Examining the Libby levy vote: Part one A closer look at the school resource officer question

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Part two: Mentoring and student safety

Part three: Prevention vs. reaction

Libby Public Schools is seeking a 5.51 mill levy to fund a school resource officer, which is estimated to add $7.44 per year to the tax bill for a property valued at $100,000.

Libby Police Chief Scott Kessel said the $70,000 raised by the levy would cover much more than the officer’s salary. Everything — from benefits to uniforms to weapons — would be covered by the levy.

“That’s all part of the cost of an officer,” he said.

The district has also been offered a grant from Flathead Electric that is estimated to cover 30 percent of the cost of a resource officer for the next five years.

Libby Superintendent Craig Barringer said once the grant goes away, the $70,000 from the levy will cover all the costs of a resource officer, including insurance, benefits, training and equipment.

While the district is receiving the grant, the money raised from the levy in excess of the costs of having an officer will go toward security improvements, he said.

“The money that the grant is going to cover, we are going to use for school safety,” Barringer said. “Our schools were built in the 60s and 70s, when school security was not an issue.

“Our cameras are antiquated,” Barringer said. “We are replacing our glass doors around the district with security doors.”

The district has also been given three years by the fire marshal to upgrade their alarm system, he said.

Kessel said the money would also allow for things such as an officer at athletic events or dances, for which there would not otherwise be funding.

Barringer said that, unlike some districts the same size, Libby Public Schools are operating $860,000 below the cap set by the state for what they can tax residents in order to operate.

Other schools in Montana are either close to that cap, or right at it, he said.

The state’s cap is based on the population size of the district.

Kessel said some have also complained about the city having a “free” officer in the summer.

During the school year, the resource officer will establish relationships with students, seeking to help mentor them and guide them away from destructive behaviors, he said. That work doesn’t stop in the summer.

Though the resource officer will help to cover vacations for the police department during the summer, the summer is also when resource officer-specific trainings are available, Kessel said. So, some of that time between the school years, the resource officer will still be in a classroom, but as a student.

On June 18, residents in the Libby School District will vote for or against a levy to fund a school resource officer. In the next three issues, The Western News will present a series of articles taking a more in-depth look at what that means.

Residents with questions are encouraged to reach out to either Craig Barringer at 406-293-811 or barringerc@libbyschools.org, or to Scott Kessel at 406-293-3343 or skessel@libbypd.org.

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