City council last Monday at a committee of the whole meeting shot down a request by the Oregon school board for the city to provide a third school resource officer (SRO) to the district.
Council voted 4-3 against placing the matter on next week’s council meeting agenda.
Currently, the city pays for two police officers to act as school resource officers at Clay high School, Eisenhower Middle School, and Fassett Middle School. One officer is at the high school, while the other covers Eisenhower and Fassett.
The school board asked council to provide a third officer for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year, and for the entire 2009-2010 school year. For the 2010/2011 school year, the city would continue to provide the three officers, with the board paying 33 percent of the entire annual compensation paid to the three officers by the city.
The annual salary of a school resource officer is approximately $76,000, according to Mayor Marge Brown.
“There’s been a changing dynamic in the school system,” said Brown at the start of the meeting. “There’s a new influx of young adults coming into our school system that could have a tendency to wreak havoc on your children who go to our fine school system.”
Mike Zalar, superintendent of the district, pleaded with city council to consider funding another officer.
“The presence of an SRO in the schools helps increase the safety of our students, the administration and visitors within the school program,” said Zalar.
“One of the values of our school resource officers, being on site, on campus and in the buildings is that they develop relationships with kids. Through these relationships, they are able to elicit information that oftentimes helps prevent a crime or an inappropriate act of behavior from occurring in the first place,” he said.
The district cut a third resource officer years ago to help balance its budget, said Zalar.
“We have found that as we lost our third school resource officer, the climate in the buildings has suffered. We’re sharing one school resource officer in multiple buildings. The clientele of our community continues to change over time. We are getting an influx of more families that have behavior related issues,” he said.
Discipline at both middle schools has increased as a result of the loss of the additional resource officer, said Zalar.
“When that presence is gone, there’s a change in the climate of the building,” he said.
Councilman Mike Seferian said the city is also facing a tight budget.
“We have budget requests for different capital improvements, different operation costs, that every department head feels is a legitimate request. We have to make pretty tough decisions on how to prioritize those lists and stay within our budget,” he said. The school board similarly prioritized its budget, he added, which included cutting its third resource officer.
“You have said the school board is not at liberty to provide reimbursement to the city for placing another officer in the schools,” Councilman Jerry Peach said to Zalar. “But as Mr. Seferian suggests, it’s a choice you have made, whether it’s to preserve classroom teachers, which is very important, or preserve coaches or coaching assistants. Whatever choice was made, it was a choice that the board made and you have made in evaluating what priorities you have.”
Councilman Terry Reeves, a teacher in the Toledo Public Schools district, supported Zalar’s request.
Each of the middle schools and high schools in Toledo has a school resource officer, he said.
“You cannot believe, if you haven’t been in that situation, the difference a school resource officer makes in a building. When our school resource officer is going to a grade school, even if it’s right across the street, the behaviors change dramatically,” said Reeves.
Joan Barraclough, 5066 Wynn Park Drive, Oregon, said parents should be held accountable for the behavior of their children in the district.
“When I was going to school, if I acted up, my parents would find out,” she said.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” said Reeves. “It is unbelievable what parents tell you when you call them. They don’t have the same morals you and I have.”
“Then bring the message home to the parents,” said Barraclough. “They brought the children into the world, let them take care of their own children instead of putting it on someone else’s shoulders. If you inconvenience the parents enough, maybe they’ll turn around and become better people so their children become better people and the world will become better.”
“That has been told to parents over and over and over again,” said Reeves. “We are trying to force our morals and beliefs on them.”
Reeves said he has been assaulted twice this year by students in Toledo.
“Without that school resource officer, I’m not only putting myself in harm’s way, I’m putting other people in harm’s way. With that school resource officer there, he takes care of the situation,” said Reeves.
Seferian said the school resource officers in Toledo are partially funded by the board of education, “which is also in dire straits when it comes to their budget.”
“Yet they found a way to incorporate their contributions into the City of Toledo so they can have those officers,” said Seferian.
Council President Mike Sheehy said the city has a track record of supporting the school district. “Please understand that council has a history of strong commitment of police in the schools. The question is, do we feel we can comfortably commit to another officer in the schools?” said Sheehy.
School board member Richard Gable said the city is supposed to support the district.
“We should support each other. We’re here for the kids,” he said.
“I’m embarrassed for my superintendent to have to come up here and beg for an officer,” said Gable. “We don’t have the money that you have right now. I know you’ve got money. Don’t tell me you don’t. I know you do.”
Seferian said council does have an obligation to the district. But council also has to answer to other constituents, such as seniors in the community who have been trying to get a new senior center. “It’s been put on hold for a lot of years,” he said. The city, though, doesn’t have the money to build it.