City to fund SRO

The Sweet Home City Council decided last week to fully fund the Sweet Home Police Department’s student resource officer.

The police officer position has worked in School District 55 since fall 2007 in a 50-50 partnership between the city and district, each paying $40,000. The most recent SRO has been Chris Wingo, who has served in the position since the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, replacing original SRO John Trahan, who moved to another department.

The district funded half of the position when it began its budget sessions this year.

When the district learned in May that it would have to cut $1.1 million from its 2010-11 budget, which took effect on July 1, the SRO position went on the proposed cuts list.

The district prioritized about $600,000 of those cuts for restoration if funding materializes. A federal bailout that district officials expected might do that has been erased by new state revenue projections released on Aug. 26 that show an even larger shortfall.

The district has $10,000 in funds from the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District to dedicate to the SRO, and the council’s decision to fund the position relies on the district tapping that resource.

Horton recently committed those funds to the program if the city would place the SRO in the district for at least 10 hours per week, Police Chief Bob Burford said.

In June, the council told Horton that it would wait and see how things played out before making decisions on funding for the SRO and summer pool operations. Burford presented three options to the council, ranging from laying off a new police officer and moving the SRO to regular duty and using the new position to help cover while the SRO works part time in the district.

Last week, Burford presented a fourth option, fully funding the SRO and using the SRO in the schools, at the meeting on Aug. 24.

“The only reason I am recommending against just doing the layoff procedure is it’s very expensive to recruit for officers, it’s hard to get them,” Burford said. “Conservatively, we’ve already got $30,000 into this guy that would just be wasted if we let him go.

“We may lose an officer just through attrition within the next year. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s possible; and if we lay this guy off we may not be able to get him back.

“I think the program has been very good for the community, and the school district has told me that they value it highly. I’m a little disappointed that they haven’t been able to come up with a little more money, to dig a little deeper if they value it as they say they do.”

Mayor Craig Fentiman said he didn’t like the idea of using the SRO for only 10 hours per week in the schools.

“The more I’ve heard, the more I’ve talked to the teachers and administrators €“ I don’t think 10 hours a week would make the program very effective because the presence of the officer being there as much as he is allows them to form a bond, basically a relationship with the officer,” Fentiman said. “I don’t think we’d get that on 10 hours a week.”

Without laying off an officer, the city is going to fully fund the position anyway, he said, and the SRO should be full time to ensure he is as effective as he can be.

The 10 hours per week would create scheduling issues, Burford said. Using the SRO full time means he could move him back to the department after working at least 25 percent of the year in the schools if the department loses an officer to attrition.

Having the officer serve full time in the school is important to Councilor Ron Rodgers too.

The SRO builds a bond with the students, an invaluable trust that keeps many of the youths out of trouble, Rodgers said. The city will probably find savings in intangible ways.

The district’s position seems contradictory, especially compared to what he has been hearing from staff, teachers and administrators, Fentiman said. “Hearing it’s not a priority of the school district is a little bit disturbing, quite honestly.”

That puts the council in a difficult position, he said. It’s valuable to the community, and the council is elected to serve that community.

Now the city has stepped in to help with two programs for the district this year, and the city has helped in the past, Rodgers said. Attempting to carefully word his question, he wondered aloud whether the district is becoming too used to the city helping on a budget shortfall.

If the district receives unanticipated funding, the city would expect the district to refund the money, he said. “I think the conversation needs to be had.”

The council voted 6-0 to fully fund the SRO with hopes that the School District would be able to resume a financial partnership in one of the following years.

In the meantime, the council wants to meet with the board to discuss its commitment to the position and plans regarding future funding.

That meeting has not been set yet, Fentiman said Monday.

Horton said he was pleased the council decided to fund the SRO.

“The position is definitely a valuable position in the district and the community,” Horton said. “The hope is finances will get better.”

He pointed out that the district originally funded its full share of the position this year.

“It is awfully nice that the city is willing to help both with the swimming program and the SRO,” Horton said. “That’s what makes me proud to live here in Sweet Home.”

Present at the meeting were Fentiman, Rodgers, Jim Gourley, Greg Mahler, Scott McKee Jr. and Laure Osborne.

In other business, the council appointed Megan Sanderson to serve as the high school senior representative on the Youth Advisory Council.