Portland Police Bureau officials have told leaders at city school districts that if they want to maintain campus officers — often called school resource officers — they’ll have to use school dollars to help pay for them.
That pressure hasn’t gone over well in any of those districts.
The David Douglas School District is holding a work session on the possibility Tuesday, but leaders there are not in a hurry to vote on sharing the cost of a school resource officer.
School leaders in Portland Public and Parkrose are objecting to both the cost and timing of the city’s push for districts to take on costs.
Portland school board members approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Portland last month over objections from a number of students and parents. In recent weeks, students have gathered hundreds of signatures against the agreement, while city leaders such as new Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, have raised concerns.
In the last few days, PPS board members decided to reconsider that agreement under an agenda item at this week’s meeting entitled “Resolution to Suspend Approval of an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the City of Portland, through the Portland Police Bureau, and Portland Public Schools.”
Board documents suggest distrust, or at least a misunderstanding, between the state’s largest district and its largest city.
“Representations were made that the City of Portland needed to have the IGA approved no later than December 31, 2018; otherwise School Resource Officer (SRO) services to PPS and its schools would terminate,” the resolution reads.
“New information indicates that is not the case.”
The school board’s proposal rescinds the previous agreement, acknowledges “limited financial resources” at both the district and police bureau, and emphasizes the city’s responsibility to provide law enforcement.
“Given it is the responsibility of the City to provide general safety and security for its citizens, PPS expects the City to provide these services to the school district in each of the nine high school clusters, five days a week,” the resolution said.
PPS board member Julia Brim-Edwards said the “false deadline” the Board was presented with left it without time to make an informed decision, or to have full discussion with students.
“By suspending the agreement, this will do several things — one, send a clear message to the city that we view this as their financial responsibility and second, that it will allow us the opportunity to have a full and complete dialogue with students across the city,” Brim-Edwards said.
Portland Public is the furthest along in formalizing agreements with the city, but David Douglas and Parkrose are talking through how to respond to similar requests.
“Obviously our school board had lots of questions,” said Parkrose Supt. Michael Lopes-Serrao.
At the top of the list — just like with Portland Public — were timing and cost.
“Why, now, are you telling us that there is a budgetary problem because we’re both public institutions, we have the same budget cycles?” Lopes-Serrao said.
Lopes-Serrao said the financial strain is already acute in the small east Portland district. He said the district was forced to make significant cuts to its budgets, resulting in a shorter school year. He said that makes the case to fund a school resource officer that much tougher.
“Paying $136,000 from the state school fund, that is pretty paramount to our budget, particularly in a school year where Parkrose has five furlough days,” he said. “That’s five days that kids aren’t in school, employees aren’t being paid.”
A number of Portland Public Schools students and community members have questioned the need for armed police officers roaming school buildings on a regular basis. Lopes-Serrao said he has heard similar concerns in his district, particularly when you combine those questions with the strain of limited district funds.
“There’s a lot of mixed feelings about using education — state-funded education dollars — to pay for a police officer, someone with a gun in your school,” he said.
Lopes-Serrao said his school board chair, Sara Kirby, has contacted her counterparts in Portland and David Douglas to attempt t0 come up with a shared solution that could work for all three districts and the city.