It looks like, for now, high schools in Cary and Raleigh will still have police officers assigned to them for the 2011-12 school year
After a lengthy debate, the Wake County school board unanimously agreed tonight to continue their contracts with the Raleigh and Cary police departments for school resource officers for the high schools. As part of the vote, Superintendent Tony Tata was directed to come back in three months with a review of the SRO program.
But before the vote, some board members talked about delaying the vote and what would be necessary should they terminate the deals.
The SRO issue is intertwined with the discussion about the proposed overhaul of the student discipline policies.
Some advocacy groups have urged the school board, while it changes the discipline policies, to also change the use of SROs. They've advocated eliminating them entirely or, if they remain, to restrict what weapons they can carry and to change their training, among other things.
Throughout the discussion of the overhaul, board members have talked about reviewing the memorandum of understanding with the local law enforcement agencies about the SROs.
Tonight's vote was scheduled to be a consent agenda item but was put on the action agenda, meaning it required separate votes, by board member Anne McLaurin.
McLaurin questioned approving the contracts right now when they hadn't yet reviewed the MOU or the SRO program.
School board chairman Ron Margiotta agreed that a review is needed but questioned holding up the contracts at this late date.
School board member Deborah Prickett asked if they could wait on the contracts until they get a better handle on the budget.
Russ Smith, Wake's senior director of school security, said the amount has stayed the same for 13 years. He later said that on average it costs $80,000 per officer per year with Wake paying $37,838 per SRO using state dollars.
School board member John Tedesco complained they had asked about the MOU for months but hadn't seen it yet. He said he "very concerned" about moving forward with the contracts tonight.
McLaurin said before they proceed with a one-year contract that they should talk with the principals first to see what they think about having SROS.
Margiotta said he was concerned that delaying the vote might mean they wouldn't have SROs in place for the start of the new school year.
School board member Kevin Hill said though that they could approve the contracts tonight and, in the worst case scenario, terminate the deals on 30 days notice.
Tedesco said he was concerned that approving the contracts tonight could cause them to lose their sense of urgency on reviewing the SROs. He said he would want to evaluate whether SROs are having a productive impact on schools before approving the contracts.
McLaurin said she could approve the deals if Tata could talk with the principals and complete the review of the SROs within the next three months.
Tata said he could get back to them within that time period and conduct the review. He said can talk with the principals and see whether what they're doing with SROs is consistent with the new discipline policies.
McLaurin said she wants Tata to see if the training that the officers receive is consistent with what's needed to be a SRO.
School board member Keith Sutton said he wants conversations about the use of force and about SROs making referrals of students into the criminal justice system.
School board member Carolyn Morrison said what's often missing from discipline is that it should be to correct mistakes and not just to punish.
After everyone made their speeches, they approved the contracts.
The deals for the high school SROs in the unincorporated areas of the county or the other towns don't go before the school board because they're for less than $100,009 per agency.