Steamboat Springs Faced with tighter 2012 budgets, officials from the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the Steamboat Springs School District last week met to discuss how much each should contribute next year to the salary of the district’s school resource officer.
During the 15 years the school district has had a resource officer working in the high school, the district has only twice split the cost of the position’s salary and benefits with the city. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the district paid $32,964 of officer Josh Carrell’s salary but did not contribute last year because of budget reductions.
Including benefits, Carrell receives an annual salary of $83,764 from the city, according to city Finance Director Deb Hinsvark. Under the previous cost-splitting agreements, the school district paid for half of the benefits that would be offered to a school district employee.
City Council President Cari Hermacinski last month asked Steamboat Springs School Board members Laura Anderson and Brian Kelly during a brief meeting whether their district would be able to pitch in for the salary again next year.
“Last year, we were faced with, ‘Do we cut fifth-grade band?’ and the year before that, we looked at cutting counselors,” Anderson replied. “We would love to contribute (funds for the resource officer position) and go back to 50-50, but we don’t know if it’s going to shake out.”
Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks and Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman last week met with Police Capt. Joel Rae and Parks and Recreation Commission Director Chris Wilson to discuss sharing the cost of Carrell’s salary again in 2012.
“They’re looking at their numbers, and we’re looking at our numbers, and we don’t know yet where they will fall,” Rae said Monday.
The discussions also come at a time when Carrell is spending less time at the high school.
Rae said a short staffing situation at the police department this year has resulted in Carrell spending more time on patrol than at the high school. He said since the start of school, Carrell has been at the high school only a couple of hours a week.
“We lost five police officers within a few months, so it was our short staffing situation that caused us to pull him out of the high school more often,” Rae said.
Rae said the resource officer has been able to be at the school full time only during major school functions such as the recent homecoming celebration.
Seeing the value
The Police Department and the school district have expressed a strong desire to keep the resource officer position regardless of how funding falls next year, and school district officials said this week that having a resource officer at the high school full time is a goal of the negotiations with the city. Taulman last week praised Carrell’s presence around the 622 students at the high school. He said the resource officer position is a valuable form of insurance.
“Most of us deal only with a police officer when we’re pulled over, and having (Josh) here allows students to see them in a different, more positive light,” he said. “His presence here is always a huge benefit.”
Taulman said Carrell has served a variety of roles at the high school as he works closely with the Teen Council and helps students obtain permits for bonfires or other out-of-school activities. He said the officer’s ability to prevent alcohol and drug use is harder to quantify or validate.
“The prevention side is always hard to judge,” he said. “But having an officer here is a valuable insurance. We’re very fortunate to not have had a violent act here, but it’s the first time there is an incident and there isn’t a (resource officer) here that it looks bad.”
Meeks and Rae said their meeting last week focused mostly on the monetary worth of the city and school district’s use of each other’s facilities, and the city has not decided how much to ask the school district to pay next year.
“We asked for partial funding, and then all of these other conversations took place about benefits each of us receive from the use of city and school district facilities primarily from high school athletics and parks and recreation use,” Rae said. “Those are the numbers our finance people will look at to see what’s reasonable” for the school district to contribute.
He said the discussion would help the city and the school district to eventually negotiate a fair contribution for the resource officer’s salary next year.
Dale Mellor, the school district’s finance director, said that during the past two years, the city has given the school district a check for about $5,000 to cover costs incurred by use of school district facilities for city programs.
Rae said the city and school district realize budgets are tight and will continue to work toward a reasonable funding solution.
“You cannot put a value on this position,” he said. “The position is about building relationships with students and building rapport. It’s about being a resource to those kids, and it’s about crime prevention and safety. It’s important for us to have him in the schools.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com