School resource officer program draws fire from commission

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

MOUND CITY – On Monday, Sept. 20, the Linn County Commissioners went over their request to the school districts for help with funding the school resource officer (SRO) program.

Linn County Commissioner Jim Johnson said there was something that needed to be cleared up as far as the school resource officers and what the commission was asking from the superintendents.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said that he had written a letter at the commissioners’ request to let the school districts know how they could help with the funding of the SROs.

Thompson explained that at the meeting the commissioners had with the superintendents on July 13, it appeared that the superintendents said that the only way the school districts had flexibility in funding was in physical objects as opposed to personnel. So commissioners determined that the funding could be a cost of a car for each SRO.

The subject of the school districts purchasing vehicles as a way of using that funding was brought up but no superintendent made any commitment.

Thompson said the commission never intended that the money would be used to buy each officer a car but that the money would go to the sheriff’s department’s vehicle budget. The sheriff can decide if older vehicles would be placed at the schools, he said, adding that what the commission was asking for was the funding to help with the program.

The counselor said it had appeared at the meeting that the superintendents had high praise for the SRO programs and by giving money to purchase vehicles was a way the school districts could buy in and help the community.

“Is that an accurate way of describing it, sheriff?” asked Thompson.

Sheriff Kevin Friend responded that he believed that was accurate as far as what the commission did. However, no sheriff of any county in the state of Kansas can go out and seek funding from any other party except the board of county commissioners, he said, adding that was spelled out in state statutes.

Since the SRO program began seven years ago through the county, there has not been any additional funding from the schools except for the initial money they put in for vehicles.

Commission Chair Rick James said that the SRO program was decided on right before he was sworn in as commissioner. James said that the commission voted 2-1 to do fund it after Sheriff Paul Filla had brought in an Overland Park task force to stage a mock shooting at one of the schools.

James said he did not believe that the commission at that time negotiated well with the school districts. The county basically started out with a grant for several years and then agreed to take over all costs of the SRO program.

James said that he had read the article about the discussion of the letter at the Prairie View USD 362 meeting and they were right to table it. Why would they want to take on additional costs for something the county has been funding?

“Virtually we have no legs to stand on, it’s at their mercy,” said James. And you can see that all three school districts did not give any money back to their communities in their budgets. And they all have bonds, Prairie View is on their second bond, all of them had bonds when this program started.

James said he could see why districts don’t want to take on the debt of it. All the commission can do at this point is ask.

All you can do is ask, because you are not going to take the program away, James said.

Friend said he felt that it is a valuable program. He said he looked at it as tax dollars are tax dollars when they are all coming from the county.

They don’t all come from the county for the school districts, Johnson responded. Some of those funds are from the state.

James said the reason he was against it at the beginning was that the elected boards did not choose safety. At the same time they chose to pass bonds for their schools because the commissioners came along and said they would pay for it.

Johnson said he thought the commission had the authority as commissioners to get the districts to pay something.

Commissioner Danny McCullough said he wished the schools would help and asked Friend if cars have to be there all day.

Friend replied that the SROs have tasks to perform, for which the cars were used.

McCullough asked if most of the counties handle the SRO programs the way Linn County does.

Friend said most counties did it that way.

Johnson said some counties do not have SRO programs.

McCullough said he did not think it was out of the ordinary to ask them to help and Johnson said that he did not think so either.

If the commission had negotiated the right way the very first time, we would not be talking about it, said James. The commission would have just asked them to pay so much a year for the program.

Johnson said the county needs to request the money, suggesting that the commission cut the program if the schools don’t pay for part of it.

McCullough said he didn’t think it was wrong for the commission to ask for something like that, if they can go out and Prairie View can build expansions to the school every year and Pleasanton can buy the Cox building. He added that he would be interested in hearing a proposal from the school districts.

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