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  • Charlene Sims, Journal staff

Commissioners agree on split vote to reconsider SRO funding

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

MOUND CITY – Last week’s unanimous vote by the Linn County Commission to halt funding the School Resource Officer (SRO) program at the county’s six schools drew a standing-room only crowd at it’s meeting on Monday, May 9. Most of them came to protest that decision.

After hearing from the audience, the commission on a 2-1 split vote agreed to continue the program, if all three school districts pay the $12,000 per officer and the school administrators and the sheriff work together to develop operating policies and procedures.

According to County Counselor Gary Thompson in a later phone call, the school districts will pay their amount in January 2023 to cover the 2022-2023 school year.

At Monday’s meeting, Sheriff Kevin Friend told commissioners that if they were going to take 10 percent, or $300,000, out of his budget to keep the county from raising its taxes, then they also needed to take it out of the other elected officials budgets, including the county clerk, the treasurer, the register of deeds and the county prosecutor.

Friend said that his office did not work for the commissioners and that he was elected unilaterally by the people to serve the people. However, the sheriff’s budget was approved by the commissioners and he said what they did last week, before the budget came out, was to tell him that they would not approve the $300,000 for SROs in the county.

“I don’t appreciate you all attacking one program of one office,” Friend said.

Friend told the commissioners that if they wanted to cut 5 percent of his budget, cut it, he would figure out which service the sheriff’s office gives to the community that it would not able to give anymore.

“I’ll do that, that’s my job. Not one program, everybody’s going to hurt a little bit but we all don’t have to hurt a lot,” said Friend.

“You guys say you are going to cut the SRO program. How do you know I am not going to cut the jail program?” asked Friend. “Maybe we might need people in schools to protect our kids more than we need a bunch of inmates housed in the jail.”

Other members of the public, including school superintendents, school employees, a student and city officials spoke in support of the SRO program.

Prairie View USD 362 Superintendent Rex Bollinger said that by the county not paying for the SRO officers, continuing the program as decided last week it would raise taxes on 60 percent of the county taxpayers. He pointed out that Prairie View had signed an agreement in good faith with the county to pay $36,000 for the district’s three SROs.

He said that he was disappointed that the county had changed their mind and decided not to fund the program.

Commissioner Rick James said that it wasn’t an issue of whether there should be SRO programs but who should fund them. He said he really did believe that the school districts should fund the SRO positions, not the county.

James said that the school districts funded the buses, and the teachers and they should fund the SROs. It should never have come to the county.

Bollinger attempted to explain how strict the laws were for the school budgets but Commission Chair Jim Johnson interrupted him and started reading off the amount of the school budgets.

Bollinger said that the primary mission of the school was to provide education to students and that the school district’s capital outlay fund could not be used for paying SRO salaries. He explained how building projects were a separate fund.

Pleasanton USD 344 Superintendent Travis Laver told the commissioners how Pleasanton had the lowest valuation of the three school districts, and for that reason they were trying to be creative in how they paid their share of the SRO expenses to the county.

Laver said that his district had already sent $4,000 to the county toward the cost of the SRO. He explained that the money was from grant money the district had applied for and received.

Laver said for anyone who had written grants, they knew that it was much harder to write a grant than to just sign a check. But, since their district did not have the money that is what he had done.

Laver also reminded the commissioners that he had offered to help with them finding a congregate meal site for the Pleasanton senior citizens. Pleasanton school had offered use of their building for the daily lunches, even during the summer and holidays. But, after making the offer, Laver said that he had not heard anything from the county nor had he received a call back from District 2 Commissioner Danny McCullough when he had called or sent a text.

Jayhawk USD 346 Superintendent Shawn Thomas was concerned that an issue that had occurred in the Jayhawk district recently might cause the SRO program decision to be used as a scapegoat.

“Maybe there are issues that need to be worked out, maybe there are things that need to be decided, and put in place and implemented to make the program run effectively and efficiently,” said Thomas. “But they are not big problems, and I can tell you that Sheriff Friend has been an excellent proponent, an excellent resource, the school resource program has been outstanding for our district.”

“My hope would be moving forward that we could convince you, the commission, to continue funding the program along with our school districts, and that we will continue to work with Sheriff Friend to make that program viable and to continue the dynamic abilities that it is currently allowing for our kids,” Thomas told the commissioners.

