By Todd Marver
City officials attended the District 49 Board meeting on Thursday, October 26 to discuss the possibility of the district having a school resource officer (SRO) position with the city.
Superintendent Mike Brink said he sees a need for this and noted that there was recently a mass shooting in Maine, and Wesclin High School was recently shut down because of an online threat to shoot up the school. Police Chief Brian Fletcher said school discipline is not done by the SRO, but if there’s anything beyond school that goes criminally, the officer would take over at that point.
Brink said in addition to protection, they would want the officer to spearhead safety teams and give suggestions and guidance on that and work with the students, faculty and staff and build relationships with the community.
“We want the kids to see the police as the good guys and someone you can go to talk with, despite what you see on TV sometimes. If it all works out, it would behoove the community down the road too when these kids become adults, they’re going to have a solid background with it,” he said.
Alderman Shawn Kabat said first and foremost, this would be about security, but the SRO program itself is about education. He said the officer who goes through the educational training will give that to the other people in the D49 building and that’ll be a plus.
Fletcher said this program would be a huge benefit not only to the security of the school, but also communication between kids, parents and the police.
”This morning a little girl came up to me and her backpack strap came out of the buckle and she walked up to me and asked for help. I put it back together and I guarantee you four years ago that little girl would have never come up to a police officer and asked to do that. Those kids have gotten a lot more comfortable seeing police and being around police,” he said.
Kabat said it’s going to take a very active person with a big personality to be at the district and come in and communicate and mesh with the staff, the students and the parents.
“Granted you may not have everyday with a student. That’s not what the intention is, but they’re also going to be in front of students teaching and talking about prevention,” he said.
Brink said the SRO would have to be able to go into a kindergarten classroom and talk about something and then walk into an eighth grade classroom and talk about something entirely different. He said what the SRO teaches would be part of the district’s established curriculum.
“I would envision in middle school for example our activity period would be a good time to hit certain things,” he said.
Kabat said he and Fletcher have talked to local communities that have an SRO and are going to take advice from other schools and districts about what they’re doing.
“Some of them give them off summer and some of them take it as a part-time in the summer. They’re going to spend a lot of time here at the school for events and school hours. They’re going to build up a lot of time to be here,” he said.
Fletcher said the Mt. Vernon and Centralia schools all have an SRO. He said the schedule for Centralia is that when an SRO is not at the school, the officer is on patrol.
“Whenever school is in session, the SRO is in the school. When school is out of session, that officer is out on the road. I think it’s extracurricular too,” he said. “It’s 50/50 on schedules. Some give them the summer off. Some make them work it. It depends on how everybody wants to do it.”
Brink said Salem has it set up to where the elementary and high school districts each have a dedicated SRO.
Fletcher said it is a lot of commitment to go from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 or 4 p.m. and then get a little bit of a break and be back at the school for the next hours. He said an incentive for somebody to want that position would be to be on a teacher’s schedule and have Christmas and summer breaks off.
“During the summer months or Christmas if I had to go out on patrol on top of everything else, I wouldn’t take the position myself. If he or she’s getting the teacher’s schedule with summers off, he or she’s working his or her shift during the day and the extracurricular activity at night, that’s just part of his or her pay. I don’t think that should be overtime if he or she’s getting the summer time off,” he said.
Brink said they would be very interested in the SRO being at school for extracurriculars as long as they could work it out where it’s not overtime.
Fletcher said if the SRO works in the summer, the city would be covering the full salary in the summer and the only time the district would be paying anything is when the SRO is physically at the district. He said depending on who the officer is and what his or her family life is, he or she may want to get out in the summer and cover some open shifts, but that would be on the city’s dime and not the school’s at that point.
“It’s just something to work through with everything and who we’ve got available to hire,” he said.
Brink said the thought process was always that the district would pay for the officer when he or she’s at the school because if the city were to pay for it, then Nashville High School and the parochial schools would be included.
