Thursday, May 16, 2002

The "Safe Schools" Project -- What's the real intent?

The UCSD has launched another expansive project with the help of a federal grant -- The Utica Safe Schools/Healthy Student Partnership. The purpose stated in the incorporation certificate is, essentially, to help kids who may be exposed to/prone to violence. UCSD documents posted on-line, however, imply that the project is much larger in scope. The project involves the establishment of a new bureaucracy that is independent of the control of elected officials, the creation of vast databases with unprecedented collection and sharing of personal data about students and their families, the creation of its own law enforcement unit (including a SWAT
team) and the use of school district resources to
funnel students and their families to the services of "partner" agencies.

Rather than places of learning, schools apparently are to become marketing tools to ensure a steady flow of clients (and government funds) to "partner" agencies -- further fragmenting and diluting time and effort directed toward academics. Since a sound education usually results in higher family incomes
and fewer social problems, you have to question the wisdom of this -- we could wind up with more problems that we began with.

The extensiveness of the programs, the data collection and sharing, and what appears to be intrusion into private family life, almost gives the impression that a separate government is being formed -- one that is not subject to democratic rule.

The manner in which this program came about and is being implemented also raises questions.

(1) Government agencies can only exercise those
powers provided by statute. There is nothing in the NYS Education Law that authorizes the UCSD to form a not-for-profit corporation to administer a program -- but they did it anyway. Why?

(2) Public funds will be administered by a
corporation that is controlled by a separate board of directors unelected by the public. Why was this form of administration chosen?

(3) The corporation's board of directors initially was to include Superintendent Lowengard and Board of Education President DiMeo. This was later expanded to include School Board Members Pellegrino and LaPolla in return for their support. Why did the discussions of this take place during an Executive Session of the School Board -- out of view of the public -- when the the Public Officers' Law does not authorize executive sessions to discuss such topics?
Doesn't this create a potential conflict of interest for these persons with the school district?

(4) Inspite of repeated promises by Board Member
Pellegrino to have (a) the actual Grant Application and (b) the study by Ms. Mammone that persuaded him to support the project published at the UCSD Website, why are they still not there months later? Why is the public being denied the information used by their elected officials?

Going through the documentation that already is
available on-line (particularly "goals and objectives") should raise more concerns.


Given the lack of public debate by the School Board, I come back to my overriding question:

What's the REAL intent?

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