Franklin — Franklin High School will be provided with a school resource officer for the first time in five years, after the program was cut in 2009.
The common council approved a memorandum of understanding between the Franklin School District and the Franklin Police Department on August 5.
The MOU is designed "to prevent juvenile delinquency and promote positive student development" by designating a police officer to patrol the school grounds during the academic year, according to the MOU document.
"There's a lot of benefit that comes with having an officer there," said Police Chief Rick Oliva. "By establishing that direct link with the school, we can enhance the safety and security of the learning environment."
Duties for the resource officer will include working with school officials to prevent dangerous situations, presenting law enforcement programs to students and taking law enforcement action when necessary.
"The officer will not be a school staff member or disciplinarian but will focus on illegal activities on schools grounds, such as fights, threats, thefts and vandalism," Oliva said.
The officer will be required to wear a police uniform while stationed at the high school and will sometimes be called to assist in the district's middle schools.
"Just like all schools across the country, we put our student safety as priority number one," said Superintendent Steve Patz. "I think (a school resource officer) offers a great opportunity for our schools and the police department to work together."
Cost to bring program back
The school resource officer program was cut in 2009 due to a shift in budgetary priorities, Patz said during a July 16 school board meeting. The resource officer program was implemented around the 1993-94 school year.
Due to more recent school violence across the country, current school board members felt the program needed to return.
"Having an officer at the high school provides comfort in knowing that there's security," Patz said. "It gives us a real peace of mind."
Aside from the safety aspect, Patz also said a school resource officer may be able to prevent poor teenage decisions.
"During exciting events, like homecoming, some students are faced with important decisions about certain (illegal) activities," he said. "I think having an officer there, who can speak frankly with students about the consequences of their actions, may help curb some of that."
Oliva remarked that since 2009, Franklin has been one of the few communities left in the area to be without a school resource officer.
"There was good communication between the district and our department (before the cut)," he said. "We were very efficient at preventing things from happening at the school level. A lot of the students related positively to that officer, who helped minimize and mitigate problems."
Extra law enforcement in the schools will come with a price for the district, however.
The resource officer will be on duty during the entire school year, from Monday to Friday. In order to offset the cost to the police department, the school district agreed to compensate the department 70 percent of the annual cost to the city — about $77,000 a year, Oliva said.
School board member Linda Witkowski objected to the use of funds for a resource officer at the July 16 meeting.
"I'm not sure if it's the best use of our public resources because (the police) are obligated to participate in the school environment anyway (for) public safety," she said. "If there are issues, you come to the school. So, there's nothing that's going to change from that perspective."
Witkowski suggested that the district's resources would be better spent acquiring special grants that addressed illegal activities, such as drug abuse.
The school board approved to fit the program cost within its 2014-15 budget with a 5-1 vote. Board member Debbie Larson was absent at the meeting.
"I'm not sure (a resource officer) necessarily gets you more safety," Witkowski said. "You can't predict what will happen."
"Exactly," replied school board member Aimee Schlueter, "but why not be better safe than sorry for our students?"
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