URBANA — The Urbana school board is considering an intergovernmental agreement with the city that would make possible an expanded use of school resource officers.
The school district, which currently has a single part-time school resource officer, is considering having two full-time officers instead.
Under the proposal, the officers would be stationed at the middle and high schools.
On Tuesday evening, district Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum reviewed the proposed agreement with the city and police department, which the school board could vote on at its Nov. 19 meeting.
If the school board approves the deal, Mayor Diane Marlin said the city council would vote on it sometime before year’s end.
“I strongly support this plan,” Marlin told the board. “Our community has changed over the past few decades. All serious challenges facing us in the homes and on the streets of Urbana find their way through the doors of the school. You know that better than anyone. Public safety is the top priority for the city of Urbana, and that includes safety in and around our schools.”
Costs related to the officers, including salaries, benefits, training, vehicles, equipment and overtime, traditionally have been 100 percent funded by the police department.
But that changed slightly after a Feb. 4 fight at Urbana High School.
Additional time for school resource officers was provided to both the middle school and high school in the wake of the brawl, which saw several students sent to jail, one teacher briefly hospitalized, and 10 students and one adult arrested. While the city still picked up most of the related costs, the district agreed to pay for officers’ overtime.
“Following the incidents at the schools last year, leadership in city government and the school district were inundated with calls from faculty, parents, staff and community members asking us for help to restore calm to the schools and keeping students and staff safe going forward,” Marlin said.
Under the proposed two-and-a-half year agreement.
— The school resource officers will be employees of the city and report to the police department.
“These are dedicated to the school and to youth,” said Police Chief Bryant Seraphin. “They are here for the schools as part of both staffs.”
— The school district will pay recurring costs of the two officers (estimated at $321,300 a year), while the city will absorb one-time costs, such as police cars, laptops and body cameras.
Board member Tori Exum noted that “a huge chunk” of the recurring costs will go to pensions.
— The school district will give the officers a space in which to work and give them opportunities to work with teachers.
— The officers will handle criminal matters and won’t be responsible for enforcing school regulations or serving as school disciplinarians.
— They will be appointed by the police department, but the school district will collaborate with police on their selection.
— Interviewing of minors without permission of the student’s parent or guardian will not be allowed.
— School district policies on searches are also incorporated into the agreement.
“Our SROs are going to be role models for our students and are trusted members of our community,” Ivory-Tatum said.
“I urge you to support this proposal, and we look forward to working closely with the superintendent and the entire district to rebuild the vibrant, healthy, award-winning schools for which Urbana has long been known,” Marlin said.
But school board member Peggy Patten expressed concerns over the open display of guns by the officers and other issues.
“The money is better spent on teachers, counselors and social workers,” Patten said.
She said she prefers going with a half-time officer at both schools instead of a full-time officer at both schools.
“I am in the schools a lot,” Exum said. “Our SROs aren’t in place for everyday discipline. They aren’t there, every time a student is fighting, for arresting. We have people in place for those positions.”