URBANA — Police could soon be increasing their presence at Urbana schools.
The school district is considering going from a single part-time school resource officer to two full-time officers.
Chief Bryant Seraphin and Deputy Chief Richard Surles appeared before the Urbana school board Tuesday night to discuss the proposed new model, in which the officers would be installed at the middle and high school.
“This is a re-working of the model,” Seraphim said.
They also introduced Officer Michelle Robinson, who has begun work at the middle school.
Costs for the officers, which include salary, benefits, training, vehicles, equipment and overtime, traditionally have been 100 percent funded by the police department. Starting with Troy Phillips in 1993, the district has had 12 part-time school resource officers, including Anthony Cobb, now chief of police in Champaign. All have been assigned to the investigations division, working adult and juvenile cases when not on school duty.
After the district announced in spring 2018 that it would be removing its deans, the police department began to reassess its current model of one part-time school resource officer.
“We immediately had some concerns without having the strong deans,” Seraphin said.
That fall, there was an increase in police involvement at both the middle and high school, according to Seraphin.
Following a town hall meeting with families, students, administrators, Seraphin and Mayor Diane Marlin in September 2018, Urbana police and city officials began ongoing meetings with school district administrators to develop a plan for discipline improvement at both campuses.
As a result of those meetings, additional time for school resource officers was provided to both schools.
On Feb. 4, a fight resulted in several students being sent to jail and left one teacher briefly hospitalized. Ten students and one adult were arrested.
“February was the flashpoint of our involvement with the schools,” Seraphin said.
In the wake of that incident, a police officer was at the high school five days a week from February through May.
“Parents were leaving me voicemails asking what we were doing to keep their kids safe,” Seraphin said.
A decision was made with the school district’s interim administrative team and the building principals to begin exploring a model for a dedicated resource officer at the middle and high school.
Shortly after being named superintendent, Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said she met with police and her administrative team and “began exploring the costs connected with this” while planning for the 2019-20 school year.
In August, the police department agreed to maintain a five-day presence at the high school and began to support a model to have a dedicated resource officer at the middle school, covered through overtime.
Once the current school year began, police began to search for a full-time officer for the middle school, including the school’s staff in the selection process.
Currently, the city pays for most of the costs, with the district paying for overtime.
Ivory-Tatum said an intergovernmental agreement is needed between the city and the district to set responsibility for future costs. She said $270,000 was put in the education fund budget to pay for the officers’ salaries, benefits, etc.
“We elected to put it in the ed fund this year,” she said. “Next year, we will explore our options.”
Board members appeared to be divided over the issue, with Peggy Patten calling for limiting the increase from one part-time officer to one full-time officer overall.
“The funds to quadruple our SRO presence are funds that would be unavailable to hire additional trained educators, social workers and counselors,” she said.
Tori Exum said she supported going to two full-time officers.
“I think it is important for us to make sure we reduce our campus disruptions,” she said.
Surles said The National Association of School Resource Officers recommends one full-time officer per 1,000 students or one per school building, and prior to this school year, Urbana’s model did not meet either of these recommendations, having just one part-time officer in place for 2,161 students.
“SROs help keep kids out of the juvenile justice system,” Surles said.