My Turn: A $25,000 mistake in assessing the need for an SRO

For the Monitor
Published: 3/20/2021 8:22:39 AM

I agree with the criticism of the Concord School Board for voting to spend $25,000 or more to hire a consultant to review the SRO position in the schools. Arrest records suggest racial bias, perhaps unconscious racial bias, in the arrests of Black students at the high school.

According to school board member Pamela Walsh, there isn’t enough data about SROs, and the school board would also need to figure out what schools would look like without an SRO. So, hire a consultant. Twice as many people spoke out against continuing the SRO position at a school board meeting. Despite this lopsided tally, according to school board member Jonathan Weinberg, there needs to be “a good compromise.” So, hire a consultant.

These are not good reasons to spend $25,000 for this purpose. Regarding the need for data, what does the school board think the consultant will do? I’ll bet it will include interviewing school staff and other “stakeholders,” such as students, who have already raised their voices on this issue and those persons who spoke at the school board meeting – for free. I’ll bet it will also include reviewing arrest data – something the Concord Monitor has already done. If the school board charges the consultant to make recommendations, some people will be happy with the recommendations because they agree with what they already felt and some people will not. The best way to get people invested in a decision is when they come up with a solution themselves, not simply respond to recommendations from an outside source. So what is the likelihood that the $25,000 will yield any tangible benefit?

Maybe the school board doesn’t know what a school would look like without an SRO, but I – and the tens of thousands of Concord residents who attended school without an SRO – do. Are the schools any worse without an SRO, or better with one? I certainly don’t think that given the recent revelation of sexual abuse of students at the high school anyone could plausibly believe that SROs prevented crime there.

There is no good “compromise” in spending $25,000 for a consultant if it means that $25,000 won’t be available for actual educational purposes. I know that $25,000 can’t fully compensate a paraprofessional’s salary and benefits. But it can add to it, and given that, year after year, the school board eliminates paraprofessional positions, the priority should be spending money on education, not on an outside consultant who is making over $200 an hour –not an unreasonable assumption, given the $25,000 price tag – to summarize information that could easily be gained more efficiently, effectively, and cheaply, by sending surveys to parents, students, and staff, holding forums, setting up a committee of concerned stakeholders to review the police data, etc. In fact, I remember that earlier this year, the school board voted to set up a committee on racial diversity itself. What happened to that committee? Can’t this committee spearhead a discussion on this issue?

A short time ago, the school board ratified then-superintendent Forsten’s budget to create five new vice-principal positions, for the specific purpose of discipline. Was that decision arrived at after a consultant was hired to look at the needs of the school? I don’t remember that that was the case. Similarly, I don’t know if the school board hired a consultant before it hired an SRO in the first place. If it didn’t, how can it justify the need now to spend $25,000 that I am sure can be put to better use actually contributing to students’ education.

In the same article that reported the $25,000 consultant vote, the Monitor reported that the high school convened a committee consisting of staff, students, and an “outside facilitator” to look at free speech issues in the school. I assume that the “outside facilitator” is also getting paid. What message does hiring an “outside facilitator” send? It sends the message that students cannot work out these issues themselves. It sends the message that they cannot look to the adults at the school to facilitate the dialogue. Perhaps no adult at the school feels equipped to lead the discussion, although I hope that is not the case.

(Sheila Zakre lives in Concord.)

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