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Published: Wednesday, 12/10/2008

Police officer sought for Oregon middle school

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The superintendent of Oregon City Schools has requested funding from the city to pay for a larger police presence at the district's two middle schools.

But with the city tightening its belt amid the economic slowdown, many council members are reluctant to commit to paying for a new officer.

At a Dec. 1 committee-of-the-whole session, council voted 4-3 against putting a proposed agreement for funding to the district on its regular council meeting agenda.

Under that agreement, the city would pay for an extra school resource officer over the next year and a half, after which the school district would pick up the cost, providing it had the funds.

A new officer would cost the city about $70,000 a year, City

Administrator Ken Filipiak said.

Oregon City Schools needs a new school resource officer because of increasing behavioral problems at its two middle schools, Superintendent Mike Zalar told council members.

The district has two school resource officers, one at Clay High School and another who divides his time between Fassett Middle School in Oregon and Eisenhower Middle School in Jerusalem township. The city pays for both of them.

The district paid for a third resource officer until last school year, when budget shortfalls forced funding to be dropped, Mr. Zalar said.

Since that officer left, discipline problems have grown at the middle schools, he said.

"We have found that as we lost our third resource officer the climate in the buildings has suffered. We're sharing one resource officer in multiple buildings," Mr. Zalar told council. "I know that discipline in both of our middle schools has increased as a result."

The district still is struggling financially and cannot afford to pay for a third officer itself, school board member Richard Gabel said. He said the district may need to ask voters for a new operating levy next year to stay afloat.

"The school's really out of money," Mr. Gabel said. "In July, we could have a deficit where we won't be able to meet payroll."

Having police officers stationed permanently at the city's schools benefits the police department, assistant police chief Paul Magdich said.

He said since the resource officer program began in 2000, the number of juvenile crime investigations handled by the station's detectives has decreased almost 40 percent. That's because problems can be dealt with directly by the officers working at the schools.

"The school resource officers know these kids personally," Mr. Magdich said. They "can deal with problems quite effectively and eliminate need for further followup by the police department."

Police Chief Rick Stager said he supports adding another officer because Oregon schools' 3,800 students represent 20 percent of the city's population.

"The police department has an obligation" to keep these students safe, Mr. Stager said.

But councilman Michael Sheehy said that, while he supported having school resource officers, he does not believe the city should pay the entire cost.

"I've always felt that it should be a shared cost," Mr. Sheehy said. "The municipal government can't continue to totally fund police officers in schools - it's millions of dollars we've spent so far."

Councilman James Seaman said he would consider supporting some city funding for the officer if the district made a stronger commitment to pick up some of the tab.

"I think that the police officers are a very important contribution to the school system," he said. "The concern is the funding and who's going to pay for it."

Mayor Marge Brown said she is hopeful the city can come up with a revised agreement that council members could agree on.

"It's not dead in the water," Mayor Brown told The Blade. "We are going to come back" to council.



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