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WESTMINSTER : Schools' Cut Would Push Families Out

September 15, 1993|JON NALICK

For 10 years, Ralf and Sandra Correll have lived on the grounds of Iva Meairs Elementary School, patrolling the campus daily to check doors, deter vandals and report damage.

As part of the Westminster School District's Vandal Watch program, they have chased off prostitutes and mischievous teen-agers and secured offices that were inadvertently left open. In exchange for their services, the couple have lived on campus rent-free in a prefabricated home that they have purchased.

However, under a staff proposal now being considered by the school trustees, the Vandal Watch program would be eliminated, forcing the Corrells and other participants to move.

And that would be an economic hardship, say the participants.

"I have nowhere to go," said Sandra Correll, 31.

Under the Vandal Watch program, residents receive free rent and utilities, which cost the district about $12,000 a year.

Unfortunately, there's no consistent data to show that the program is cost-effective, said Barbara Winars, assistant superintendent of administrative services.

Moreover, the district could be liable if a tenant were injured, officials said. Also, new security improvements including better lighting, fencing and alarm systems, as well as changes in night custodian staffing, will make the Vandal Watch program obsolete, officials contend.

But Correll believes that added security measures can't replace a human presence on campus. "Alarms won't stop spray cans (or lock office doors), and fences won't stop anybody," she said.

Correll also questioned the fairness of ending the program now.

Many tenants' families, including her own, could not afford to move. And they would lose the homes on which they are still making mortgage payments.

"They're trying to save the school district from financial hurt, but they're looking in the wrong places" because the Vandal Watch program saves money by deterring crime, Correll said.

Starting in 1980 at Midway City School as a trial program, Vandal Watch now includes 10 campuses. When children and spouses are counted,, 24 people would be forced to move if the program is terminated.

At an Aug. 19 meeting, the school board postponed a decision on the program's fate. Members said they wanted more information. The board is expected to vote Thursday.

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