Pleasanton City Council Member Jake Mattingley told the commission that he, the chief of police, the city administrator and the superintendent at Pleasanton were all sitting in the city office last Tuesday trying to figure out a contingency plan to keep the SRO at Pleasanton because they understand how important the children of Pleasanton are.

Mattingley said to McCullough that he had seen where McCullough had brought up on Facebook about the school buying an empty building at Pleasanton. That building helps our kids in the county almost more than anything else, Mattingley said.

“You, more than anybody else, should understand that, Danny,” said Mattingley. “That’s a trade school that gives people a path out of this county.”

To use that as an example of way that schools use their money, I thought was very underhanded, said Mattingley.

McCullough said that he did not think it was underhanded because he did not know everything people were doing. He said he wanted to state his opinion, which was that he supported the SRO program 100 percent. But he thought it was broken.

He said that when he first became a commissioner and Friend became sheriff, they were the first two to go into a school and ask the superintendent about the program.

“It’s broken, it’s a completely broken system, if you ask me. We have had incidents where everybody knows what happened and no one ever approached it and did anything about it,” said McCullough. “I would be in favor of funding it 100 percent again if there were a manual or policy that addresses everything.”

The commission’s vote has caused people to come in here, said McCullough. I would like everyone to come in here every Monday.

Mattingley said that the commissioners have meetings when the people cannot show up because they have full-time jobs and cannot show up on Monday mornings.

Mound City Council Member Lawrence Forbach said that he was looking at this as an attack on public education. Regardless of what the SRO officers do, like Friend said let them do what they do. If the schools need some sort of help then let them have that help.

Forbach told the commissioners that if they took it from the Sheriff’s department and let the schools deal with it, we as a city council are going to be burdened with it, everyone in that room was going to be burdened with it.

Forbach said this should be studied for a year before making changes and that the taxpayers, schools and the sheriff’s department should have a say so and then we will see what happens to this jail as to how it affects our budget.

Deputy and former SRO Clayton Parscale told the commissioners that he had taken a petition with over 500 signatures to the county clerk’s office to be certified. He told the commissioners these were signatures from the Linn County residents, residents that they took an oath to serve.

Parscale said that the petition does not contain any kind of ultimatum but that it was just to show that citizens are OK with this burden and want SROs to stay in place.

He said that this was not just about SROs but also about deputies to patrol in summer, on holidays, snow days, for special events like the arts and crafts fair. It means that Linn County is a safer place because the Sheriff’s office has the manpower.

In answer to the suggestion by McCullough that it was a publicity stunt by James, James said it was not a publicity stunt by him. He said that he had done this because he thinks the responsibility of the funding should be from the school districts. But he acknowledge the public’s response to the matter.

James said that the county needs to do what is right for the people and he made a motion that the county enter into the offered agreements of the school districts paying $12,000 per officer, if all three school districts agree, and to encourage the sheriff and the superintendents to work on standard operating procedure that will satisfy both sides as to how the program is managed.

Since the issue surfaced last fall, the commissioners and superintendents from the three school districts have been wrestling with the issue of how to fund the program. Both Prairie View and Jayhawk school boards have agreed to pay the county $12,000 per SRO for each school year beginning January 2023. Pleasanton is still working on ways to come up with the money, which essentially pays half the salary of an SRO but no benefits.

In separate interviews, all three superintendents expressed surprise and frustration with last week’s decision.

McCullough said he wanted to talk about it before he seconded it. McCullough asked Friend to come in once a quarter to talk about the program.

Friend said that it was talked about annually and that every year his office does a yearend report.

McCullough said he would like to talk about it in public in front of the camera.

Friend said the problem with that is that it cannot be put on the front page of the newspaper because everything they do involves a child.

We have the ability to discuss it, Friend said. He said he at one point did attend all of the commission meetings to discuss his office, but felt like he was ridiculed by commissioners. These folks elected me to do the job of law enforcement not come in here and play patty cake with the commissioners.

At a commission meeting, the commissioners said I need to be in this room for accountability, Friend said, adding that he had news for them. My accountability takes place out there. It might be in someone’s field, it might be in their front room, maybe my office, a lot of time it’s in my front room at home. That’s where my accountability takes place for my citizens, said Friend.

McCullough seconded the motion. It passed 2 to 1 with Johnson voting against the measure.

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