Our View: Better together

Our View: Better together
(Photo/Missy Schrott)

Any successful relationship requires hard work. It involves trust, communication and collaboration, and the relationships with and within government are no different.

City Council’s recent reallocation of nearly $800,000 of School Resource Officer program funding on May 3 was contentious – to say the least – and brought myriad different viewpoints to the forefront begging to be heard.

Some supported the program, arguing that increased security was necessary to maximize student safety. Others advocated against the program, citing its potential impact on students of color and students with disabilities.

However, one point was generally agreed upon: The process by which this decision came about was disjointed and represented a communicative split between council and the city’s elected School Board. Regardless of how you feel about the SRO program, council’s decision to override the School Board’s original 6-3 vote to maintain the SRO program without engaging in deeper conversations with the board certainly eroded some trust in its relationships with the board and with the community.

Now, in looking at ACPS’ subsequent proposal on how to handle school security in the wake of the SRO presence in schools, we at the Times can’t help but notice that the three potential options, which include the addition of School Security Officers and/or detailed police officers, eerily resemble the now-defunct SRO program.

We have to ask: Could the request by ACPS staff, discussed in “ACPS requests private security” on page 1, and any resulting discord, have been either mitigated or sidestepped completely had a few more conversations been scheduled and a few more voices been heard?

The School Board and City Council have come together harmoniously for several issues in the past, particularly over the last decade. Council’s unanimous, if hesitant, approval of a new pool for the high school’s Minnie Howard campus is a prime example. The more recent approval of a swing space during the rebuilding of George Mason Elementary School is another. The SRO removal process was sadly not one of those times.

Communication is a key ingredient in any just decision-making process, particularly when it comes to interactions between the leaders in our city. Even though the outcome might not be completely amenable to each party, if communication is at the core of the process, at least each party had the opportunity to be heard.

This is important to keep in mind right now, when the Pew Research Center reports that only about one-quarter of Americans trust the federal government to generally do what is right. While we acknowledge that local government doesn’t operate in exactly the same way, our city should still do all it can to keep communication channels wide open for both its residents and fellow city leaders. This is especially vital as the city starts to grapple with the new Delta variant and as students, teachers and staff return to school in the fall.

City Council and the School Board have a lot on the horizon that will require strong partnership. Nearly half a billion dollars are slated to go toward school construction in the next decade, a large portion of the incoming federal American Rescue Plan Act funding is allocated for school projects and the pandemic doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Relationships take work. Going forward, we hope that the board and council will take the necessary steps toward mending their relationship and, as a result, improving Alexandria as a whole. This will likely require lots of time, effort, and yes, lengthy conversations.

Communication leads to trust, trust leads to understanding and understanding leads to forward motion. Let’s move forward together.