Order comes at a cost

No one wants to put police officers in schools, but their presence is preferable to their absence.

This week's decision by the Champaign school board to maintain a police presence in five of its school buildings reflects an obvious triumph for common sense.

Kerris Lee, the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote, said he voted in opposition because he questions whether the $291,000 cost is "the most efficient way to use our money." He's certainly right about that.

Paying for five "school resource officers" at Central and Centennial high schools and Edison, Franklin and Jefferson middle schools is not the most efficient or preferred way to expend tax dollars intended for educational purposes. But it's an unfortunate necessity because the kind of disruptions that occurred before the officers were in the schools significantly undermined the efficiency of the educational process.

There can be no effective learning in an atmosphere of chaos and turmoil. That's why maintaining an orderly atmosphere has to be the district's top priority, and it's clear from the statistics presented to the school board that the officers' presence — the steady decline of problems — has gone a long way toward calming the atmosphere. Indeed, it is inarguable.

The critics who wanted to withdraw the officers from the school mistakenly presume the officers represent a hostile, occupying force intent on picking on minority youngsters. The evidence shows that has not been the case.

The officers are present not only to put a stop to trouble when it breaks out but to prevent it from happening in the first place. The benefits of keeping impulsive youngsters out of trouble are incalculable because it's those young people who stand to benefit most from the educational opportunities available to them.

Placing police officers in schools is no small thing. So it's important to give contentious issues a thorough airing, and it's especially crucial to provide the critics a respectful hearing.

But the facts were all on one side of the argument, and the improvements that have occurred are visible to anyone who wishes to see.

The board's decision was the only one it could reasonably make.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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pattsi wrote on July 04, 2014 at 9:07 pm

In a previous online comment, I mentioned that I attended this BOE mtg to listen to the conversation about SRO's since the county is working through the issues of the jail and community justice. These are related.

There are a number of aspects not included in this edition and conclusion.

1. During the discussion, it became clear that the same contract with no changes was basically renewed year after year for 9 years.

2. During these periods of time and renewals there has been no evaluations, research, or controls to find out if in fact using SRO's is the best approach to keep order in the schools, which it appears most agree is important.

3. OrlandoThomas, when asked if he had surveyed the parents this year, the answer was that he had no parental input as to the effectiveness or non effectiveness of this approach.

4. At least 3 school board members expressed concerns that there appears to be a need for more school counselors per school; yet, there was never a suggestion of redirecting some of the SRO funds to accomplish such.

5 A couple of the school board members expressed concerns about the lack of data concerning the effectiveness of the SRO let alone what they do during the course of a day.

6. With the above mentioned concerns no board member moved to table the motion until the next meeting so parents could be surveyed and more broken down data could be analyzed and presented.

7. Nor was there a suggestion that it might be worth while to introduce an alternative approach in say one of the junior high schools to use as a measure of effectiveness of different approaches.

So the editorial conclusion that renewing the contract is the only option may not be the case.

rsp wrote on July 05, 2014 at 9:07 am

When the program was started I think it may have been the best choice. I think at that point the schools were in a crisis. This would be a very good time to look at what they are doing now and seeing what can be done to add on, and to make it less of a need. It's a complex issue that really should be studied over time. I would be more interested in the UI doing a study, or someone else outside without any interest. Maybe the Police Institute. Kids who don't have a male role model may not go to a counselor for support. A lot of kids are getting that from the SROs. A quick acknowledgment may be all they need to get by. It may be enough to get them to report something.

pattsi wrote on July 05, 2014 at 2:07 pm

A small, but maybe significant bit of history concerning choosing SRO's. Nine years ago just before spring break Imani Bazzell and Meldoyne Rosales and probably others presented to the then school board an alternative being used elsewhere in the county, not involving SRO's. Even though the push by the Unit 4 administration and Champaign police was to approve the concept of SRO's right then so they could be trained and ready by the coming Sept. The BOE choose the alternative. HOWEVER, at the very next BOE mtg, the board reversed the decision and choose SRO's. No eplanation for the reversal, no nothing. From that moment on, SRO's have been in place--no checks and balances, no controlled experiment, no evaluations, no nothing. I personally attended the first mtg that I have described, not the second. So this is primary source data. All of these years I have wondered what caused the reversal. Recently, I was told, second hand, that the then Chief Finney made some phone calls during the intervening weeks.

Bottomline, an alternative was offered. An alternative that was modeled after other functioning programs.