“That puts teeth in the game for everybody because that person would be stationed here. If something was going on somewhere else, they’d stay here and would still be here,” he said.
Brink said having a vehicle at the district with Nashville Police on it would be a deterrent for anyone that wanted to come and inflict harm.
“To have that out at the school all the time would be a great thing. I would have a concern with purchasing a new one,” he said.
Kabat said the district wouldn’t purchase the vehicle and it would be included in the cost to the district. Fletcher said if the department has a decent car on the way out and gets a new one to replace it, they’ll just keep it and have that officer drive it from home to the district.
Kabat said it makes sense to commit to three years of having the SRO. Brink said he thinks it’ll take three years to get this to where they really want it to be anyway.
“I’m pushing for this and I 100% believe it, but I’m going to be retiring in three to five years, so someone else coming in may not completely agree with something like this, so I can see that from the city’s perspective too,” Brink said.
Kabat said the department wants to put programs in place to help out all the kids and faculty and make sure everybody is safe. He said the city has had two things happen recently that some people who have been in Nashville their whole lifetime have never seen with a devastating storm coming through town and an officer getting stabbed.
“Things are changing and you don’t know what will happen. That was proof last night. Look at Maine. The guy is still running loose so everybody is on awareness right now. That can happen anytime but we don’t want it to. Thank goodness we have a great police force here in the City of Nashville. There are a lot of things happening that go underneath the radar, but these guys are on top of it. I rode with them a couple nights and they’re out there hard at it. The officer that would be here, we’d make sure they’re after it at all levels,” he said.
In other news, Brink reported out of 112 total seventh and eighth graders, 97 of them achieved honor roll for the first quarter, which is a 4.0 or higher on a five point scale,
“That’s pretty awesome,” he said.
Brink reported the district has always been at the commendable level on the ISBE school report card, but this year for the first time it has been placed at the exemplary level. He said this means the district’s performance is within the top 10% of all schools in the state, and 75% of that is reading, math and science testing with the other 25% being some other indicators such as attendance rates and climate survey.
“There are about 3,900 schools in Illinois and to be in the top 10% for achievement is pretty darn good. We’re really excited about that. That’s fantastic for us,” he said.
Brink reported the district purchased a golf cart from Dave Erlinger. He said the cart was in tremendous shape, immaculate and basically new.
“He approached us and he gave us an unbelievable price. We were not at all in the market for a golf cart, but the more we thought about it with bringing concessions out to the ball field and trash out of the exterior cans, it has been pretty helpful,” he said.
Brink said the district also needed to purchase some additional bags for its middle school computers for about $2,500 because the district was running low on extras.
Brink said it has been very hard to get any additional information from Dave Barnes who came and talked to the board last month about the D49 roof. He said maintenance director Tanner Pries is going to look at the roof of a county building outside of Highland.
“We don’t know of any other schools that have done this. I don’t know that there are any schools that have done this. I’m not sure if (the county building outside of Highland) has a rubber roof. We’re definitely second guessing some of this. We literally just got this a week ago from Dave who came and presented,” he said.
Brink said they questioned Barnes vividly about the process and he stopped short of saying no, but said his concern would be the warranty issue and how you determine if it’s the servicing versus the underneath part. Board member Greg Gollaher said he came away from last month’s presentation with a little apprehension and there were several fairly important questions in his mind that there was not a straight away answer to.
Brink said the architect went on the D49 roof and is going to put numbers together for a full replacement.
“He said the majority of it looks fine right now. The gas lines up there would have to be raised to meet code requirements. There are a couple units that would have to, but he said it’s not nearly as bad as what we would think,” he said.
Gollaher said the numbers from the architect and the involvement of the architect to ensure there’s code compliance gives him a better feeling than the presentation last month.
“What you’re paying for there is peace of mind to know that you’re not going to have a $100,000 to $200,000 expense if something leaks, tears off or blows off. There were too many ways out of the warranty,” he said.