Decisions pending by Concord School Board members on SRO, budget

Monitor staff
Published: 3/28/2021 5:22:47 PM

The Concord School Board will meet on Monday to once more discuss its school resource officer position and a proposed $25,000 addition to the $96 million budget to evaluate its discipline policy.

The board will then have a vote on Wednesday finalizing the proposed $96,166,257 budget for the 2021-2022 school year.

The school board held two hearings last week to listen to community opinions on the school budget. The first, a 19-minute meeting held March 22 at Mill Brook School, was sparsely attended and no community members made public comment.

The second budget hearing was held March 24 at Concord High School and 13 community members offered public comments, most focused on the issue of Concord’s school resource officer (SRO) position and the $25,000 addition to the budget.

The board is considering keeping or removing the $88,000 school resource position in light of a recommendation from the district’s anti-racism advisory committee to review the position, and the suggestion of some community members and local racial justice advocates to remove it.

Some of the community members who spoke on Wednesday reiterated arguments for and against keeping the resource officer position, echoing arguments made previously at a March 3 public hearing held specifically to discuss the SRO. Among them, two Concord High School students spoke in favor of keeping the SRO, saying an officer made them feel safe from outside threats, including school shooters.

Other speakers focused on the proposed $25,000 addition to the school budget to hire an outside contractor to conduct an independent analysis of the district’s discipline system, including the SRO position.

School board members voted March 8 to add the sum to the budget, after members argued over whether it’s possible to draw a conclusion about racial bias in the school’s discipline system from the minimal amount of student arrest data currently available. The $25,000 is an estimate of what the services may cost, though the final number won’t be known until they select the contractor.

Concord parent Gilles Bissonnette asked what information a consultant might provide that the board doesn’t already have.

“What is a consultant going to be able to discern from the data that the board can’t already discern for itself with respect to how Concord uses its school resource officer?” Bissonnette said. “I think without a strong answer to this question, I fear this consultant proposal is just kicking the can down the road on this really important question.”

Kate Vaughn, a Concord parent who ran for school board in 2020, said she doesn’t think a consultant is good use of money, because it is unlikely to tell the district anything it doesn’t already know.

“This is a decision this board should, and can make,” Vaughn said. “The board wants additional data and the political cover of the consultant’s report. But the board has what it needs to make that decision and show the courage it needs to make that decision.”

At the same meeting, board members discussed the role the Board should take when adopting statements, such as the one made Jan. 4 promising to stand up against racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry. The conversation came up after board member Jonathan Weinberg proposed a motion to reaffirm the statement, in response to the recent spotlight on anti-Asian violence in the U.S.

Board member David Parker said actions or recommendations to the district and its anti-racism advisory committee may be more appropriate than “political blanket statements.” Board member Gina Cannon said she is concerned about the board being asked to take positions that “exceed our area of responsibility and authority,” and said she is uncomfortable making comments as an elected school board official about “broader, socio-political positions.”

Board President Jim Richards said it’s not too broad to say we are not going to tolerate this racism in our school community.

“We are stating that this is a situation we are not going to tolerate in our school community,” Richards said. “That is the area that we are responsible for. That is the area that our statements do matter and carry a lot of weight and influence, so I am very comfortable with that respect.”

Ultimately, the board voted to pass the motion, but only as it pertains to the school community, not the full state of New Hampshire. Board members Cannon, Parker, Richards, Weinberg, Danielle Smith, Pamela Walsh and Kate West voted yes, while Brenda Hastings abstained. Board member Barb Higgins was not present.

The school board will meet next on Monday, March 29.


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