Officials hear from public on school resource officers
CHAMPAIGN — Debra Medlyn remembers the trauma she experienced when her son was a crime victim a year before the Champaign school district brought in police officers to promote safety.
"My son was held at knifepoint in a locker room," an emotional Medlyn said Monday night. "After that experience, I was relieved there was going to be a school resource officer the next year.
"I wish it were a safer world, but it is not. I want to thank the SROs and hope no other parent ever gets the call I got that day."
Medlyn was one of about 80 people who turned out at Monday's Champaign school board meeting to discuss whether to renew an agreement with the city to provide police officers at the district's high schools and middle schools through June 30, 2015.
The proposed contract would keep SRO staffing at five officers — one each for Central and Centennial high schools and Edison, Franklin and Jefferson middle schools — with the city paying three salaries and the district funding the other two.
The cost to the school district for 2014-15 is projected to be just over $291,000.
Hattie Paulk, a grandmother of a Unit 4 student, expressed concern over the number of black students who have been arrested since the district adopted the school resource officer system.
"I see you are spending money on SROs when we need to be spending money on children," Paulk told the school board. "Why do we need the principal if in fact the SRO is making the decision for you?"
"This is not about arrests; this is about criminal investigation," countered Lamont Holden, a teacher at Edison. "An administrator may not have the training to conduct a criminal investigation."
Black community activist Terry Townsend expressed concern about the possibility that the SRO program may "criminalize" a segment of the student community.
"The program should not be discontinued," Townsend said. "It should be reduced."
Champaign Police Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said that, over time, the presence of school resource officers has led to fewer police reports generated from Champaign schools.
The number decreased from 348 in 2005-06, the year the program began, to 148 in 2008-09, to 52 last year.
"We help create an atmosphere that makes learning more conducive," Daniels said Monday night.
Franklin Principal Sara Sanders said she is thankful to have a police officer at her school.
"We have found this program to be beneficial to the students of Unit 4," she said.
"The school resource officers have a proven track record," Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb told The News-Gazette during a break in Monday's meeting, which lasted more than three hours. "We have been in the schools since the 2006 school year. They help keep our schools safe and provide a lot of support to our staff and our students."
Orlando Thomas, Unit 4's director of achievement and student services, said a committee that has been evaluating the SRO program has made four recommendations for how to improve it:
— Conduct focus groups to learn more about why some students may not feel comfortable with the officers.
— Develop a reciprocal agreement between the police department and Unit 4 to share data.
— Make complaint and compliment forms about resource officers more readily available.
— Work to create a joint evaluation of the officers by both Unit 4 and the police department.
School board member Jamar Brown said he is listening to people on both sides of the issue. The board is expected to vote on the issue at its June 30 meeting.
"We have a very collaborative relationship with the police department, and things are going well," Brown said. "Why are we looking at this? It is our job to look into it because a segment of the community wants it."
Changes at top
Five administrative appointments were approved Monday, each taking effect July 1:
Krista Finklea — interim principal at Booker T. Washington, replacing Asia Fuller-Hamilton
Peter Foertsch — interim principal at Barkstall, replacing Jaime Roundtree (below)
Tony Howard — interim principal of Edison Middle School, replacing Justin Uppinghouse
Tony Maltbia — administrator of Novak Academy
Jaime Roundtree — director of Elementary Teaching & Learning