Jul 13, 2016

Bridgeport’s School Police May Be Saved

Published in the Fairfield Citizen

Written by Linda Conner Lambeck

BRIDGEPORT — The jobs of five school police officers may be saved, thanks to a city deal that freezes salaries in exchange for restoring those positions, but it’s not clear who is responsible for paying the five salaries.

The city’s deal, which school officials had no hand in negotiating, could worsen, not improve the district’s financial picture, officials said Tuesday night.

Word of the deal caused Interim School Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz to consult with the school board attorney, while Mayor Joe Gamin’s office promised an announcement on Wednesday.

For school parents such as Mary Tracy, the deal is welcome news.

“When my children start school in September, I won’t have to worry about them,” said Tracy, who has a daughter at Harding High School, where lock downs are common.

In June, the city school board voted to eliminate the five school resource officers to save $492,000 in its deficit-plagued 2016-17 operating budget.

The school resource officers, who are sworn cops and carry weapons, are part of the National Association of Government Employees. The union agreed to forgo raises in 2017 in exchange for two years of job security.

Dwayne Harrison, a school resource officer, is president of the union local. More than 470 NAGE members work for the school district, not only as school cops, but as security guards, cafeteria workers, custodians and clerical staff.

Last weekend, Rabinowitz told the school board the deal would not apply to school resource officers, whose jobs were eliminated by the board last month.

On Tuesday, Rabinowitz took that assurance back after receiving a memo from Janene W. Hawkins, director of the city’sOffice of Labor Relations. Hawkins told Rabinowitz the layoffs of the special officers were rescinded.

“The Board of Education action to lay off Special Officers only a week before this proposal was passed may expose the city and the Board of Education to liability," Hawkins wrote.

Rabinowitz said she was also told the board would be responsible for the salaries.

“How do I work that if the board of education has eliminated the positions?” Rabinowitz asked.

Rabinowitz said she will consult with the board’s attorney. Under state law, the city can’t tell the school board how to spend its budget.

“This is all shenanigans,” board member Maria Pereira said Tuesday. “They are not being rehired. They were eliminated as a budgetary expense ... We have every right to defund positions.”

And then there are the cost implications: Freezing salaries of NAGE workers and the City Supervisors Union is estimated to save the district about $237,000, said Marlene Siegel, the school district’s finance director.

Those savings would have been used to keep a handful of the 47 kindergarten teaching assistants whose jobs are facing elimination.

If the district is forced to pay the salaries of the school police, the district would lose the savings of the frozen wages and increase its budget gap by $255,000.

When the school board cut the school resource officers, members indicated they would be open to keeping the SROs if the city picked up the tab.

On Tuesday, Gamin’s office refused repeated requests for comment.

“We will have an announcement on that (Wednesday),” said Av Harris, Ganim’s spokesman.

Last month in an interview, Bridgeport Police Chief A. J. Perez decried the possible loss of the SROs.

“What they do is safeguard the lives of 22,000 children,” Perez said at the time. “All of these guys are professionals. The board of education needs to reconsider. How do I safeguard kids if I am going to lose these guys?”

Perez called the possible action reckless. He also said the department was looking into any possibility to save the positions.

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Photo via Fairfield Citizen Online
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