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Officials decry cuts to school police force budget

Leaders for Baltimore city's school police force and teachers' union blasted recent budget cuts at Tuesday's school board meeting, making references to the mass shootings in Orlando, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut.

On May 31, eight school police officers learned they were laid off due to recent budget cuts that the school board unanimously approved. The budget for school police for fiscal year 2017 was $7.18 million, compared to a budget in fiscal year 2015 of $13.89 million.

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Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the school police union, referenced this weekend's mass shooting in Orlando while addressing the board and an overflowing crowd of activists, teachers, parents and students. He began talking about how he noticed strategically-placed police around Disney World when he took his 10-year-old child there over the Christmas holiday.

"The reason I'm talking about Disney is we now know that terrorists scoped out Disney as a potential location to carry out his terrorist threat in Orlando, Florida," Boatwright said. "But he chose the nightclub that had one lone police officer there. There are … thousands of people who lives are forever changed. Are we next?"

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Marietta English, president of the teachers' union, referenced the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, arguing for school police officers to be in schools that are considered safe as well as unsafe.

"The residents of Sandy Hook certainly thought their school was safe but unfortunately they too were visited by violence," English said. "Who knows if a school police officer had been on station there. If that person had just seen the presence of a school police officer they may not have taken an act of violence to destroy the lives of such innocent babies."

Amirah Austin has a 7-year-old child who goes to Frederick Elementary. She recalled how when she grew up in the Baltimore city school system, school police gave her advice and helped her stay out of fights.

While the school board unanimously approved the budget May 3, Boatwright said he has hope there is money still available after seeing other budget maneuvering this week. He referenced the recent $4.2 million for youth programs that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she would restore after pressure from City Council members.

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"I'm seeing $2.8 million here, $4 million there," Boatwright said in an interview. "There's money somewhere to return the school police officers into schools. Are we going to talk about safe schools or are we really going to create safe schools?"

While Boatwright said his union will not take any significant action to advocate for new funds beyond speeches he did say an uptick in school violence will speak for itself.

"How many passionate speeches do we need to have?" he asked.

The school police, which was a 126-member force last month, is now down to 105 members, Boatwright said.

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