By Juan Gonzalez
Originally posted in the New York Daily News
Thursday, December 3, 2015, 10:07 PM
City Hall, as well as Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, suddenly announced last week a compromise agreement to provide nearly $20 million annually for security guards, at up to 300 private and religious schools across the city.
Their plan, announced before Thanksgiving, replaces an even more expensive proposal the Council has been considering for months that would have earmarked $50 million for additional NYPD public school security agents and deploy them to any of more than 600 private schools.
That proposal was opposed by the NYPD and civil liberties groups. The compromise, however, has overwhelming support in the Council and is virtually certain to be approved next week. It would take effect in April.
But someone needs to ask: why in the world should the taxpayers of this city foot the bill for security guards at religious and independent schools?
That’s a service they should be paying out of their own tuition.
“We’re giving away $20 million to these private and religious schools when that money is desperately need for our own public school pupils,” says Danny Dromm, chair of Council’s education committee and one of the opponents of the plan. The bill’s supporters obviously disagree.
“This first-of-its kind program is going to help keep more of our children safe, regardless of what type of school they attend,” Mark-Viverito said.
The city already pays for textbooks and computer supplies for private schools, noted Mayor de Blasio’s spokesman Wiley Norvell. It also pays for special education services and school bus transportation for their pupils.
“Those are services mandated by the state,” Dromm countered. “Security guards are not a mandate.”
City Councilman David Greenfield is the bill’s prime sponsor. Greenfield represents Brooklyn’s Midwood and Borough Park sections, centers of the city’s Orthodox Jewish community, where many yeshiva administrators worry about the potential for terrorist attacks on their schools.
But even in the unlikely event of such an attack, opponents of the bill say, unarmed private guards would provide little in the way of extra security.
Moreover, there’s the risk of opening the door to a whole new city expense that could quickly skyrocket.
The compromise bill “caps the first year cost at $19.8 million,” Norvell noted. It also restricts eligibility to private schools with more than 300 students, and it requires each school to submit an application and agree to pay prevailing wage rates to their security guards before the city will approve it for reimbursement.
But the bill also allows city administrators to increase future budgets to account for rising costs of the prevailing wage and for new schools that become eligible.
There are more than 700 private schools in the city. Under this bill, even the wealthy independent schools with $25,000-a-year tuition could ask for city-financed security guards.
“I predict they [the private schools] will be back next year to ask for more money,” Dromm said.
The $19.8 million in the compromise bill would fund training and salaries for 350 security guards — each at annual pay and benefits of $49,000.
That means the guards at some religious school will be paid as much as the teachers they protect. A new labor contract at city Catholic schools, for example, calls for a $46,000 salary for new teachers next year.
Private schools have every right to exist — but not at public expense.
Read more here.