Commissioners take a hard line on sharing cost of SRO program

Updated: Feb 7

MOUND CITY – Linn County school superintendents met with the Linn County Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to discuss demands from commissioners that the school districts partially reimburse the county for the school resource officers (SROs).

The superintendents started out the discussion on a positive note. Prairie View USD 362 Superintendent Rex Bollinger said that he liked the presence of the SROs in the building and the presence of the sheriff’s car in the parking lot because that is actually a deterrent in itself.

“I like that our kids look forward to seeing the SRO everyday,” said Bollinger, adding that students have some contact with the officer every day.

Jayhawk USD 346 Superintendent Shawn Thomas told the commissioners that the Jayhawk Elementary School campus has not had a SRO for more than a semester because the new SRO is still being trained.

Thomas said the lack of that individual is noticeable. Kids literally ask the whereabouts of the previous SRO. The relationship they had with that individual was immensely impactful, he added.

Thomas told the commissioners that they see an authority figure in a different light than what they would see a police officer on the street. They see that individual in a light that is caring, nurturing, and impactful.

He said there was a real lack of some good social emotional relationships this past semester because there was no SRO. So that program is very important, he added.

Pleasanton USD Superintendent Travis Laver agreed about the importance of the program. He told the commissioners that he had written and received a grant to help with social emotional support for students and he had sent a check of $3,500 to the county already.

Laver told the commissioners, “You guys know that I’ve got the poorest valuation for the school district. I want to reach out and try to barter with you and try to help you guys with some stuff to offset the cost.”

Laver said that he had visited with Commissioner Danny McCullough at the time the county was having issues with the Pleasanton senior meals. He said he had some ideas to help the county with that cost.

He also said that he told Commission Chair Jim Johnson one afternoon that he has experience with computer networking, and as the county gets ready to move into the building, he would be more than willing to help with that.

Laver said that at Pleasanton, he and staff did all of our network wiring and ended up saving about a million dollars. It’s too late now, he said, but back before the wiring was done for the county he had mentioned that he could help.

He said that while his district doesn’t have much money, but we’ve got some ideas to help offset the county’s costs and that would help save the county money. He said he presumed that was the commissioners’ main goal.

Johnson said that he did not think that any of the commissioners ever said that they weren’t for the program. He told the superintendents he heard them talking about how good was.

“What is it worth to you guys to have that? That’s what I am asking you guys, buy into it and help us a little bit,” said Johnson. “To me, you guys talk it, and I appreciate your point of view. And I respect that, but if you guys think that this is so good, buy into it.”

McCullough said that he did not like hearing that he did not want the program. He said he 100 percent wanted the program, but that his ultimate goal was to think about what happens to the county when the power plant is gone.

Commissioners are trying to budget for the future, because when the power plant leaves this county we are in trouble, said Johnson.

At the July 13 meeting with the superintendents, Johnson said that he had brought this up because of the huge liability issue and that the sheriff’s budget was going up, mostly because of the new justice center.

On Monday, McCullough compared the schools helping with the program to buying a car for himself. He said that if he bought the car, he would appreciate it more and take better care of it than if his mother bought it for him.

McCullough said that he looked at Pleasanton buying the former Cox Motor Co. building, Prairie View with a new “billion dollar” addition “every single year,’ and Jayhawk doing the same thing.

“I don’t think that $12,000 is a lot to ask,” said McCullough.

The commissioners, in a recent letter to the school districts, requested that the districts reimburse the county $12,000 per year for each SRO officer. With one SRO, Pleasanton would pay $12,000, Jayhawk would pay $24,000 for two officers and Prairie View would pay $36,000.

Laver answered that the Pleasanton school district was paying for the building for 12 years and that they had received a $90,000 grant to renovate the building so that the county could have a trades center.

Bollinger told the commissioners that the additions to the schools were bonds that were voted on by the taxpayers.

Commissioner Rick James said that he was just elected and not yet in office when this program started and he would not have voted for it even though there were grants to help with the costs then. He said the sheriff at that time wanted the county to put SROs in the schools instead of holding the schools accountable and going into a program together.

James said that he thought that the SRO program had value, and it’s nice to have kids in there that love to communicate. And the SROs are a quick source in case something happens or a parent gets out of hand, because the SRO can deescalate situations right off the bat.

“I am in support of asking for a little support. I would have asked for a lot more if it would have been me. The way we ended up figuring this out, the $12,000 per year, is not much at all so I am behind that as well. I don’t think it is a show stopper for anyone,” said James.

James said he that he thought that it was ridiculous that the commissioners were sitting here just asking for $12,000 when the program costs so much money. He said he had never said anything in the past because he thought it was a done deal.

Laver pointed out to the commissioners how much more this would cost the taxpayers in his district compared to the other school districts.

Bollinger said that the flexibility of where this money comes out of the way it is proposed is a problem. Right now, as it is in the contract, it can only come out of two funds – the supplemental and the general funds in the districts’ budgets – all of the districts are tapped out in those areas.

Teachers salaries come out of those two funds, he said. He reminded commissioners that the superintendents asked in an earlier meeting if there was any way possible that they could shift it to capital outlay where there is more flexibility.

“That’s where the cars came in. We got a lot of flack over that deal,” said Johnson.

Bollinger said that if it came out of their general funds, the districts would have to look at raising individuals taxes.

Johnson asked the superintendent if it wasn’t correct that a pretty good chunk of the school districts’ money came from the state?

Bollinger said that a majority of the money comes from the taxpayers here, then goes to the state, and then is sent back to us in the form of state aid. The money still comes from our residents. The state then adds some and sends it back to us.

Bollinger said that he would like to be able to negotiate about this with the commission about what they were asking for. He asked if the commission could appoint a representative to work with the superintendents?

Johnson said if the commission negotiates, the amount they are asking for will increase. He said the commissioners had made the decision on what they thought was fair for the school districts.

Johnson asked if the school districts couldn’t just show it as a car and then it went into the sheriff’s budget.

Laver once again asked the commissioners if they were interested in taking him up on his offers of help for networking or a host site for the senior meals.

Johnson said not on this deal.

Linn County Counselor Gary Thompson said it probably wasn’t his role to get involved, but he was just trying to facilitate this.

What I hear you saying is that you are open to negotiating, Thompson told the administrators.

He told the superintendents that the county had made an offer and asked what the school districts’ offer was?

Johnson said in his opinion, it is going to go up if the commission negotiated with the superintendents.

Bollinger said the districts were worried about the price and how they were going to pay for it. He said the school districts needed to bounce some ideas back and forth.

In its present form, the proposal directly affects the schools’ core business and what we do, Bollinger said. He said the superintendents needed to discuss utilizing different budgets.

Thomas said that they needed to get to a point where they could justify it in their budgets and needed a plan in place to say where that is coming from.

It was agreed that the superintendents would come back with a plan on Tuesday, Feb.22. If the superintendents had questions while they were working this out, Thompson would work with them.

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