Meridian Police SRO

A Meridian Police car sits outside of Renaissance High School

By Holly Beech/MP

The city of Meridian is asking for a 24 percent payment increase from the West Ada School District to provide police officers in schools next year.

Some trustees were caught off guard by the request.

“I guess I’m just surprised to learn that police support is the responsibility of the school district to help pay for,” trustee Rene Ozuna said.

This school year, the district paid the city $323,438 for 10.5 police positions. The officers are each assigned to a school or group of schools and are present throughout the school day.

Meridian is asking for $400,732 for the same number of officer positions next school year, an increase of almost $77,300.

The school board did not approve the proposed contract at its May 9 meeting, but voted instead to set up a negotiation meeting with city officials.

There have been several years in the past when the city didn’t ask for an increase, but it needs to keep up with the rising wage and benefit costs of its officers, city accountant Karen Wooddell said.

Wages and benefits for Meridian SROs are projected to come to $1.2 million next fiscal year, she said.

Trustee Steve Smylie was first to question the increased contract cost. He said the increase would cut into the same fund the district uses to hire teachers.

“I want more SROs,” he said. “...But if this keeps coming back every year getting higher, I’m going to start voting no, because this is not the way we’re supposed to do it.”

The Boise School District does not charge for its officers who work in West Ada schools in Boise, he added.

City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee confirmed that. Boise assigns 21 police officers to work in schools, which costs roughly $3 million in wages and benefits, he said.

Smylie said he’s passionate about having officers in schools because as an educator he experienced a troubled student bringing a loaded gun to school. Thanks to coordinated action from police and school staff, the threat was eliminated, he said.

But, Smylie added, the school district has budgetary constraints.

“SROs are important, but we have to have teachers in the classroom, we have to balance our budget, too,” he said.

The city is able to take a 3 percent property tax increase each year, he noted, whereas the school district relies on state funding and voter-approved measures.

“We are up against those same roadblocks you are,” Wooddell told Smylie at the May 9 school board meeting. “The population of the city has grown tremendously.”

As of Tuesday, the city had not set up a meeting with the school board to discuss the contract, but the city’s finance and police departments were planning to do so, city spokeswoman Kaycee Emery said.

The West Ada School District canceled its SRO program in the mid-2000s, Wooddell said, and there was such an outcry from parents that the district reinstated the program six months later.

“I can’t see the day where we don’t have our SROs,” Trustee Mike Vuittonet said. “They play a vital role, they’re role models, they are there for kids. They do more than just patrol. And the most important part is they’re the ones trained to respond as quickly as possible. ... I see the value in it, even though the costs are catching up to us.”

Boise’s SRO program has been in place since 1970. The city has not charged for SROs since that time, but the issue does often come up during the budgeting process, Journee said.

“Our department has made a really strong commitment, and the city in general, to community policing, and this is a great element of that — being able to be there in a day-in-day-out basis with the students, so they get to know cops and what cops are about,” Journee said.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office provides 3.5 deputy positions to four West Ada schools in unincorporated Ada County. The monthly rate for this service is almost $26,000.

The Nampa school board recently approved a contract with Nampa Police for 10 officer positions at the rate of $400,000 a year from 2017 to 2020.

The school resource officer contracts don’t cover officers’ time at special events at schools outside of the normal school day.

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