School Resource Officer: City, school district sign contract to add position

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The city of Wadena and the Wadena-Deer Creek School District have signed a contract hoping to hire on a school resource officer that would serve the school, city, M State College and Freshwater Education District No. 6004.

The position would offer an appropriate amount of time to each of the involved entities depending on the needs. When school is not in session, the officer would focus efforts on policing the city.

The signatures of M State and Freshwater are still needed and according to both entities there is still further discussion needed before they can agree to the contract. Freshwater Education Executive Director Jerry Nesland said there are still questions that need answered before FED can sign a contract. He believed they would have an answer concerning the contract in June or July.

The current contract splits expenses between the four entities, with WDC School District taking on the largest portion.

Cost of SRO

The amount to be paid to the city in monthly payments beginning in September through May each year for all services furnished by the city pursuant to this contract include:

• Wadena-Deer Creek School District: $3,818, Sept.-Dec. 2018; and $3,981, Jan.-May 2019

• Freshwater Education: $587, Sept.-Dec. 2018; $612, Jan.-May 2019

• M State College: $587, Sept.-Dec. 2018; $612, Jan.-May 2019.

With WDC likely getting the most use out of the SRO, the expense is higher, around $36,000 annually. WDC School Superintendent Lee Westrum made a push at the legislature for help in funding such a position and, if Governor Mark Dayton signs the bill, Minnesota schools will see $18 per pupil to help with the expense. That comes to about $20,000 at WDC, Westrum said.

"More than half the expense would be covered, so that helps," he said.

And if M State and Freshwater choose to exclude themselves from the contract, "If the current partners don't all agree we will work with City to ensure that we have an SRO at WDC. We are committed to that for next year," Westrum said.

Reason for SRO

Wadena Chief of Police Naomi Plautz shared reasons behind bringing in an SRO into the schools. Plautz happens to be the first and last SRO employed by Wadena-Deer Creek School District. She was the SRO from 1998-2000.

"The Wadena-Deer Creek School teachers and all the staff, they do a fantastic job already, but having a school resource officer would just polish that," Plautz said.

"The fact is police are in schools everyday in Minnesota, let's just build on that in a positive way," Plautz said. The SRO is not just there to walk the halls and have lunch with the students, she said. It would include dropping in for educational resources in the classrooms. It can even include working with families of the students in child welfare situations.

Plautz shot down several myths of an SRO, saying that not all interactions with the SRO and students are part of a permanent record. Most are simple interactions that can lead to greater openness. Their work in the school may be reactive to certain issues within the district or proactive to help stop harmful situations before they can start.

Plautz said just being on site makes it easier for teachers, staff and students to report situations.

Supt. Westrum said that his interactions with SROs in other districts have been positive.

"It creates more positive interactions between students and law enforcement," Westrum said. "I'm pleased that we have this opportunity."

WDC School Board members were all in favor of the contract, with several saying the cost was worthwhile for the added safety and positivity expected through the presence.

The contract states that the purpose of the SRO is to address the need for a presence of one law enforcement officer in and around the schools. It was determined that additional protection was needed. The SRO will provide instruction and law enforcement school liaison services to the schools. The primary function of the SRO, while at schools, is to take steps and employ lawful and accepted police measures for the protection of life and property of the school.

The SRO is to be assigned by the Wadena Chief of Police. Plautz has been visiting with the four entities to answer questions about the position.

Plautz explained at a recent school board meeting that the SRO is under her direct supervision and is not an employee of the schools. Plautz will choose the SRO for the job and will work with administration of the schools as to the manner in which they are assigned.

The city furnishes the SRO with a vehicle and necessary equipment. The contract would be for the 2018-2019 school year, but would automatically renew each year unless terminated.