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Marysville schools cutting campus cops

Police Department alarmed at losing resource officers

MARYSVILLE The Marysville School District is alarming local police by cutting funds for an on-campus officer at the middle school level.
In past years the school district had three sworn police officers to supplement the districts in-house security department. That included a Snohomish County deputy at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and two Marysville Police officers split between four campuses. One was assigned to Cedarcrest Middle School and Marysville Mountain View High School, while another was at Marysville Junior High School and Marysville Middle School.
In coming to grips with increasing costs, the district is halving the amount for the School Resource Officer, as they are known, but they could be severing an essential tie police use to build relationships with kids.
Marysville Police Commander Robb Lamoureux said the SROs have been a great tool for keeping kids safe and establishing a rapport. It means a lot to kids as they walk onto campuses to see a police car there.
They are no longer going to see that there, Lamoureux said. Its important because we have such a high rate of juvenile crime.
School security officers typically handle status offenses such as attendance issues like being tardy, trying to leave a closed campus during lunch and breaking school rules. A police officer is the first line of defense when school safety is threatened and is a great source of information on future troubles.
Its important because we have such a high rate of juvenile crime, Lamoureux lamented. Thats going to be a huge impact.
An SRO on site is a prime example of preventative medicine and Lamoureux cited examples where an SRO got a tip from a student about some mischief planned by a peer. The tip came only because the student was familiar with the officer and trusted him or her.
Thats relationship building and thats a kid who knows what a School Resource Officer is all about, he added.
The district paid extra to have the campus cop and now that will be reduced to help cut almost a million dollars from a $105 million general fund. Thats not pleasant, according to superintendent Larry Nyland, because much of those funds are restricted and the district has to look for areas where it can legally shift funds or reduce programs.
You dont want to make any of the cuts were making, Nyland said.
Those cuts are affected by three sore points: first, the state of Washington doesnt pay enough to fund the basic education mission; second, the salaries for teachers and support staff is supplemented by local funds to attract and retain qualified people; third, the district must begin saving money to open three new schools coming on line each fall until 2010. Those projects have an estimated cost of $140 million for construction but that wont cover the overhead of bringing faculty and new staff on board.
Rather than face a huge lump sum in the future, district bean counters are making incremental cuts now that should be less painful in the long term.
The cop reduction is not final however, as the district is obligated to give the city of Marysville six months notice before making in change in the program, according to district finance director Jim Baker.
Its really going to effect about half of our school year, he said.
And thats only if the district cant find the money somewhere else. His staff are scouring the budget but the school board has to have a final item to vote on long before then. Any change in the SRO scheme would not take place until January, 2008.
Man, we dont want to lose it, but if we dont find another source of funding we will lose that uniformed presence, Baker said.
The SRO is not the only area the district is cutting, Baker stressed. An already lean grounds department is losing a staffer and the finance and human resources departments are taking advantage of a retirement to each pare back a half-time position.
We just keep ratcheting down each year trying to do more with less, Baker said. Its getting tougher as costs continue to rise.
Inflation is bad and regularly outstrips revenues, but it add insult to injury when state law limits what the district can collect through levies, even though local voters have approved higher property taxes; thats due to a 24 percent levy limit.
We cant collect as much as our local taxpayers have approved, Baker said.
Its hard, you almost want to cry, said board member Don Hatch at the districts Aug. 6 board meeting where the 2008 budget was approved unanimously. I wish there was a magic want coming out of Olympia to help us.
Board president Michael Kundu said many people might be disappointed but Nyland and assistant superintendent Gail Miller listened with compassion to everybody concerned.
There was no shortage of attention, Kundu said.

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