Students return to campus, but not resource officer

Students returned to Oak Harbor High School Thursday, but the friendly campus cop did not.

As a result of budget cuts, the district was unable to come up with their half of the funding for a full-time “resource officer” position, resulting in the officer’s absence for the first time in 18 years.

The resource officer position began in 1990 when the city received a three year grant from Community Oriented Policing for the position. When the grant expired, the city and the school district came to an agreement to continue the position, splitting the cost fifty-fifty.

Although school district officials would have liked to continue the position, they were unable to fit it into the budget.

“Even though we’re not paying $50,000 (for the resource officer), we’re paying $500,000 in sales tax because of the new high school construction,” Superintendent Rick Schulte said, adding that the city “is getting more money from the schools than they had before.”

Schulte said more than 20 other district positions were also cut as a result of this year’s budget.

A combination of the budget shortfall and the increased amount of money the district is paying to the city this year in the form of taxes moved the budget committee to cut funding for the resource officer this school year.

Schulte compared the $50,000 sum needed to fund half the in-school police officer’s salary to “one and a half custodians or two teachers.”

While Mayor Jim Slowik said he understands the district’s decision not to continue funding the position, he’s not happy about the loss of the resource officer.

“I was very disappointed of the fact that the school board cut it out of their budget,” he said. “The resource officer position is gone.”

“We do understand that this is strictly dollars and cents,” he added. “The school district had been keeping us involved all the way through.”

Schulte said that the presence of a resource officer on campus was a good way for the students and police to become familiar with each other, but that the loss of the position does not mean a loss of police services on campus.

“It’s nice to have (the resource officer) there, but we still get regular police services,” he said. “Oak Harbor is very responsive.”

Schulte said he was unaware that the city decided not to fund the full salary of a resource officer.

“The city has not told me that they’re not going to continue it,” he said on Thursday, the first day of school.

Slowik explained that the city is early in its 2009 budget process and will not be able to make a decision about the resource officer “for at least three weeks,” when the police budget will be reviewed.

The initial agreement between the city and the school district called for each to fund half of the full-time position. But without the district’s support, the city cannot provide full funding for the position without reviewing the public safety budget, said Slowik.

“We will definitely provide public safety service,” he said. But the other services traditionally performed by the resource officer, such as networking with students and providing education, will not be continued until funding can be secured.

The issue now, said Slowik, is “how do we pick up the slack? How do we make it work?”

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