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Published: Monday, 10/18/2004

Schools examining security alternatives

Toledo police Officer Russell Burke, assigned to Leverette Junior High, is one of 12 officers leaving their school posts Jan. 1. Toledo police Officer Russell Burke, assigned to Leverette Junior High, is one of 12 officers leaving their school posts Jan. 1.

A Toledo Public Schools committee is considering four options for security at its school buildings after the 12 Toledo police officers assigned to the district are reassigned to street patrol on Jan. 1.

Superintendent Eugene Sanders said the district, under one proposal, might offer to pay the officers' full salary during the months school is in session.

"Whether or not that option is feasible remains to be seen," Mr. Sanders said.

Toledo Public Schools and Washington Local Schools have been paying roughly half of the cost for the officers.

Last year, Toledo Public Schools paid $322,706 for 12 officers while Washington Local Schools paid $53,784 for two officers.

The districts began contributing to the salaries during the 1999-2000 school year.

School officials said they understand it could be double the cost if the districts were to pay the police officers' full salary.

When Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre announced in September that the student resource officers would be reassigned, he also said a proposed police cadet class for this year was canceled, which means there will be no new officers to replace officers who retire or resign.

Toledo Safety Director Joe Walter said he was not aware of the proposed plan and wanted to talk with school officials about it.

The three other possible options being considered by Toledo Public Schools are:

  • Retaining the current police officers in an off-duty capacity and paying them by the hour;

  • Hiring off-duty deputies from the Lucas County Sheriff's Department;

  • Contracting with a private security firm.

    Dan Burns, chief business manager for the district, said he is determining the cost for each of the options.

    Mr. Sanders said the committee studying the issue is expected to have a recommendation on Nov. 8.

    Washington Local school board member David Hunter said losing the district's two school resource officers is too great a risk.

    "I think it's time we started making some noise about this," he said.

    The school board for the 7,000-student district that includes parts of north and west Toledo, decided on Wednesday to send a letter to Toledo Mayor Jack Ford asking him to reconsider pulling the police out of school buildings.

    "The bottom line would be that we would hire a deputy sheriff or something," said Lisa Canales-Flores, board president. "[The officers] have maintained a certain reputation and trust level with these kids."

    Since the Columbine High School rampage in Colorado in 1999, in which 15 perished, and with the increased threat of terrorism, school security has been made a higher priority nationwide. The thought of losing the officers has led to worry among school staff.

    At Toledo's Start High School, 73 staff members signed a letter asking Mayor Ford not to take away their school resource officer.

    "[The officer] does things that teachers aren't able to do as far as solving problems are concerned," said assistant principal Larry Black. "In the last three days, we would have had a police crew here each of those days if we didn't already have an officer in the school."

    Bradford Faust, principal of Washington Local's Whitmer High School, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

    Mr. Sanders agreed that the police officers often defuse problems before they escalate and are a major deterrent to crime in the schools.

    "They clearly are a symbol of safety and security in the buildings," he said. "In the post-Columbine period, students and teachers are much more aware of the need for security personnel within the schools."

    Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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