Monday, March 7, 2011

Police and Schools

Many thoughts and opinions circulate around this topic. When anyone questions or poses change to the “school districts” it normally sparks a fair amount of debate and rightfully so. If there is any one single item in society people hold dear to them, it’s the education and safety of their children. Everyone wants what’s best for their children; my parents did and so did yours. The recent announcement of the Troy Police Department reducing the presence of the School Resource Officers (SRO) at the schools sparked such debate. My wife and I do not have any children and I cannot speak from that perspective, but I can speak as a person who has been involved in the community, served as a member of several school/community forums, and as a graduate of the Troy School District.

When I first learned of the SRO program a number of years ago I could not believe what I was hearing. Really, you need cops to patrol Troy schools? I wondered what happened from when I graduated, which wasn’t that long ago, to now, that requires the presence of uniformed, armed, police officers. I was stunned. But as I learned more, took stock of the changing social climate in the city, and became more involved, it began to make sense. From then on I became a believer. I personally know a few of the current and previous SRO’s. I hear the examples of how their intervention has positively impacted the at-risk youth and the community as a whole through educating kids and parents, and preventing incidents. I personally support this program.

When I was first learning about SRO’s, I asked how this program was funded and what is the relationship between the school districts and the City? I was told that the City was reimbursed with grant monies for the officer’s time while they are in the schools. However, the grant had an expiration date and over the life of the grant the reimbursement monies decreased until the grant is exhausted, thereby placing the burden of the expense on the City. The grant is now exhausted and has been for a period of time. Three Troy Police Officers work, while school is in session, at Lansingburgh, Doyle, and Troy High. Many people have said to me, “How can anyone put a value on the children’s education and safety, by saying we can’t afford police in our schools?” That’s a valid question, but what about my previous question of, “What is the relationship between the school districts and the City?” What happened to the school security service and the “no nonsense” administration policies that were in place when I was in school? We pay more in school taxes every year than we pay in city and county taxes. What does or should this afford us? There are administrators in our schools that earn a great deal more than our mayor and for the most part we have no say in who governs our schools. Yes, there is an elected school board of education, but honestly what level of influence do they hold? Isn’t it fair to say that our schools are not performing at a desirable level? Doesn’t anyone see an issue with both schools districts rushing bond votes through worth tens of millions of dollars and the majority of these projects, at each school, revolve around renovation of the athletic fields, converting them to artificial turf? What happened to priorities? What happened to public accountability? If the education and safety of our city’s youth is top priority, I believe it is incumbent upon the school districts to get their house in order.

This isn’t a political issue, currently all sides are calling for reform, and Governor Cuomo is calling people to task. Just like any business you can’t fix the problem just by throwing money at it, which has been the practice far too long. We created a governmental agency, the NYS Lottery, to assist in the subsidization of the public school system. All that was created was a beast of a public entity and all that has been achieved is furthering people’s gambling addictions.

It would be a shame if these officers were removed from the schools. It would be a shame if the school districts didn’t take the bull by the horns and say, “How can we make this happen, together?” Rather than play the victim. People should be tired of school districts playing the victim, tugging at the strings of the public’s heart; all while rising our taxes by three or more percent a year on a regular basis, constantly underperforming. It’s time for them to step up to the plate, clean up their act, and act accordingly. The school administrators should be held to the same standard we hold our elected officials on the city council, our mayor, and administrators such as our police chief. Work together and resolve this issue.

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