The Elkhart Board of Public Safety unanimously approved on Thursday, a memorandum of understanding between Elkhart Community Schools, and the city regarding funding for crossing guards for the rest of the 2017-2018 school year.
The City Council cut funding for crossing guards from the city police budget in October when they approved the 2018 city budget. There were concerns from residents as well as crossing guards themselves as to whether the school and city would reach an agreement before students returned from winter break. The last day before break was December 21, and there was no notification for parents as to whether crossing guards would be on duty when students came back in January.
The new plan, effective until the end of the school year, calls for Elkhart Schools to pay for Crossing Guards and for the city’s Police Department to fund 3 School Resource Officers, or SRO’s. Mayor Tim Neese said the amounts equal about the same.
“This was not an easy solution, we had attorneys both with the city of Elkhart as well as with the school corporation that reviewed this and met,” Neese said, “This was something that we took very seriously, but we also didn’t want to hurry it either.”
Neese said there was already money in the police budget to fund SRO’s but not enough personnel to fill the positions, but that will be remedied when they swear in new officers at the beginning of the year. SRO’s will be assigned depending on the number of other officers available during the school year. Until now, Elkhart Schools paid off-duty police officers to serve as SRO’s. Those appointed as SRO’s in the school system will undergo special training on interacting with students similar to a DARE officer.
Superintendent Rob Haworth said a lot of thought went into drafting this plan. He estimates he took part in more than a dozen meetings on the subject before coming to the plan they presented to the Board of Public Safety.
“It might seem down to the wire,” Haworth said, “but the three people here at this table have been working on this solution for several months.”
Elkhart Police Chief Ed Windbigler says this strategy also helps address the long term goal of incorporating SRO’s in the school system permanently. He says SRO’s play an important role in other schools and school systems, and he looks forward to seeing the positive impact a dedicated SRO will have on the student body of Elkhart Schools.
“This is investing in our kids,” Windbigler said, “If we can stop one kid from being in the system because he made a right decision instead of a wrong decision, we’ve done something right today.”
Funding for crossing guards could once again become an issue when the effectiveness of the plan is reviewed in June.