Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mayoral Debate Extends to High School Security Concerns

Sun Prairie mayoral debate extends to school security
From the Sun Prairie STAR, 3-19-09:

Sun Prairie Mayor Joe Chase and Hariah Hutkowski, the District 1 Alderman vying to replace Chase and become the city's next mayor, faced off in a televised debate on Friday, March 13.

The candidates also discussed their different approaches to school safety. Chase said the school board and administration should address school safety, while Hutkowski said the mayor should take leadership.

"I think the high school has the responsibility to provide a safe and secure place for those students and they have security people on staff but ask the students and they'll tell you those security people don't do anything," Chase said. "We do have a police officer liaison up there to take care of criminal activity. I don't want to see any more officers up there taking care of criminal activity. I think it's the school's responsibility."

But Hutkowski said the number of calls from the high school to the police department is increasing, posing concern about the current system's effectiveness. "This is indicative of a trend we are seeing in our high school and as mayor I hope to reverse that trend by adding resources upon request," Hutkowski said. "It's all taxpayer dollars and we're trying to keep our kids safe whether it's out of the city's pocket or out of the school district's pocket. It needs to get taken care of. We need to see some leadership to reverse this trend."

What do YOU think, people? More police in the schools? Is it really the mayor's place to "police" schools, as challenger Hutkowski opines? Or is Mayor Chase's belief that the responsibility for school safety lies with district administration best for Sun Prairie?

Certainly---although the school board and district do not like to air their dirty laundry--- expulsions are on the rise, and most of these are related to violent behavior within the school. That is a fact.

One interesting side note from a fiscal perspective is the ramifications of the city (vs. the school district) bearing the cost for more police presence at the high school. Barring any "chargebacks"...this could be a way for the school district to obtain security without having to count the expenses against the revenue cap. That would sure buy a lot of steak dinners for the school board!

In the end, does it really matter whether the city pays (and taxes residents) for school security or whether the school district does the spending and taxing? Certainly it would be passing on expenses, which would mean that more state aid and property tax revenues could directly fund education. We don't profess to have the answers [Hey! THIS would be a good occasion to get a legal opinion!!!] , but strategically speaking this is just the kind of ball-playing we usually see from the district...manipulating the system to get what they want.

On the other side of the coin, the school district covers more than just Sun Prairie city residents, so if the city bears the tax burden, then residents of other municipalities in the district get to share in the security without the added tax burden. Is that an equitable approach?

If you ask us, Mayor Joe hit this one out of the park. The issue of safety in our schools has to be dealt with by district administration--in consultation with the students, the parents, and the community, of course. We HAVE a police liaison in the high school already, and the police can always be called if their is an incident. With the increase in burglaries, shootings, and even drugs, our police force needs to be on the streets where they are visible as a deterrent.

One last point to consider on the issue is something that came up during the Diversity Issues meeting last Thursday night. Several panel members encouraged the district to hire security personnel that mirror the diversity of the community and the high school. That's likely something that is more realistically possible through an outside security firm rather than our own police force. These security personnel are there to be eyes and ears on alert for developing, smoldering tensions. If they can connect with the students, they have a better chance of achieving success. Sometimes a badge and a gun discourage connectedness.

Sun Prairie is not alone in this issue:
New York City
The [New York] city police department says the plan is part of an effort to get back to community policing; some worry armed police should not be part of the regular school day.

Seattle, WA

On-line debate