SAHS to have full-time officer

Despite budget cutbacks, the Stillwater Area High School will have a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) next year.

Ryan Laager, executive director of secondary education and K12 curriculum, told the Oak Park Heights City Council on May 27 that the school district intended to decrease the SRO contract with Oak Park Heights Police from 40 hours to 20 hours per week as part of a $70,000 cut to district security spending. At that time, it was all but certain that the SRO position would be changed to part time.

On July 17, Laager informed the school board of an agreement between the city of Oak Park Heights and the district that would provide a full-time officer in the school building while students are present.

“We have been working diligently over the last few months with the Oak Park Heights city manager and the chief of police,” Laager said. “I am here to report that we will have a full-time officer at the high school next year.”

Laager said the agreement would not have been possible had it not been for the city working with the school district’s financial situation.

The district has been spending approximately $90,000 a year to pay for a full-time officer from the Oak Park Heights Police Department. Back in May, the district said it would only be able to afford $45,000 per year for the SRO position going forward.

During the July 17 school board meeting, Laager presented the contract for the SRO position agreed upon by school and city staff that would reduce the position to 70 percent of the “annualized personnel cost” of the full-time officer. Annualized personnel cost includes costs such as salary, benefits and equipment.

The city of Oak Park Heights would bill the district for four months during 2014 and 5.5 months during 2015, for a total of 9.5 months. The personnel costs for four months in 2014 is estimated at $26,038, and 5.5 months in 2015 is estimated at $41,006. So the total cost to the school district for the officer would be $67,104, or about three-fouths the cost of the previous contract.

“Will there be a school resource officer for all 172 days that students will be there?” asked George Hoeppner.

“Yes,” Laager said.

According to Laager, part of the reason the agreement was reached was that the previous SRO, Fred Kropidlowski, had retired from the police force this year.

“We have a significant reduction to cost because of the change in the contract, and the new person in the position,” Laager said. “We have had a fabulous relationship with the police department. Fred Kropidlowski did a fabulous job, and the chief of police has been outstanding to work with.”

The school board voted unanimously to approve the new contract. The terms of the contract continue to the 2016-2017 school year.

The Oak Park Heights City Council unanimously approved the agreement July 22.

“From a staff perspective, the needs of the city and the needs of the school will be met,” Oak Park Heights City administrator Eric Johnson said. “Some may want more or less, but this is a workable solution.”

Johnson said there is a benefit to the city to have the school district pay for part of the cost of the SRO, because it is a service used by the entire district and not just Oak Park Heights.

“There is a bit of confusion to the 70 percent, I think,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t mean that for 10 weeks out of the year, the officer will be working for the city. The SRO position is a duty that is assigned based on a contracted service, and the contract is for part of the annualized personnel cost that the city pays. There is a net benefit to all by having the SRO on site at the school.”

Along with the change in the SRO position, the district implements other security measures at the high school.

“Working with the high school administration, there will be a reduction in the security budget, but we will be providing similar services to those we have in the past,” Laager said.

A new “vestibule entrance” project will be completed by the end of the summer that will force visitors to go through the office in order to enter the school. The school also has four full-time security guards who monitor the parking lot, halls and cafeteria.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]