SRO position eliminated
There will be no School Resource Officer in the Baldwin School District this school year. But it's not because the position isn't needed or wanted. It's because it can't be afforded.
"We like the position," Supt. James White said. "The concept of having a police officer in the high school and junior high interacting with students is a tremendous concept.
"But the cost is pretty significant when we're having to deal with cuts and budget concerns," he said.
The SRO position began in 1999 as part of a four-year grant the school district and the city of Baldwin entered into together.
Mike Gammage was the SRO the first two years of the grant, and Suzanne Evinger filled the position for the last two years.
The district had the officer full time for about nine months of the year, and when school was not in session during the summer, the city had the officer working at the police department.
As part of the SRO grant, the state of Kansas funded 75 percent, or $23,500, of the SRO costs the first year, and the remaining 25 percent, $7,840, was funded by the district and the city. The district paid a little more than $5,000 of the initial cost in the first year.
Each year, the state funded less and the local funding increased until the grant's end last year, at which time the city and district were responsible for a little more than $39,000 of the expenses. This year, the city and the district are responsible for the full cost of the SRO, which Mayor Ken Hayes said would be around $53,000.
The district had paid approximately two-thirds of the SRO costs not covered by the grant until last year.
"We told the city last year that all we could commit was $5,000," White said. "Again, we would have to stretch pretty hard to even commit that this year because of all the cuts we made."
Hayes said the city had budgeted $53,000 for the SRO position, but after Monday's Baldwin City Council meeting, the item was no longer budgeted. Instead, some of the money originally budgeted for the SRO has been earmarked for police and fire department equipment.
Baldwin Police Chief Mike McKenna said he's disappointed in losing the SRO position.
"I think it's one of the most important positions you can have in a police department," he said. "A person in that position has the opportunity to mold and form young people's impressions of law enforcement officers not only for that year, but for the rest of their lives."
McKenna addressed the Baldwin Board of Education at last week's meeting to discuss funding for the SRO and the importance of the position.
Baldwin High School Principal Allen Poplin told the board that while he felt the position was important, he couldn't lose teachers over it.
"If I have to make a choice between the SRO and a classroom teacher, I have to go with the classroom teacher," Poplin said.
McKenna said both the city and district seemed to believe the SRO benefited everyone, but funding was the problem.
"They both feel it's an important position," he said. "The difficult task ahead is finding funds to supply a person in that position."
White said he would hate for the position to be lost.
"As I look back on the SRO position, it's been one where we have the visibility of an officer interacting with students on a daily basis," he said. "That creates relationships that allows students to feel more comfortable going and talking with the officer about issues.
"I think it's a real important and somewhat critical element," he said.
Council Member Amy Cleavinger said she wanted to see the SRO position pursued in the future.
"I don't want to see the SRO issue drop off the face of the earth," Cleavinger said.
Hayes agreed on the SRO's importance, but said the city can't afford to fund the position by itself. He said if the district wants the position, it will have to fund some of it.
"The school district chose not to make it a high priority item," he said.