In-school officers endorsed
CHAMPAIGN — The program that embeds police officers in five Champaign schools has picked up a key endorsement heading into tonight's school board meeting.
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According to district documents, Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand will recommend that the school board renew an agreement with the city to provide school resource officers at the district's high schools and middle schools through June 30, 2015.
A vote is scheduled at tonight's board meeting, set for 6 p.m. at the Mellon Administrative Building.
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 district for 2014-15 is projected to be $291,769, up from $270,163 for this past school year. Orlando Thomas, Unit 4's director of achievement and student services, attributes the increase to the higher cost of police officers' pensions (about 6.6 percent higher), health insurance (1.25), worker compensation (.74) and life insurance (0.3).
Critics of the SRO program cite cost and that it "criminalizes" a segment of the student community.
Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb points to the program's "proven track record" of keeping schools safe — and the department has the statistics to prove it, he says. Since 2005-06, when the program began, the number of police reports generated from Champaign schools has shrunk from 348 to 148 in 2008-09, to 52 last year.