If nothing else, the size and mood of the crowd that attended Wednesday night’s forum on Mont Pleasant Middle School should convince anyone who thought this problem has been blown out of proportion that they may need to think again.
The McChesney Room at the main library was filled beyond capacity, and there was plenty of anger — directed primarily at school officials’ inability to control certain students and provide a safe learning environment for others.
The overcrowded school has experienced varying degrees of mayhem at times this year, with students refusing to follow basic rules, threatening teachers and other staff members, and bullying other students in school and on the way home. Despite recent progress resulting from a beefed-up police presence, suspensions and Family Court referrals, a growing number of parents — both at Wednesday’s meeting and in recent Gazette stories — have indicated that they fear so for their children’s safety that they’re withdrawing them, and either home-schooling them, transferring them to other schools, or moving out of the city.
This is awful news — a crisis, really — for the school district and city as a whole because neither can afford to lose the upstanding families that haven’t already left for the suburbs, and no one will want to move in to replace those who do leave. Whatever progress Mayor Gary McCarthy has made in his two-year effort to lure home buyers to the city will be for naught if some high-profile steps aren’t taken to reverse the situation. At the very least, the community’s perception that things are out of control needs to be changed quickly.
It’s not just the school district’s problem because, as Superintendent Laurence Spring is quick to point out, the district is not responsible for what happens outside of school. And while much of the problem may originate in school, as McCarthy counters, it’s not enough to suggest that fixing it there will make everything right in the neighborhoods.
These two officials need to work together to address something that, unfortunately, neither really has the means to fix. Their best chance may be to persuade the state that an emergency exists and that they need help — maybe to replace some of the resource officers, special ed aides and psychologists the school had to let go due to budget cuts, and to increase the law enforcement presence in the neighborhood.
As Tuesday night’s shooting showed, Mont Pleasant’s crime problems aren’t all school-related, but the city can’t afford to dispatch all its cops there, either in the afternoons after school or at night when the drug dealers are out. It also can’t afford to have people think the neighborhood has been lost to thugs and outlaws.
A decade ago, Schenectady got bailed out by a temporary state police detail; it’s time to ask for that sort of help again.