Why police officers could be stationed in District 303 middle schools

St. Charles Unit District 303 school board members are considering putting a police officer in both middle schools next academic year.

School resource officers have been stationed at St. Charles North and East high schools since 2011, when the district first approved an agreement with the city. A one-year deal proposed for 2019-2020 would increase the number of officers from two to four, allowing for regular police coverage at Thompson and Wredling middle schools.

Officers often are pulled out of the high schools to address issues at other district locations, particularly in the middle schools, said Seth Chapman, assistant superintendent for business services. Having two extra officers would allow for a more consistent police presence at all four campuses.

The proposal also provides an additional level of security at Thompson and Wredling, both of which will have larger student populations after Haines Middle School closes this year, Superintendent Jason Pearson said.

"We've seen kind of an increase in some middle school-related behaviors that are requiring (officer) intervention," he said. "We want to have someone there to support our schools as we work with students and families that might be engaging in or struggling with these issues."

For the past eight years, the city of St. Charles has been covering the costs of two school resource officers in exchange for using district-owned land to build a water tower, Chapman said. That payment deal will extend for one more year, he said, leaving the district to pay about $195,000 for the middle school resource officers.

The district would be responsible for covering all school resource officer costs should the program extend beyond next year, Chapman said.

The officers are typically at the detective level and have specialized training to work with students.

During a business services committee this week, school board member Scott Nowling questioned whether the district could use one officer to cover both middle schools. With the campuses on opposite sides of town, however, board member Carolyn Waibel said she would prefer to have one at each school for safety purposes.

Officials said the middle school officers also could oversee the district's drug prevention and education program, which currently uses officers from various municipalities.

"We'd be able to really push for there being continuity between the schools, and the program always being offered in the same manner," board member Lori Linkimer said.

The school board is expected to vote next week on the proposed agreement, which would serve as somewhat of a "trial year" for the additional school resource officers, Pearson said. The district will revisit the concept next year and evaluate whether it was effective.

"If we feel like it's too much, or those folks aren't being utilized efficiently, we're just in that agreement for one year," he said. "It'd be nice to see if that model works."

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