Columbia Public Schools to foot larger bill for resource officers

Thursday, August 6, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools might soon have to foot a larger bill to retain school resource officers.

The Boone County Sheriff’s Department is negotiating a contract with the district in which the department would remove three of the four deputies working in city schools, and the district would compensate the department for the services of the remaining deputy.

That deputy would be assigned to Bearfield School, a facility designed to accommodate students with special needs. In turn, the district would pay the department $19,947.

“If you need an SRO in any school, it would be Bearfield School,” Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey said.

The deputies being removed were responsible for teaching DARE classes to fifth-graders and conducting part-time SRO work at Cedar Ridge, Midway Heights, Two Mile Prairie and Rock Bridge elementary schools. They will be reassigned to full-time positions at schools in Hallsville, Harrisburg and Sturgeon.

Under the department’s current arrangement with the district, the department shoulders the costs of providing the four SROs.

The district announced in the first week of July that it would discontinue the DARE program in city schools because of concerns that SRO officers’ duties as DARE teachers were taking time away from their assignments in the city’s middle and high schools and junior highs, Columbia Police Detective Jeff Westbrook said in a previous Missourian report.

Officers would spend as many as 850 hours some years teaching the classes, according to the report.  

This deal between the district and the department would be the latest change in the district’s SRO program, which was altered last month to give the district more control over the program.

Under the new agreement, the district became responsible for providing its eight SROs — officers with the Columbia Police Department that work in the city’s two high schools, three junior highs and three middle schools — with about a half of a month’s pay for nine months. That bill totals $188,780 each school year.

The district is also responsible for providing SROs with an orientation on Columbia School Board policies and diversity training and can require the Police Department to send a substitute SRO if the assigned officer is absent.

Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said the district expects to finalize the contract with the Sheriff's Department by the end of the month.

Jensen praised the department for its involvement in the SRO program, especially for the work it has done at Bearfield School. Through the SRO program, students there are able to meet law enforcement officers in a “positive manner,” he said.

“They get the opportunity to see the officers in a setting that is not in conflict,” Jensen said.

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