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Lakewood contracts for two School Resource Officers

HEBRON – When Lakewood High School and Middle School students return from Spring Break on Monday, April 2 or shortly thereafter, they will met a new School Resource Officer (SRO) in their schools.

After extended discussion at a special school board meeting Wednesday evening, school board members unanimously agreed to contract with the Licking County Sheriff’s Office and Licking County Board of Commissioners for two School Resource Officers. The current special duty deputy who patrols the Lakewood campus under a school-year contract will continue through the end of this school year. Three uniformed sheriff deputies, each with a cruiser, will be on the Lakewood campus through the end of the school year.

The School Resource Officer contract covers the balance of this school year and the next three school years. Either party may terminate the agreement “at any time and for any reason by giving at least thirty (30) days advance notice.

Sheriff Randy Thorp and Colonel Chad Dennis attended the board meeting. Board President Steve Thorp opened the discussion. “This (SRO contract) is the most expedient course we could take,” he said. Thorp said he would not be voting on the contract since Sheriff Thorp is his brother.

Board member Tara Houdeshell asked Thorp what other school districts in the county were doing. Thorp said a SRO started this week at Southwest Licking but noted that discussions with the district started last fall. That’s the only SRO in Licking County, but Northridge has a contract for a special duty deputy like Lakewood. The contract discussions with Southwest Licking set the standards county-wide, clearing the way for a very quick contract with Lakewood, Thorp explained. He is also talking with other districts about a SRO.

The SRO’s will be experienced deputies who will wear uniforms and be armed. Sheriff Thorp said one SRO position has already been posted in anticipation of the board’s decision. That posting closes Friday, March 9. Deputies responding to the posting will be reviewed and evaluated starting next week. Thorp will make the final choice. Communication skills are a key in a position like this, he explained. “It would be a big adjustment for me,” Thorp added.

The contract provides that the SRO will be supervised by the Lieutenant of Community Services. The SRO assigned is subject to the school superintendent’s approval and may be removed at the superintendent’s request. “The SRO is not responsible for enforcement of District rules and regulations.” The program’s goals are:

• “To promote a safe environment, positive development and personal responsibility to young people, families, teachers and school communities;

• Provide a visible and positive image of law enforcement by serving as educators, role models and confidants for students; and

• Assist community youth in making positive life choices.”

The contract recommends that the district assign a liaison to the SRO program to “coordinate the SRO’s presence in the various classrooms and to insure maximum utilization for the SRO in an educational role.” The district is responsible for an office with a separate phone line for the SRO in a “highly visible location” with “easy access to the students.”

The contract lists the primary function of the SRO as “to provide a safe and secure school environment, serve as an educational resource and serve as a liaison between the District and Sheriff’s Office. “The SRO is not a school disciplinarian and will take action only when there is a violation of law.” However, SRO’s will “report school policy violations through the proper channels to be handled by the school administration.” Each SRO is required to complete 40 hours of specialized training within a year of appointment. Thorp said that training is currently scheduled for June.

Houdeshell also asked if Sheriff Thorp had a recommendation of the number of SRO’s. “In a perfect world, there would be two – high school and middle school,” he replied. “You can do a lot of good with these age groups.” He acknowledged that cost is an issue. “One is better than none,” Thorp added.

“We’re looking for resources…I think some of the former funding may becoming back due to the outcry,” he said. Thorp mentioned there may be some sate help but that probably will be focused on equipment, not personnel. He also has heard some talk about the possibility of a county-wide levy issue to put SRO’s in schools.

The contract details the costs of an SRO, based on a deputy with 20 plus years of service. Pay is $27.1482 per hour with the total cost reaching $95,558.98 per year after including longevity pay, health insurance, retirement, Medicare, clothing allowance, and workers compensation. Lakewood will be responsible for 75 percent of the annual cost with the sheriff’s office picking up 25 percent. The salary and benefits costs are subject to an annual adjustments based on the Sheriff’s Office’s labor union contract.

Board members and parents asked about Hebron Elementary and the two-building Jackson Intermediate School. Thorp said the SRO’s could spend some time in those schools if that’s what Lakewood wants them to do. He did emphasize building relationships with students by having the same SRO in the school. The contract says the parties are committed to the extent possible to have “the same individual serve as the SRO throughout the Term of this Agreement.”

Thorp said Hebron Police does a good job checking on Hebron Elementary throughout the day. Principal Dee Martindale said two officers are there every morning when students arrive, walk the halls during the day and are present at dismissal. “I feel very comfortable where we are with Hebron Police,” Martindale added.

Jackson Principal Carol Field said, “In my perfect world, I would put one (SRO) in Jackson…I’m very interested in bringing back the DARE program.” She said her biggest concern is 250 kids moving back and forth outside between the two buildings daily. Field acknowledged that the threat of school violence is greater at the high and middle schools.

School board member Jon Lynch moved to contract for two SRO’s and to continue the special duty deputy through the end of this school year. “It’s about what we can do now,” he explained. The special duty-deputy position will be reviewed by the board during the summer. School board member Bill Pollard seconded the motion. It was approved 4-0 with Thorp abstaining. Several parents thanked board members for their quick action.

In other business at the special meeting, school board members unanimously approved a hourly rate contract, not to exceed $10,000, with Legat Architects for pre-bond issue services. The contract will fund the district’s continuing design discussions with Legat on the proposed new elementary school and other capital improvement projects. Pollard thanked Andrews and District Treasurer Glenna Plaisted for successfully negotiating with Legat for a full refund of the fees if the project moves ahead. Pollard, who manages large projects in his full-time job, suggested seeking the concession.

Board members also unanimously approved hiring Sam Cook as the substitute high principal for the rest of the school year. The retired administrator, with experience at Southwest Licking and C-Tec, will be paid $250 per day to fill in for former principal Stacey Stein who resigned for personal reasons last month after being charged with OVI, following a non-injury traffic accident on Ohio 37. Stein is being paid through June 30 though she isn’t working.

Board members also unanimously approved the following coaching assignments:

• Don Thorp as varsity baseball head coach;

• Christa Day as varsity softball assistant coach;

• Jeff Hartman as middle school girls track coach;

• John Justice as volunteer high school baseball coach; and

• Craig Lee as freshmen baseball coach.

Board members scheduled two facilities work sessions next month to discuss the proposed new elementary school and other capital improvement projects. The meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, April 4 and 18, in the high school library and are open to the public. The board’s next regular meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, in the high school library.

Andrews also announced that the Tyler’s Light community presentation is set for 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 15, at Lakewood High School. The drug education and awareness program for students, families and communities was developed to honor Tyler’s memory. The Pickerington North graduate and star athlete died at age 23 from a heroin overdose. His father started the program.

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