Mayor’s School Safety Program connects school districts, police department - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Mayor’s School Safety Program connects school districts, police department

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Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2013 6:49 am | Updated: 2:27 pm, Thu Apr 4, 2013.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton proposed in his state of the city address last month a new program to double police presence in schools and unify work between districts and the police department, which could produce different outcomes in Ahwatukee Foothills schools.

One thing Stanton’s School Safety Program has already changed across the board, however, is unity.

“The focus really was about connecting us,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Baca of the Tempe Union High School District.

Baca met with Stanton during the week of the city address, along with Kyrene School District Superintendent Dr. David Schauer and other education leaders.

“Safety is always a priority (along with really knowing) one another and to be able to work together,” Baca said.

The program announced by Stanton has started piloting an electronic tool that stores information about schools around the city, with Kyrene being one of the first districts on board. The tool would help the Phoenix Police Department know each school’s emergency response plan, school layout, and other information quickly in case of an event.

A more streamlined communication plan between officers and schools is also part of the program’s goals.

With the program calling for doubled police presence in schools that don’t have school resource officers, Tempe Union High School District wouldn’t see many changes. All high schools within the district, including Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe in Ahwatukee Foothills, have officers on staff.

Kyrene School District, which has no school resource officers in any of its Ahwatukee Foothills schools, had an officer on staff at every middle school in the district as recent as a few years ago.

The mayor’s program introduces the option of school safety officers, costing less than 50 percent of the traditional school resource officer, and would maintain the same duties such as offering a police presence and watching over school campuses.

The cost would be nearly $35,000 to fund a middle or elementary school with seven-hour working days, five days a week, according to the program details.

But with Kyrene’s near $9 million budget deficit for next school year, spending funds for the more affordable school safety officers isn’t likely.

Schauer said though the officers are well worth the investment, “they are expensive.”

“My worst fear is that we’d have some kind of legislation go through that requires the officers and the way it’s funded is to take money from other programs,” Schauer said. “It’s not practical.”

With the program also extending out to include charter schools, Horizon Community Learning Center’s Executive Director Betsy Fera said she’d be open to the idea, as long as more details are provided.

“It’s interesting that he’s proposed this,” said Fera of Stanton. “I would be open to know more about what they have to offer in terms of safety.”

Though about half of traditional school resource officers in the state are funded through grants, Schauer said the districts still have to spend some money even for part-time hours.

Though the program is still in its early stages, with no clear time frame of when full implementation would occur, Schauer said he is preparing staff for more safety precautions and setting up office spaces for local police officers to visit schools.

While safety in schools continues to be on the forefront of the public’s mind in light of recent tragic events around the country, it’s a whole new world for school officials.

“Most of us don’t have that background,” Schauer said. “We’ve been thrust into this world of safety and security and we’re trying to figure this out.”

The Mayor’s Office will be hosting a series of meetings with school officials around the Valley about the School Safety Program for input, but they are not open to the public.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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