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Subtracting safety from the school equation
Cutting school police, NTAs and other vital staff makes it more difficult make schools safer and more secure.

Students, parents and school staff should be outraged at the district’s decision to eliminate 91 per diem school police officers on Friday, as the SRC tries to close its latest budget deficit.

District officials have assured parents that city police will step in to fill the gap created by the loss of 211 school police officers since June. With violent crime in the city skyrocketing this year, does the city really have the resources to help keep the peace in schools?

These layoffs follow six months of cuts that have left our schools with fewer teachers, non-teaching assistants, counselors, classroom assistants, secretaries, school operations officers, community liaisons, school nurses, clerks and other education professionals hired to support learning and improve the school climate.

The cuts come on the heels of the latest report on school violence, which was released last month by a city-district blue ribbon commission. The report called for better violence prevention programs, improved reporting of school crime, greater transparency and more training for staff – none of which seems likely with the huge cuts in school staff.

With every deficit-reducing cut, it has become more difficult for the remaining staff to make schools safer. The district may be saving money with these cuts, but we have to consider the long-term cost. The National Dropout Prevention Center reports that only half the kids in America feel safe at school and tens of thousands of students nationwide are truant because they feel threatened or bullied.

If we want kids to learn and thrive, we have to create a learning environment where they feel safe and supported. And no amount of metal detectors, cameras, swipe-cards and computers can replace trained school employees, who know students by name, who have earned their trust and can work proactively to keep kids safe.

We know how to make schools safe. We need consistent rules, positive reinforcement, proven anti-bullying and anti-violence programs and consistent consequences from the time children enter kindergarten until they graduate. We have to teach and model the behavior we expect from children every day, year after year, and demonstrate in big and small ways that students will be rewarded if they practice self control.

There are no shortcuts, no videos or technology that can take the place of caring, trained adults. In a city where three-quarters of our children live in poverty, teachers and support staff must have the resources and time to teach students the lessons that children from wealthier families get at home.

Schools that are stripped of staff and resources won’t be successful in teaching teach kids these valuable life lessons. Cut after cut leaves our schools less able to do the important job of shaping the next generation of citizens and leaders.

Cuts in personnel and after-school programs are just the latest of the district’s budget solutions that don’t add up to safer schools or higher achievement for kids.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 3, AFL-CIO. All rights reserved. Photographs and illustrations, as well as text, cannot be used without permission from the PFT.