Friday, August 28, 2015

Philly Safe Schools Advocate back?

An independent watchdog on violence in Philadelphia schools is about changing the attitudes of those who enforce rules, not about metal detectors, a legislator said. Rep. John Taylor hopes to re-fund the Philadelphia Office of Safe Schools Advocate.

Philly Safe Schools Advocate back?



Two Philadelphia-area state representatives will introduce legislation to fully fund the Office of Safe Schools Advocate for the Philadelphia School District, they said.

Rep. John Taylor (R-Phila.) held a press conference today announcing the legislation, which will be introduced with Rep. Bill Keller (D-Phila.)  in early April.

Taylor and Keller authored the original law that established the Safe Schools Advocate Law in 2001.

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The announcement comes as The Inquirer publishes a seven-part investigative series on violence in the district.  The investigation found widespread underreporting, inconsistencies in discipline, and best practices that are not replicated district-wide.

The 2001 law needs strengthening, Taylor said.  The safe schools advocate job went dark in 2009 when the state stopped funding the position. 

Since then, the job functions - chiefly, advocating for victims of violence - have been performed by an office in Susquehanna Township, Cumberland County.  (That's more than two hours away from Philadelphia.)

Closing the office was a violation of state law, and politically motivated, Taylor said.  He said the Rendell administration was angered by reports critical of the district.

"This is not a suggestion that we made," Taylor said of funding the office.  "This is in statute."

Taylor and Keller's legislation would also move the office from the Department of Education to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Harvey Rice, the first safe schools advocate and now Deputy City Controller, attended the press conference.  Jack Stollsteimer, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, held the job after Rice.  He's now an attorney for the state treasurer's office.

When he held the job, Rice said, he was often in court with victims.  He visited schools to talk to students, teachers and principals.  He said reporting was more honest when his office was around.

Rice said he dealt with about 800 complaints a year, sometimes more.  These were from people who had often gone through district channels unsuccessfully.

Though the fiscal situation in Harrisburg is grim, Taylor said he hoped the legislation would pass.  He's going to ask for $1 million in funding for the office annually, but said it could realistically operate on much less, perhaps about $300,000 a year.

"This is not about metal detectors," Taylor said.  "This is about the attitudes of those who enforce the rules."

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Kristen Graham Inquirer Staff Writer
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