Health, safety positions on the chopping block in school district

POULSBO — While the North Kitsap School Board attempts to trim its spending outside the classroom, health and safety in the district could feel the brunt of the budget ax.

The school district is considering eliminating school resource officers and reducing drug and alcohol interventionists at its middle and high schools. It’s not a decision administrators are fond of, but it’s one they’ve recommended in an attempt to bridge a $700,000 gap the district’s 2010-11 operating budget.

“We certainly would not want to see either of these positions go away,” said Aaron Leavell, the district’s director of secondary education. “But in the overall budget picture, which is pretty dim, we were charged with making cuts that were furthest from the classroom.”

Cutting the resource officers would save the district about $76,000, and laying off one of the district’s two drug and alcohol interventionists would save about $61,000, according to estimates from the district’s budget advisory team.

School resource officers are police officers and sheriff’s deputies assigned to North Kitsap and Kingston high schools.

Because the officers are taken away from other duties to patrol the schools, the program is partially funded by the school district.

“We don’t have the ability to assign deputies as SROs without a contract,” Kitsap County Sheriff’s Spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said.

They also patrol other schools in the district when needed. The officers act as liaisons between the district and the police department or sheriff’s office, and handle crimes committed on campus, calls to child protective services and other legal issues. They also act as deterrents to crime in and around the schools.

“It’s very valuable for preventive services in the school,” Leavell said. “It’s not just a reactive service. I think it helps build trust with the local police department and the sheriff’s department, with our kids.”

Drug and alcohol interventionists work at the two high schools, and lend some support to students at Spectrum Community Schools and the two middle schools. They provide counseling and case management services for students who are at risk of dropping out or who have struggled with drug and alcohol problems or legal issues. The school district is considering sharing one interventionist between the North and South ends of the district.

“If all we have is one, we’re gonna make it work with one,” Leavell said.

Students who have been in legal trouble due to drug crimes must meet weekly with interventionists to attend school. If the district lays off one of its two interventionists, students will likely have to find their own case managers to meet with when reentering school, Leavell said.

Funding for the interventionists comes to North Kitsap through the Olympic Educational Service District, which houses several school districts on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. That funding comes from state education dollars, which have taken a hit recently.

“The funding at the state level for them, to the ESDs (educational service districts), is pretty much gone,” Leavell said. “It’s an unfortunate message that the state is sending: These positions are not important.”

Nearby districts are struggling with similar issues. The Bremerton School District eliminated school resource officers a year ago. Despite the change, the district has not seen increases in crime at its schools.

“We have seen very few problems this year and are hopeful that this trend continues,” Patty Glaser, the communications coordinator for Bremerton, wrote in an email. “In the few occasions where we have needed support, the response from the Bremerton Police Department has been positive and very helpful.”

The Central Kitsap School District employs security officers, but has no contract with police or sheriff’s deputies. David Beil, the district’s communications director, said the absence of law enforcement officials at the schools has not been a problem. Administrators are able to contact police easily when an issue does arise.

“I think it has been a simple procedure for us,” Beil said.

Wilson said police and deputies still respond to calls from schools that don’t have resource officers, but having the officers already on-site is more convenient for all parties, and makes response times quicker, especially in a rural area like North Kitsap.

“It’s more efficient to have an SRO,” Wilson said.

But the cost of a contract with the officers is something districts are less willing to take on.

“One of the challenges,” Beil said, “is this year, we had 13 teachers that were (laid off) and in a resource-constrained environment, it makes it tough to add something like (resource officers) because there is a price tag that comes with that.”

The South Kitsap School District considers resource officers to be worth the extra cost. It is the only district in Kitsap County aside from North Kitsap that still employs the officers.

“We cut as much as we could,” said Gina Glynn, who works in the district’s Office of School and Family Support. “(The resource officer program) is not one of the ones we’re willing to go to.”

Glynn said the resource officers at South Kitsap High, which has about 2,500 students, help deter drug use and other crimes on campus.

“The school resource officer plays a critical role in the running of our school,” she said. “As long as we can keep them, we’re going to try and do that.”

South Kitsap also employs drug and alcohol interventionists but, like North Kitsap, may not be able to do so for much longer because of the lack of state funding.

“It would be hard to imagine the schools without them,” Leavell said.

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