, they can hire and set the salaries, and I guess the elected school board says, 'Yeah, that's fine.'"

Not the Reverend Kenneth Whalum, who was the only school board member to vote against Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash's latest budget.  Whalum says the school board routinely rubber stamps whatever Cash proposes.

Under Cash, the size of the security department has more than doubled.  He's also added 20 new Dodge Chargers.

"They are high-tech," Whalum said. "I mean, it looks like the 'A-Team.'"

But Cash's latest job review revealed the security expansion has not made a dent in school fights.  In fact, suspensions and expulsions of elementary school students are actually on the rise.

Memphis City Schools denied Action News 5's requests to ask Cash about his security budget, instead referring questions to MCS Chief of Staff Alfred Hall, who defended security salaries.

"His salary is commensurable with others across the country," Hall said.

That may not be true.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is the nation's second largest school district, with nearly 700,000 students.  The district is plagued by gang activity, and the cost of living is very high.  Meanwhile, Memphis City Schools 105,000 students.  While gang activity pales in comparison on L. A., school fights and crime are a problem, and the cost of living is far less.

So how much does the L. A. Unified Chief of Police get paid? A maximum of $150,000 per year, based on tenure.

Action News 5 asked Hall if that salary number surprised him.

"I'm not sure who's leading those efforts in Los Angeles," he replied.

"Take into account the roles Chief Darling put in place here, not only providing safe and secure learning environments and addressing the serious issues we're facing here, but also providing leadership," he added.

Action News 5 asked Hall what districts his salaries are comparable to.

"There are similar comparisons to Baltimore in terms of their staff, and the way it's organized. And Palm Beach, Florida, I think is comparable salary," he said.

LORI BROWN: So are his salaries the same as those two districts that you named?
ALFRED HALL: No, his salary is in the range of other leaders in those districts.
BROWN: So it's still higher than those districts?
HALL: No, not both of them, no. He's between Baltimore, and Palm Beach. He's between those areas."

Actually he's not.  Darling earns 32 percent more than the Chief in Palm Beach County Florida - a larger district. Jackson earns 25 percent more.

At Baltimore City Schools - smaller district - Darling earns 36 percent more, while Jackson earns 15 percent more.

"As a taxpayer, I would wonder why," Godwin said. "And that's no slap to them, I don't know all their duties. I'd welcome them to follow me around for a day if they'd like to."

If you want to talk to the Memphis City School Board members who approved this budget - click here. 

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