District levy could fund Libby SRO

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Libby’s Chief of Police put forward the idea of using a levy as a funding solution for a new school resource officer, Tuesday at a meeting of the Libby Public Schools Board of Trustees.

Having a regular officer around at the school will build trust with the students, said Kessel.

The new hire, costing roughly $60,000, would be a full-time, armed officer. They would also be available outside of the school for emergencies, but would spend most of their time around students and teachers.

During the summer, the officer would patrol as a regular officer with the Libby Police Department. Kessel has said this could save the city money by having someone to cover vacations without having other officers work overtime.

But, without a permanent funding solution — such as a levy by the school district — there would be no way to sustain the program, Kessel said.

Flathead Electric Cooperative approved a grant at the end of last year that would help to pay for the SRO in Libby — the area of Lincoln County where all of Flathead’s customers reside.

The agreement that the cooperative offered is estimated to pay for 30 percent of the wages and benefits for a school resource officer, according to a data sheet supplied by FEC Public Relations Officer Wendy Ostrom-Price.

According to a Flathead Electric press release, the grant is funded by unclaimed capital credit dollars.

That money comes from checks that have gone unclaimed for five or more years. Under state law as a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative, Flathead Electric either has to use that money for educational purposes in their service territory or allocate it to the state’s general fund.

Additionally, Ostrom-Price noted that the grant is only intended as seed money to help Libby get an SRO program started. That is part of why it will only go for five years.

Both Kessel and Libby Public Schools Superintendent Craig Barringer have said over the past few months that they want a permanent funding solution. The school has had an SRO in the past, but when the grant that paid for that position ran out, the program was lost.

If a levy were approved, Kessel said they would hire an experienced, veteran officer for the job. He does not want a retiree or a new person.

Kessel has reiterated in previous meetings that the position is too important to entrust to someone unless they are the best officer for the job.

The SRO would serve mostly with the highschool and elementary school. They would work with school administrators, have regular meetings with school staff and regularly report to Chief Kessel.

“I know a levy is a hard sale,” he said.

After the meeting, Kessel said that neither the city or school board could pay for an SRO program out of their existing budgets.

“We’re not trying to fund a person. We’re trying to fund a program,” he said.

While he has fielded suggestions to approach the county to help with funding, Kessel said that the county has obligations to all the school districts, which makes it a hard sell to approach the county commissioners with a request to pay for an officer for just the Libby district.

In this day and age, having a school officer close by has become very necessary, Kessel told the school board.

It takes Kessel about four minutes to get to school, and in an active shooter situation, one person will die every 15 seconds if there is not a cop nearby, he said.

“We have a duty to protect our children to the very best of our ability,” he said.

Superintendent Craig Barringer said having a resource officer has worked really well for the Havre school district, where the position is levy funded.

“They went from having fights and lots of tobacco issues... to basically nothing,” said Barringer.

The only way Libby can pay for an SRO is through a levy. The schools do not have enough money in the general fund and will be getting about $20,000 less in funding this year already, he said.

The chief has a very healthy and good vision on having an SRO, Barringer said.

Mayor Brent Teske told the school board that he witnessed the difference it made when Libby used to have a school resource officer.

The last SRO could hear school rumors, know what students are talking about and stop potential fights, he said. Having an officer helps troubled students is something the community could really use.

When Libby had a resource officer there was definitely a positive impact on students, he said.

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