Police officers are not assigned to patrol the hallways of Montgomery County's public schools next year for the first time since 2003, sparking fears about a rise in violence and dangerous behaviors. This year, 34 police officers work inside the schools, assisting security guards and working with students to prevent crimes and detect risks. In spring 2009, an officer at Silver Spring's Springbrook High School prevented a planned bomb plot against the school's principal and a guidance counselor. In wealthier schools with a safer reputation, parents cite problems with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as bullying.
"We have no way of knowing how many incidents [the officers] have prevented, and we won't find out until next year when we see a possible increase in arrests," said Laurie Halverson, chairwoman of the health and safety committee for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations. "Do we want to wait to find out?"
County Executive Ike Leggett in March recommended the $4 million program be cut in half, for a savings to the county of $2 million as it tried to fill a nearly $1 billion shortfall through fiscal 2011. In April, Leggett shifted the remaining $2 million to the schools' budget, instead of the county's. But when the county cut an additional $24 million from the schools' budget last week, school officials said they couldn't afford to fund the officers. A similar program in Fairfax County was slated to be cut in half, but the Board of Supervisors found funding to keep it at the current year's levels.
"We'll still have security staff in the schools," said Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig. "And we'll always work closely with the police."
But dozens of teachers and parents are trying to convince county leaders that security guards alone aren't enough.
"This action by the council is [a] tremendously shortsighted attempt to save money," wrote 36-year teaching veteran Gary Frace in an e-mail to the County Council. "Many of the issues we are facing in the schools today are of a much [more] serious nature than in the past," he wrote.
Halverson said PTA members have inspired more than 80 e-mails and numerous calls to local officials, asking for a reconsideration before the council passes its final budget on Thursday.
SOURCE: Washington Examiner