A year and a half after Bloomberg sent armed police officers into some of the city’s most dangerous public high schools, a new report has found that these same schools lack the resources to properly serve their students.
“Impact Schools,” as they are known, are often the largest, most overcrowded and the least funded, according to the report, released Thursday by the Drum Major Institute (DMI), a progressive think tank.
Drawing on data from the Department of Education’s Annual School Reports for the 2002/2003 school year, the report found that spending on direct services—such as classroom instruction and building maintenance—was $10,519 per student in the average city high school, and just $9,037 in Impact Schools. Similarly, the average increase in spending on direct services between 2001/2002 and 2002/2003 was $1,217 for regular city high schools, but only $609 for Impact Schools.
But money is being spent on security. Since the initiative started, Impact Schools have been fortified with armed officers patrolling the hallways, metal detectors and I.D. cards to access the bathroom and lunch hall. Yet advocates say these measures do more to increase tension than create a secure learning environment.
“Let’s really use this as an opportunity to examine the real problem, which is a systemic failure on the part of the education system,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, executive director of the nonprofit Prison Moratorium Project, and a DMI fellow, whose work as an organizer in inner city schools led to the institute’s report.
Opponents say that officers often exacerbate situations that educators would otherwise see as minor disciplinary infractions. In one recent case, a Bronx principal was arrested for interfering with a police officer who had walked into a classroom and was attempting to arrest one of his students.
“Using a profanity, I’m not supposed to suspend a child for that,” said the principal, Michael Soguero. “Yet an officer can issue a summons for that and even put a child in cuffs and call it disorderly conduct.”
Not everyone is against having police patrol schools. “It’s been very successful,” said Lisa Maffei-Fuentes, principal of Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, one of the Impact Schools. “We’ve had a terrific decrease in incidents. It has been a very nice end to the year.”
Maffei-Fuentes attributes the success of the initiative in her school to the effort that was made to build relationships between officers and students. “I think Christopher Columbus was special because we had the NYPD actually going into the classrooms; they weren’t just [there] to enforce the rules,” she said of the six-member task force that has worked in her school over the past year. “They’ve created relationships with our students.”
Robert Lawson, a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, also hailed the program as a success. Major crime in Impact Schools dropped 38 percent since last year and overall crime is down 40 percent, he said. “Overall, schools are less disruptive and schools are becoming safer places to learn,” he said.
DMI withheld judgment on those figures. Malik Lewis, director of communications, offered an alternative view: “Whether or not the program is effective in reducing crime,” he said, “we think it is better to treat an educational issue with an educational solution.”