Pubdate: Mon, 24 Jun 2002
Source: Leader-Herald, The (NY)
Contact:  2002 - The Leader Herald
Author: Bill Ackerbauer


JOHNSTOWN - Members of the Greater Johnstown School District Board of 
Education say their vote against applying for a police grant this month 
does not mean they are oblivious to substance abuse among the student body.

"Alcohol and drug abuse has always been a problem in Fulton County," board 
President Sharon Ritzmann said. "It hasn't changed."

Area police officials criticized the school board last week for its 
decision to not sign an application for a federal grant that would pay the 
initial salaries of two police officers who would work in the schools.

"There is no alcohol or drug problem in the Johnstown district? ... Board 
members, remove your heads from the sand," Gloversville Police Chief John 
Harzinski wrote in a letter published in The Leader-Herald last week.

Ritzmann said the application was presented to the board in May, and the 
board did not have time to discuss with the city who would pay for the 
program after the grant money runs out. Some board members were also 
concerned about the lack of a clear job description for the positions 
created by the grant. "It's not the program I object to, it's making the 
commitment in times when the finances are uncertain," she said. Ritzmann 
said the board would be willing to consider the program again if the Police 
Department wants to apply next year.

Board member Russell Martin, who voted in favor of the application, said 
school officials are responsible for students when they are in school, but 
they have little control over what happens outside school grounds. "I'm a 
firm believer that it starts with the parents," Martin said. "They're the 
ones who are responsible."

Ritzmann, a retired French teacher who also sits on the board of Foothills 
Youth Services, said part of the problem is that parents trust their 
children too much. "Teen-agers are teen-agers, and they sometimes lie to 
their parents," she said.  Ritzmann said the Parent-Teacher-Student 
Association has organized parenting workshops and other programs to help 
families deal with substance abuse and other problems. She said the last 
time it offered a parenting workshop, no one showed up.

Some school board members said they might consider changing the open lunch 
policy at the high school as a way of preventing students from drinking or 
using drugs in the middle of the school day.

"I've never been a champion of open lunch," board member Richard McGuire 
said. "I think open lunch should be a hard-won reward for good attendance 
or good scholarship."

Ritzmann said the board could revisit the policy in the year ahead, but she 
thinks to be effective, the policy must uniformly apply to all students. 
"There is a naivete about using an honor system," she said. "In my 
experience, some of the heartiest partyers have been kids who were on the 
honor roll."

William Pollak, the former mayor of Johnstown who will be assuming an 
elected seat on the school board next month, agreed the open lunch policy 
is worth taking a second look at. Pollak said the school district and city 
police should find new ways to deal with underage drinkers. Perhaps the 
Police Department should set up an anonymous hot line to allow people to 
advise police about parties involving underage drinking or illegal drugs, 
he said. He said in cases where there is concern but no arrest is 
warranted, it might be helpful for police to send written notices or make 
phone calls to the parents of young people involved in illicit activities.

Pollak said local authorities should look to other communities for examples 
to follow. "We need to find out if there are any success stories," Pollak 
said. "Get tougher on school attendance, bring in the parents more often."
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