Losing school police officer last straw for parents

Nobody liked losing NTAs, administrative positions or the supply budget at Shawmont Elementary School, but staffers and parents dealt with it.  Times are tough; everyone did more.  Teachers spent more money out of their own pockets; parents sent in supplies, too.

But losing the school police officer was the last straw for Janet McHale and Michelle Havens, the Roxborough school’s Home and School Association co-presidents.

“We realize that in these tough economic times, something needs to be done to help stop the madness of overspending,” McHale and Havens wrote in a letter to me.  “We can deal with having to send in reams of paper so that the teachers can make copies to assist our children in learning.  What we cannot stand for is when the school district indiscriminately puts the safety and welfare of our school children at risk.”

The Philadelphia School District, of course, is grappling with the worst budget crisis anyone has ever seen.  On Friday, officials announced they must still cut $38.8 million by June to make ends meet.

But it’s already made numerous painful reductions — laying off thousands of employees, cutting programs, reducing already stretched school budgets.  

But what really got to McHale and Havens was the layoff of 91 school police officers.  Shawmont was one of 25 schools that lost its officer, bringing to 100 the total of district schools without an officer.

District officials have said that roving school police patrols will cover those schools, and Philadelphia police will also monitor them.

That’s not good enough for McHale.

“It’s a safe school, and one of the reasons it’s a safe school is because we had a school police officer,” she said.

Their officer, who was not laid off but sent to another city elementary school, was a calming presence in the school, McHale said.

“Kids felt they could go to her — in school, out of school,” said McHale.

The school has 585 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.  It’s got an academic music program that attracts students from around the city.  And with the Catholic school closings and mergers, “we’ve had people coming in right and left for tours,” McHale said.

A large city elementary school can’t afford to be without a school police officer, the moms think.

They’ve called an emergency Home and School meeting for Tuesday.  The group will brainstorm ways to get their officer back, McHale said.

“We’ve got to do something,” she said.  “This isn’t safe.”

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Ridge Avenue Methodist Church, Ridge and Shawmont Avenues.