More officers in Clark schools

But Springfield, Clark officials worry about how to pay for school officers.

More law enforcement officers will work in Springfield and Clark County schools in the fall, but leaders are concerned about paying for them in the future.

The Springfield City School District will again have five school resource officers located in the high school and middle schools for the upcoming school year after city commissioners approved Tuesday extending an agreement with the district. The city schools had four officers assigned there in recent months after one was moved to the K9 units.

And Clark County will soon add two deputies to work in the county schools.

The Springfield school district will provide the city with $50,000 in exchange for five school resource officers for the 2013-2014 school year. The money comes from the school’s federal Race To The Top grant, according to Superintendent David Estrop.

While Estrop is pleased to have a similar police staffing level again, he believes the state or federal government needs to provide some type of money for safety. A lot of talk occurred after the school shooting in Newtown, Mass., Estrop said, but since then there’s been no action.

“We have seen virtually no money associated with any of that talk,” Estrop said. “I think it’s time for the policymakers, if they’re truly worried about this issue, to put their money where their mouth is.”

Clark County commissioners recently approved $214,000 over the next two years to provide two education service officers from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to patrol different school buildings across the county throughout the day. The money will come from the county’s general fund.

The goal is to have the program ready in August, Sheriff Gene Kelly said.

“They’re going to be up and running day 1 when school starts,” he said.

The events in Newtown last December displayed how critically important officers are to schools, Estrop said, and the critical function they serve.

“We don’t have to have the discussions about arming our staff because at the middle schools and high schools we have trained, armed professionals in those buildings,” Estrop said. “It’s a much better situation than having untrained, even good marksman in the form of staff members. We see it as being ahead of the curve and wanting to stay there.”

In May, voters approved a 2.2-mill bond issue for Springfield schools to be used for maintenance and safety improvements. The bond issue will generate $14 million over 12 years.

Estrop said the levy dollars will go toward improving building safety and security, including updated technology systems. Construction has begun on parking lots throughout the district to handle more car traffic.

The district and the city are both looking for extra money to “keep what we have,” Estrop said.

Springfield Police Division Chief Stephen Moody said the officers “aren’t there just for enforcement.” They serve as mentors for students, and also teach classes inside both the high schools and middle schools.

“We want to head off problems, and provide a safe environment, not just for students, but for the staff and faculty,” Moody said. “It’s a great program. I really appreciate the school board for stepping up and allocating this money to pay for basically almost one officer.”

Moody said he believes five officers is “the right fit.” The division also has D.A.R.E. officers in the elementary and middle schools, as well as detective and patrol cars coming through every day.

“It’s not because there’s problems in the schools,” Moody said. “We have an obligation to provide a safe environment for the students and the staff.”

In the summer, the city resource officers work with students at programs such as Bike Camp, and also help out on the streets.

The department has been performing reality-based training in the schools since 2006, Moody said, and it will continue this year.

“We’ve been ahead of the curve for a long time, and have been improving our tactics,” he said. “As the methods and tactics change, we’ve been changing with them.”

The sheriff’s office had five applicants for its two school positions, which Kelly said will be filled by seasoned veterans. Two new deputies will then be hired to replace them on the streets.

Each year, the sheriff’s office handles more than 300 calls per year at schools. Last year, it started a new policy where deputies on patrol routes would stop at each school in their area throughout the day.

The county is in the process of applying for federal school safety grants. With the money coming from the county’s general fund, County Administrator Nathan Kennedy said he’s concerned any more state cuts could affect all of the county’s programs, and not just the school officers program.

The two school deputies are expected to be hired next month, and will split the county east and west.

“We’re hoping these deputies can work with school officials and handle these complaints,” Kelly said. “I think it will only add to the security in our schools currently.”

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