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Willard Middle School parents worry as safety officer laid off

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Thursday May 16, 2002

Parents at Willard Middle School are concerned about the Board of Education’s decision last week to layoff one of the school’s two safety officers next year, and transfer him to another school. 

“We have six hundred some-odd students and you’re looking at one security officer – let’s get real,” said Joanie Hamasaki, president of the Willard Parent-Teacher Association. 

“I, as a board member, expect the same standard of student safety to be held to at that site,” said school board President Shirley Issel. “It’s going to take the cooperation of all the adults on site to make that happen and that’s what I expect to see.” 

Board member John Selawsky said the district gave middle school administrators the option of laying off either a vice principal or a security officer as part of a district-wide effort to eliminate an estimated $5.4 million deficit next year. 

“Obviously, in an ideal situation, we’d fully fund both,” he said. “(But) necessary things are going to have to be cut.” 

Selawsky said the laid-off security officer, Rickey Brantley, may be transferred to Berkeley High School. Selawsky was unsure if Brantley would bump an officer with lesser seniority out of a job, or serve as an addition to the BHS force.  

Brantley said seniority rules may give him a right to choose which school he transfers to next year. Superintendent Michele Lawrence did not return calls for clarification. 

Brantley has worked with Willard’s other officer, John Williams, for 14 years. 

“Those two are a team and they work like a well-oiled machine,” said Willard parent Mark Coplan, branch manager for Burns International security in Fremont. “Breaking up that team would be a big loss.” 

“It’s a job that takes a minimum of two,” said Williams, arguing that the school will be unsafe next year not only for the children, but for the one officer who remains. 

Williams, who has worked at Willard for 19 years, said he will not stay at the middle school if Brantley is transferred. 

Brantley said the school, which lost a third safety officer and a Berkeley police officer assigned to the school in the last two years, cannot take another cut. 

“No one is considering the safety of the kids,” he said. 

Jennifer Drapeau, chief of staff for Mayor Shirley Dean, said the mayor will talk to chief of police Dash Butler about restoring a police officer to Willard. 

“She considers this a priority that there be a safe learning environment at Willard,” Drapeau said, while acknowledging that the city’s budget difficulties could get in the way. 

The police department did not return calls for comment. 

Both Brantley and Williams are critical of the Willard administration for its apparent role in Brantley’s reassignment. 

“If Mr. Brantley’s job is to be saved here, I think the person with the most influence is the principal,” said Williams. “And I don’t think she’s doing it.” 

Willard principal Michele Patterson and vice-principal Greg John did not return calls for comment. 

Lee Berry, a Willard parent, raised concerns not only about the Brantley transfer, but about the school’s decision to assign security officers to an in-house suspension program. 

“They’re not free to roam around the campus,” Berry said. 

“It’s definitely taking away from the job,” Brantley said. “We’re not as mobile as we could be.”