Urbana school board declines opportunity to amend SRO budget

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URBANA — The Urbana school district’s arrangement with the city’s police department will remain as is — at least for the time being.

A day after the city council voted 5-2 to allow the district to make changes to the school resource officer contract if it wished, school board members opted this week to table the conversation for another day as they amass more voices on the issue.

“We need to have a discussion on that matter at a future meeting to have more outreach with our community to get the parents’, students’ and staff members’ opinions on whether SROs should be retained,” board member Paul Poulosky said.

Because students aren’t in the building due to the coronavirus pandemic, the board discussed amending the budget for the school year that calls for $327,007 to be spent on two school resource officers. That budget was laid out in a two-and-a-half year contract that began in January.

Board member Peggy Patten proposed cutting that number in half.

“I believe it’s reasonable for us to offer to pay a portion of the SRO costs this year recognizing the limited scope of work our SROs have already done and can perform in our schools while students are learning remotely,” Patten said.

After a long, heated discussion, the board voted to maintain the full payments for SROs, approving it 5-2.

The hourslong public comment portion of the meeting focused mainly on whether SROs belonged in schools at all, while the board agenda focused solely on this year’s budget and whether it was prudent to pay the full cost for officers.

Principal Joe Wiemelt said that Urbana Middle School’s SRO has been busy supporting families and staff with home visits, troubleshooting technology necessary for remote learning, and supporting office staff by enforcing the strict protocols for entering the building.

During normal times, he said, the SROs help the schools stay connected to community agencies, including the Youth Assessment Center.

“What I worry about is making another big policy decision without taking the time to really engage the community well, because we’ve seen what happens when we make really big policy decisions without really thinking about the details of implementation,” Wiemelt said. “And so I’m not here to advocate for or against a decision related to SROs.

“What I’m here to advocate for is a community that really engages in this process really, really critically, so that we make the best decision for Urbana schools. Whether that is two full-time SROs or not, I think we have to be much more intentional with how we’re doing it.”

Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum responded with an enthusiastic “yes” when asked whether she wants the program to continue.

The idea that the proposal was solely about the budget didn’t pass muster for board members Tori Exum and John Dimit. Exum also took issue with some of the public commenters who spoke out against SROs.

“I really think several from these groups that are speaking need to take a step back,” she said. “And maybe while they’re taking a step back, they need to take a step into my neighborhood and actually have some conversations with these kids.

“We don’t see you at our events. That’s what these kids are saying. ‘How dare you? How dare you?’ It’s time to step up. … If you have so much to say about the bad stuff that’s happening in our schools, why don’t we see you in our schools?

“To try to sneak this in as part of a pandemic when it’s really a part of a bigger agenda, it’s wrong. It’s wrong. And you shouldn’t sleep good at night knowing that you’re wrong for doing this, and you’re wrong for sneaking this in and not making sure everybody is at the table.”

President Anne Hall, who voted “no” on the budget along with Patten, urged her fellow board members to accept the city council’s offer.

“Everything you said, Tori, I appreciate it, and I respect it, and I have no right to speak for a lot of kids in this district who don’t come from the same background as me,” Hall said. “I do have the responsibility to try to think of everybody’s viewpoint in terms of the budget and the policies that we try to practice and pass in this district.

“And for me, it is fiscally irresponsible right now to think about this money when there are no children in the buildings. … What the city council did for us last night was give us a gift, and that gift was an open door. It was an open door for us to be able to have a conversation that we didn’t think we’d be having today. Nobody predicted this. … I’m advocating us taking this gift of an open door from the city to further explore how we can be financially impacted by having SROs in our buildings with no children.”

The discussion surrounding that open door will be left for another day.

via The News-Gazette

September 18, 2020 at 07:21AM

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