Champaign school board renews resource officers' contract
CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board voted 6-1 Monday to renew its contract with the school resource officers who serve in several schools.
However, the school district will create a committee to look at the program this year, which could recommend some changes to be implemented next year.
The school district is responsible for paying for two officers' salaries, benefits and expenses. The cost to the school district is about $270,000. The school district has five school resource officers, although this year, Edison and Jefferson Middle Schools will share an officer because one officer is injured and can't work, said Orlando Thomas, the school district's director of achievement and student services.
Board member Lynn Stuckey voted against the contract, saying she's concerned about its cost. Last year, the school district paid about $250,000 for its portion of the program. That cost went up because all five of the district's officers now have served between 15 and 19 years, which mean they're paid at a higher rate according to their Fraternal Order of Police contract.
Stuckey said she was also concerned that no one from the Champaign Police Department was there to answer questions about the program, but Thomas said that in the past two years, school board members did not request their presence when voting on the contract.
Thomas said the school resource officers are specially trained and started working in the schools during the 2006-2007 school year.
He gave the school board information about how discipline referrals have gone down since the early years of the school resource officers' presence in the schools and more recent years.
However, board member Jamar Brown said he would like to know how current discipline and arrest data compares with the years before the school resource officers started working in the schools.
Brown also asked how internal changes — things like a program to encourage positive behavior, staff training and a focus on de-escalating situations before they become physical confrontations — have affected discipline numbers as well.
He said he's also concerned that Champaign school district administrators don't necessarily have authority over the school resource officers in situations that don't clearly involve a student breaking the law or that could have discretionary outcomes. He said he thinks the school district should look into whether it could spend less than what it spends with the Champaign Police Department if it hired its own security employees.
Superintendent Judy Wiegand said the police department will be a part of the conversation as the school district looks into its school resource officer program this year, and conversations about school resource officers will be public.
The school board also voted unanimously to hire two hall monitors at Jefferson Middle School. The positions will be interim because Jefferson will share a school resource officer with Edison Middle School this year.
Jefferson had hall monitors in the past, said Susan Zola, former Jefferson principal and current assistant superintendent for achievement, curriculum and instruction. The positions were cut for budget reasons a few years ago, she said.
The school board also approved hiring Champaign police officers at a rate of $52.75 an hour for specific sporting events.
Thomas told the board the district is planning to hire between four and six police officers — an increase from past years — for four football games this fall. They include games with heavy attendance and rivalries among schools. The school district expects those officers will work about four hours at those games. The school district has hired police officers in the past, but Thomas said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb recommended more officers at these certain games.
Also Monday, the school district approved a bid for the construction of a 70-foot residential wind turbine at Jefferson Middle School.
The turbine, which will cost about $50,000, will be built by Windy City Power. It will be paid for using a $40,000 grant and about $10,000 raised by the school.