Is a School Resource Officer (SRO) really needed or necessary in the Cut Bank Schools? Ask school officials and their response is a resounding “yes.” Voters will be asked next month, in a special election to help fund the SRO position for the next 10 years.
“The single most important duty of educators is to ensure safety for all students and staff,” said Cut Bank Schools Superintendent Wade Johnson. “Having an SRO in the district serves as a deterrent to negative activity, and protection in the event of a worst-case scenario. We live in a time that requires additional diligence in providing a safe learning environment for our students.”
City voters will be asked to approve a special levy of approximately $65,000 for the next 10 years. If approved, this will result in an increase in city taxes of an estimated:
$18.43 per year on a $50,000 home.
$36.87 per year on a $100,000 home.
$73.73 per year on a $200,000 home.
Ballots are scheduled to be mailed out to the City’s registered voters and must be returned by July 30.
This gives little time for School and City officials to explain the pros and cons of the issue to voters.
According to Johnson, the board of trustees of School District No. 15 is committed to helping fund the position for the next decade.
“Cut Bank Public Schools have been very fortunate to work with two School Resource Officers for the past several years. Officer Jim Everett helped get the program re-started and last year Officer Austin DeRoche demonstrated great skills in continuing the program,” said Johnson.
He continued, “The SRO has been a critical component of our system. Officer DeRoche has been very involved in developing positive relationships with students, deterring improper behavior, and assisting with legal matters when needed. We are seeing an accelerated need for student assistance throughout our district, and Officer DeRoche is the perfect fit for this position.”
With the school district’s $35,000 commitment, Police Chief Mike Schultz points out the City needs an additional $65,000 to ensure the SRO position is fully-funded. The costs associated with the SRO position are wages and benefits of $73,035 for the 2019-20 school year, with the remainder going to fund the purchase of uniforms, needed equipment and other expenses related to performing the job.
Schultz estimated the wages and benefits for the job will increase according based on the cost of living factor, which hovers around two percent annually. The levy, however, will remain at the same level, approximately $65,000, for the entire 10-year period.
“The average of the estimated salary for the SRO over the next 10 years is $79,971.90. When we are asking for $80,000, on average for salary, for the next 10 years, it is based on this number,” explained Schultz. “The structure of the mill levy does not call for an increase as our costs go up. Revenue collected, and not used, will be re-appropriated each year to cover any additional costs due to cost of living increases.”
Schultz stressed, “It is important to note that any money collected by the SRO Mill Levy can only be used for SRO-related expenses.”
Cut Bank Schools School Board Chairman Doug Ray believes the SRO position is an asset to the local school district for a few reasons. “I believe it shows our students and our teachers we are always trying to be proactive for their safety and well being,” said Ray, adding, “It also gives our students a chance to become familiar with and appreciate our police department and its officers in a positive light.”
Elementary School Principal Venus Dodson is an avid supporter of the SRO and is quick to expound on the benefits of having the SRO in the schools.
“Our SRO has been instrumental in getting students to school when we were unable to contact family and the student. Mentorship of several students was key with keeping those students in school and focused on doing well,” said Dodson. “In a few situations, our SRO quickly responded to help de-escalate upset parents before they further disrupted the school environment,” she added.
“The SRO is another contact related to the school that stresses the importance of education and working with school staff to resolve problems. In addition, the SRO supports the principal and teachers with extreme behavior issues during the school day. It’s unfortunate we are seeing growing behavior problems with younger children, but that’s the population we have coming into our school,” pointed out Dodson.
Last year, Officer DeRoche investigated 15-18 student incidents that happened outside of school with the conflict from them impacting students at school, shared Dodson.
“Before we had an SRO, we didn’t have this resource and the close working relationship to support students, staff and parents. The SRO position has made a positive difference with the climate in our school to ensure safety with a quick response when issues arise,” said Dodson.
With the ballots being mailed out in less than a month, Johnson asks voters to become informed on the issue and to “please consider the safety of our students when voting on the SRO mill levy election.”