Before word comes down from the state of Indiana, the city of Jeffersonville and Greater Clark County Schools agreed to cover the cost to add a school resource officer to the payroll.
Jeffersonville Police Department Chief Chris Grimm requested the Jeffersonville City Council allow him to hire a third school resource officer.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, the city council hosted a meeting with school officials and the police to discuss the plan that was currently in place at the city’s schools.
Under a new contract drafted the school corporation has agreed to pay $34,500 to add a third school resource officer. Grimm said the base pay for a new police officer is $41,154
The cost of what Greater Clark was willing to pay to add the new officer was a concern for some council members.
“I think the school system really needs to pay quite a bit more, because not only are they getting an officer, they’re getting a patrol car,” said Councilman Mike Smith.
He added that the state is mulling a deal that would offer grant funds to pay to place resource officers in schools.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1, has been discussed in the Indiana General Assembly that could offer $10 million in matching grant funds to local school districts for protection in schools. What that protection entails has been the source of debate, whether it would mandate that all public schools have an employee armed with a loaded gun during school hours or allow for the hiring of school resource officers.
Gov. Mike Pence said he opposed the state mandating armed employees in schools, instead preferring the model school developed in Vigo County, according to a previous report in the News and Tribune. Vigo County School Corp. created a Safe Schools Task Force using a combination of school funds, local government dollars and private contributions, and were able to put 10 special county deputies into rural schools, adding to the existing law enforcement officers in the city schools.
Smith suggested the city should wait to see what is determined by the state legislature, adding that the amount offered by Greater Clark is only covering a third of the actual cost of having an officer stationed in the school.
“They are paying 85 percent of an officer’s salary, whether it’s the lieutenant that’s at the school or it’s the patrolman that’s out on the street,” Grimm said.
But Smith and City Council President Connie Sellers argued that the cost offered would not pay 85 percent of the salary because it would not be a new patrol officer that would be assigned to the school.
“We have to look at the financial obligation to the taxpayers,” Sellers said.
She added that the city still has to cut $2.4 million out of its budget to account for losses related to property tax caps.
“I would think if the taxpayers saw that they could get a police officer in their school, and the school board was going to pay 85 percent of their base salary, I think the people would be marching on the front door saying, ‘Hire him,’” said Councilman Brian Glover.
Greater Clark Superintendent Andrew Melin said he though the offer was a fair deal.
“The school board’s made a commitment to say, ‘We want to protect our kids,’ and it was our understanding that $34,500 was well over half the price of an officer’s salary and benefits,” he said. “We’re talking about paying 50 percent of even your top paid officer’s salary and benefits. We didn’t come into this trying to low-ball the city. We came in with what we thought was a genuine, fair, 50-50 deal.”
Melin added that the city cannot count on the potential state grant funding.
“In terms of the state, you can’t count on anything coming out of the state,” he said. “And our feeling was, if we want to commit, and this is important enough ... then we need to put our money where our mouth is,” he said of the school board.
Grimm added that if the state does pass the grant program, Jeffersonville could hire more officers and put them in the elementary schools.
The third officer hired would be stationed at either Parkview or River Valley Middle Schools. The other officer would be placed at the other middle school with an officer also stationed at Jeffersonville High School.
Grimm explained the officers would only work during the portion of the year that school was in session and would pick up another assignment during the summer months, and would boost the total number of officers in the city to 75. The new school resource officer would begin in August.
The agreement for the city to cover the remaining cost of the officer’s salary was approved, with a provision added to review annually, by a vote of 5-4, with Sellers, Smith and Councilmen Ed Zastawny and Nathan Samuel voting against.
The contract will still have to go before the board of public works for final approval.
Look for more business from Monday night’s council meeting in an upcoming edition of the News and Tribune.