Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

Council, board agree on SRO

May 25, 2006

After a lengthy -- and at time heated -- discussion, there were signs of finally finding resolve between the Baldwin City Council and the Baldwin School Board regarding the School Resource Officer during a joint meeting Monday night.

Although both sides raised issues -- the city bearing sole responsibility for funding the SRO and the school district wanting more control of the position -- in the end, both sides agreed to pursue keeping the position. It wasn't unanimous, though. In fact, School Board President Lonnie Broers said the district needs to look into hiring its own security guard, rather than have an SRO. No one agreed, not even fellow board members.

"We've been willing to back this and fund this because it's good for the community," said Council President Amy Cleavinger. "To walk away from it would be a big mistake. To replace it with a security officer, it's not the same."

Board Member Scott Lauridsen agreed.

"It would be a crime if we couldn't work this out," said Lauridsen.

Mayor Gary Walbridge expressed the same.

"If we can't make this work, we are a totally dysfunctional family," said Walbridge.

Board Member Alison Bauer went as far to say she's totally against security officers, mentioning that she had "rent-a-cops" when she was in school.

"I am inherently for working with the police department in having this (SRO) position," said Bauer.

The board and the council discussed many issues during the hour devoted to the SRO resolution. In the end, both sides agreed to send the contract for it back to committee to get it ironed out, and then the governing bodies would act on it.

But, from start to finish, there were many exchanges that showed the volatility of the issue, which has been going on for years and kept the two sides apart. And, Broers even made the comment that it would never be solved when he interjected going with a security guard instead of an SRO.

"We haven't talked about this as a board. We haven't looked at a security officer," said Broers. "The interaction between the school district and city is going to continue to cause friction. I think as a board, we need to look at it."

Board Member Ande Parks, who said he'd mentioned the security guard, but only if necessary, favored the SRO instead?

"It's still my preference that we make this (SRO) work," said Parks.

By this time, the two sides had been discussing the contract.

"Contracts, agreements are necessary, but I think the city benefits as a whole," said Walbrdige. "We need to make this work."

"Why do you say that?" countered Broers. "Why do we need to make this work?"

"I think the school board and the city can make this worker together," Walbridge answered. "It is a no-brainer."

The subject was the immediate order of business. After Broers welcomed the council members to the meeting in the district office, he asked if there was anything specific for discussion. City Administrator Jeff Dingman wasted no time.

"First and foremost on my mind is the School Resource Officer," said Dingman, who also provided costs for the program over the years that the city has covered totaling almost $150,000, some of which was paid with a grant that started the program. Also included was the estimated $48,870 for 2006 and the $52,153 budgeted for 2007.

Dingman then explained the committee made up of district and city staff that had been working together to define the position and come up with the contract. It was noted that the training portion budgeted would probably be more, which included increased participation by district staff in the training process.

"The new high school principal and Connie Wright (Baldwin Junior High School principal) would like to attend the training with the SRO this summer," said Cleavinger.

That's when the funding issue heated up, which led to control issues.

"Without putting words in your mouth, Jeff, is it your intention that this be jointly funded?" said Lauridsen. "Is this what's going on here?"

"I think so," answered Walbridge.

"I have some strong feelings on the subject," said Cleavinger. "If it continues as it is, I'm not interested in funding it."

"The council supports it and is behind it, but the council feels it's time for the district to step up and help pay for it," said Walbridge.

"I think it's a chicken and egg thing," said Lauridsen. "We need to see the contract."

The discussion then moved into what an SRO is and talk from the board recently about two SROs instead of just one.

"I'm not here to speak for Connie Wright, but what she told me is she wants her own SRO," said Police Chief Mike McKenna. "We've talked about the benefit of having two SROs. Is what you want an SRO or do you want your own security officer? An SRO plays the part of an educator, teaches classes, councils students and parents and acts as a mediator for problems that arise. They work as a partner, not an employee.

"I think it behooves the community that the people involved with this, like the new principal, Connie Wright and I should talk about this," McKenna said.

"What made you think we wanted a security officer?" said Lauridsen. "I guess in my mind, I don't visualize the difference from day to day that differentiates between an SRO and a security officer."

That's when discussion returned to what an SRO should do, but that the present one has not been able to do, at least at the high school.

"In the recent past, it was monitoring the halls and not being able to talk to the students," said McKenna.

"I don't think that's true," said Supt. James White.

"I don't think it's fair to anyone to debate this because the people involved are not here," said McKenna.

Lauridsen then brought up the main two sticking points for the district, control of the position and communication. Both sides agreed those were key elements and that having the principals and SRO trained together so they could then devise a program together would be the answer.

"Let's give it a try, probably at the high school first and then see if it can work before expanding," said Lauridsen.

"Very well said," said Walbridge.

The discussion continued and specifics, such as hiring for the position, communication, how the program could be ended and other issues were hammered out. The committee will also consider the contract that's in place with the Lawrence school district and police department.

Council Member Doyle Jardon brought up the need for the SRO to be involved with elementary aged students, as well, noting that at that age is when it can be most helpful in establishing relationships.

"We need to involve the SRO with the young kids," said Jardon.

"Good point," said Lauridsen.

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