Highland schools will once again have a school resource officer.
The Highland School Board meeting on March 26 unanimously approved partnership with the city of Highland to pay a full-time cop, who will be devoted to the schools. The decision was greeted by a round of applause from citizens and students in attendance at the meeting.
"Very good. Next year, we will start the year with a school resource officer," School Board President Jim Gallatin said.
Highland Police Chief Terry Bell said Superintendent Mike Sutton called him the next day to tell him the news.
"From the police department's perspective, we're excited that they passed it. We've hoped for this for a long time," Bell said.
The position has been a subject of discussion for the board over several months. Last month, a group of parents addressed the board, and requested that the position be reinstated. The district has not had an SRO since the 2011. But, while school and city officials have said they would like to see the position brought back — due in large part to nation's current issues school violence and recent events locally at both the high school and middle school — cost has always been in the way.
Bell estimated the position will cost about $95,000 each year. In the past, Bell said the city assisted the district by paying 10 percent of this cost. This time around, Bell said the city has budgeted to pay 25 percent, leaving the district to pay about $70,000-$75,000 annually. The district and the police department agreed that reinstating an officer would be at least a five-year commitment.
However, even with the city's assistance, the board was hesitant to make the continuing commitment. Then Sutton brought a new proposal to the board.
"I would like to recommend that we amend the Risk Management Plan to include 100 percent of salary and benefits," Sutton said.
The Risk Management Plan is put in place to help the district reduce its exposure to liability. Tim Bair, district's business manager, said that the Tort Fund levy is not capped, so the district can increase that tax levy for funding, as needed.
"However, we do not anticipate needing to do so in the near future," Bair said.
Sutton said even though the plan covers 100 percent of the cost for the officer, the city still plans to cover 25 percent.
Where does it go from here?
Sutton said the school district would like to get an officer hired and trained before the start of the next school year. But before that happens, a suitable candidate has to be found.
Bell said forming the job description and selecting a candidate will be a collaborative process between the police department and the district. A meeting has been planned for sometime this week to start going over expectations, according to Bell.
As for the officer, Bell said an existing Highland officer will be assigned to the position, and a new hire will fill that officer's spot on the street. Bell estimated that someone could be assigned the position in the next couple of months.
After the officer is assigned, he or she will attend a training with the National School Resource Officer Association this summer, according to Bell. During the training, Bell said officers go through about 40 hours of instruction to become a certified SRO. Bell said there are also subsequent trainings each year to keep them up to date.
The officer will also receive armed response training and become a certified instructor for active shooter/killer situations, according to Bell.
"It's not just a 'feel-good' position by any stretch," Bell said.
Bell said he also hopes to rotate the position every three years or so. This way, he said officers will get a chance to gain more experience, and stay connected with the police department. Rotating officers will also allow students will to form deeper relationships with multiple officers, according to Bell.
Sutton said the officer's time will be primarily spent between Highland High School and Highland Middle School, though they will occasionally be present at the primary and elementary schools.
Bell said the department's dedication to school safety will not fall solely on the SRO's shoulders. He said the department still plans to patrol the grounds, and continue its various programs and trainings with the schools.
"The world has changed since we last had one, unfortunately, and it's sorely needed," Bell said.