Northwood City Council at a meeting earlier this month discussed the possibility of the city sharing the cost of a police officer that would be assigned to the school district.
Councilwoman Connie Hughes said at a committee of the whole meeting on April 4 that the city had at one time provided a Drug Awareness and Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officer to the district, but it was cut from the budget as a result of the recession.
“We haven’t had a D.A.R.E. officer for a few years, and I know there’s grant money out there for that,” said Hughes.
The full-time school resource officer would cost about $85,000 annually in salary and fringe benefits, according to Police Chief Tom Cairl. He said the city could apply for an $11,800 D.A.R.E. grant that would defray part of the cost.
“There’s a deadline for that within the next couple of weeks,” said Cairl.
If the city received the grant, the schools and city would each have to pay half, or about $36,000, of the cost of the officer, said Cairl.
“I have spoken with our finance director, and there’s relatively no wiggle room here, there’s no money in the budget for the $36,000, other than if we took it from photo enforcement revenue,” said Cairl.
The city currently contracts with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., of Arizona, to operate automated photo speed and red light enforcement cameras at two intersections. The city receives a share of the revenue received from traffic citations issued as a result of the cameras, which are installed at Woodville and Lemoyne roads, and Wales and Oregon roads.
The three year contract with Redflex, passed by council in 2010, expires on April 23. Council is divided on whether it should be renewed.
“I know it’s a lot of money,” Hughes said about the cost of a school resource officer. “But the presence of an officer, when we had a D.A.R.E. officer, was great public relations, great for the kids, great for the staff. We’ve had a few different D.A.R.E. officers, and the kids just looked up to them. They were a presence in all three buildings at certain times of the day. The school board has done everything they possibly can to keep us safe, but I think we should look into this more. I just think it’s something we need to look at.”
Finance Director Ken Yant said the current balance in the city’s Redflex fund is $256,000. Some of that money has been appropriated in the 2013 budget for police and fire programs.
“If we did go with the school resource officer position, it would probably last about 3 years, if the program ended and we just used up the fund balance,” he said of the Redflex program.
Cairl said he would research the availability of other grants.
Schools Superintendent Greg Clark said at the meeting that safety of students in the district has always been the top priority.
“That’s been true for as long as I’ve been doing this work. There are certain events that occur that are watershed moments. If I say something like `Columbine,” everyone in this room knows what I’m talking about,” said Clark. “When I got here seven years ago, every door in every one of our schools was still open for everyone to come and go as they pleased. I don’t think anyone in this room would advocate that anymore.”
After 20 children and six adults were gunned down in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last December, Clark said he started talking with Cairl about improving school security.
Bringing back a D.A.R.E. officer is one of those things we both agreed would be helpful. I’m not speaking for the whole school board, but as the superintendent, I certainly would support us pursuing every option we had along these lines,” said Clark.
Mayor Mark Stoner asked Clark what he thought about arming teachers in schools.
“By far, the largest majority of educators don’t have any interest in carrying a weapon,” said Clark.
Clark added that he would support the use of Redflex funds to help pay for a school resource officer.
“If we do have the availability of safety money from the cameras, I see this as a good area in which to put some of it. Right now, there is legislation in Columbus for me to put a levy on the ballot for school security. We could ask for 1- mill from the community, and let the people choose. That would mean everyone here pays a little bit more and we do what we need to do along those lines. And maybe that’s where we end up, I don’t know,” said Clark. “But the number of people who end up paying the fine might not even live here. So instead of taxing our own people to provide a service, we may be able to tax a region to pay for a service. As a resident, I would support that.”
Councilman Ed Schimmel, who is opposed to renewing the Redflex contract, asked Clark if the school board considered hiring an outside security firm.
“We’re willing to look at everything,” said Clark. “My personal preference is that we have a highly trained person who knows what they’re doing.”