The Oregon Board of Education will continue to have police officers attend school board meetings because of threats that have been made to some board members.
Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian a few weeks ago had said the city would no longer allow police officers to be at school board meetings after he learned that the city was footing the bill.
Two police officers provided security on Jan. 5 at an organizational school board meeting, which included a five hour retreat for board members.
“We had assumed that wasn’t going to happen anymore. But I found out school officials did request it again at a meeting on Jan. 5,” said Seferian.
At a school board meeting on Jan. 17, school board members P.J. Kapfhammer and Jeff Ziviski, who were elected to the board last November, asked why a police officer was present, and who was paying for it.
“The school district is paying for tonight,” said School Board President Richard Gabel.
Kapfhammer said the board should have voted on the matter.
“I know we weren’t [paying] before, and I know that’s a change in how we’re doing this,” said Kapfhammer. “I would have liked to have been brought up to speed before I got in here.”
“This was a policy or practice that actually got started back in the spring,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar. “This is something the current board is going to need to decide, that this is the direction we’re going to go.”
Kapfhammer said in an article that appeared in the Jan. 16 edition of The Press that he believed the board had asked police to come to the meetings to throw him out if discussions on the board became too heated. He and Ziviski had campaigned last fall against the board approving raises for administrators at a time when busing for Clay High School students had been eliminated. Many in the community had been critical of the raises.
Gabel said the school board had asked police to board meetings before Kapfhammer and Ziviski were elected last fall.
“We had some problems here at the school, and we had some disgruntled people who were coming to the meetings because of it, and sometimes it got a little heated,” said Gabel. At the time, he added, there were shootings at a school board meeting in another community “that gave call to be nervous.”
“We also had someone who sent threatening e-mails to one of our board members several times. It was reported to the police. We had another board member who had pornographic material e-mailed to her. We know who did it. And we got that stopped,” said Gabel. “So at that time, the board decided we thought we would have a police officer here. Everyone felt a little more comfortable up here, on this stand. Quite the contrary of what people think – that we brought a police officer in because there was going to be trouble with board members - that really wasn’t the case. I don’t want to fight with the city. I don’t want to fight with the mayor. We need to come together with the city and work together.”
Gabel said The Press should have contacted Zalar or a member of the school board to provide comment in the article that explained why police were at board meetings.
“I just wish that some people would come to us and ask Dr. Zalar or myself or any board member why we had police here,” he said.
The Press had asked Zalar why police were at school board meetings, and his comments were included in the Jan. 16 article. Zalar had said the board last spring had requested there be police at meetings “when there were several acts of violence that occurred at school board meetings nationally.”
“The police presence at the board meetings is intended to be more of a deterrent than anything else,” Zalar had stated in the article. He also said the board had not received any threats of violence.
“If you’re going to spend money from the school’s budget, that should be a board decision,” said Kapfhammer. “It’s the role of this board to make those decisions. Not the role of one or two people. When you do something like this, I want it to come through this board. I think that’s why we’re elected.”
Zalar said it was always the intent of the board that Student Resource Officers (SROs) would provide security at the meetings, not road patrol officers.
“When this began last spring, my understanding was that this was not going to be an additional cost to anybody – the city or the school district. What we worked out was an arrangement where the school resource officers who work in our schools that are paid by the city…would use some of their time at the board meetings. Now we have run into a couple of instances where there have been scheduling problems – holidays and things like that. Tonight, obviously, we had a scheduling problem that warranted getting someone other than the school resource officers. My understanding was that that would be a district cost – not something the city would incur. If the city is claiming that they’ve been paying our school resource officers on top of whatever their pay is, then that is something that needs to be cleared up.”
Kapfhammer noted that police, not SROs, were also at the Jan. 5 board meeting.
“It was a holiday,” said Zalar.
Kapfhammer said the board should still vote on providing security to meetings and who will be paying for it.
“We decided a long time ago,” said Gabel. “We didn’t try to go around you.”
“I’ve listened to every minute of every board meeting for the last three years,” said Kapfhammer. “I’ve never heard this voted on in my life. So unless you decided on this in executive session, and took an illegal vote, I’d love to see it.”
Gabel said he was unsure whether the board actually voted on the matter.
“When we agreed to do it, I’m not sure if it was in executive session or it was here,” said Gabel. “I don’t think it required a vote. We got together as a board and decided we wanted some protection. Whether we voted on it or did it in executive session or did it just casually talking, the board all agreed that we wanted someone.”
'Instability’ in district
Ziviski asked how much it costs to have an officer at the meetings.
Zalar said $25 per hour, for a minimum of three hours.
“We’re taking away from educating our students,” said Ziviski. “Just doesn’t seem like a good use of money. I’ve never felt threatened.”
“I don’t need protection,” said Kapfhammer.
“You’re speaking for yourself only,” said Diana Gadus, vice president of the school board. “I don’t want to over generalize. There was a shooting at a board meeting. There was instability. And there still is instability. Not right now in our schools. But at the time, there was a lot of instability.”
“In Oregon city schools?” asked Ziviski.
“Yes,” said Gadus.
“It may be a reflection of board members, then,” said Ziviski.
“No, it’s a reflection of the economic times and what has been going on in the state of Ohio regarding public education, Senate Bill 5, teachers and their jobs,” said Gadus. “It’s been across the state and across the country. It’s been glorified. And sometimes that brings instability.”
Mayor Mike Seferian said on Wednesday that the district, not the city, will have to pay for police at future meetings.
After the meeting, Kapfhammer said the board will decide the issue at the next meeting on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. in the media center on the second floor of Clay High School.
“I want to hear what our community has to say at board meetings. This is their time to talk to us, let us know what they’re thinking. We’re a great city. People feel passionate about their schools, and I appreciate it. I don’t want them to feel intimidated from speaking at board meetings because police are there,” said Kapfhammer.