Town of Stettler concerned about fate of school police position

Written by Stu Salkeld

Town of Stettler council voiced concern about the future of the school resource officer position currently in the community at the Dec. 1 regular meeting of council.

Town Chief Administrative Officer Greg Switenky, who noted the School Resource Officers (SRO) program, in essence an RCMP officer who spends time at school working with students, has had some hiccups in the past and hasn’t always been smooth sailing, submitted a report to council about a delegation that appeared at the Nov. 25 Clearview School Division board meeting. 

The delegation included Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls, County of Stettler Reeve Larry Clarke and Stettler RCMP commander Sgt. Tim Gaultois, among others and it was noted the SRO program is a paid partnership between Clearview, the town and the county.

It was noted at the town council meeting concerns about the SRO program began about a year ago when Clearview School Division sent a letter to the town giving required notice that the division was pulling out of the SRO agreement but also that the division wouldn’t be opposed to talking about a new SRO funding agreement.

Nolls stated the message was confusing. “It was kind of contradictory,” said Nolls.

Switenky stated the issue probably would have been discussed sooner, but the pandemic occurred and many things went to the back burner. Over the last few weeks partners have begun talking about the SRO issue.

Switenky stated it appears the town and county are willing to continue funding the program, and after the delegation appeared at the school division board meeting the trustees approved extending the SRO program to June 2021 and also forming an exploratory committee to look at other ways of funding the position.

Councillors were provided with a response from Clearview that appeared to include an explanation of what Clearview’s original letter meant. 

The response stated, “Due to declining resources and conversations towards the best use of education dollars, Clearview Public Schools in consultation with school principals, provided a one-year notice to their municipal partners in December 2019 that they would withdraw from the agreement effective the end of December 2020. 

The school resource position was in minimal use in Clearview schools over the past two years due to RCMP vacancies.”

Coun. Cheryl Barros stated she wasn’t sure she understood what Clearview School Division was saying and asked if they meant Clearview wants the SRO program but won’t pay for it? 

Switenky answered he also wasn’t sure as there was some confusion in the wording of Clearview’s 2019 letter, but noted the move to form the new committee was promising.

Mayor Nolls stated the SRO position was created for Stettler and if Clearview cancels the program, then that RCMP position is eliminated and the police position will be gone from Stettler. 

“That’s why I want to be extremely clear about that,” said Nolls, who noted the Nov. 25 delegation made this clear to the board of trustees several times.

Nolls stated he’s a supporter of the SRO program because an RCMP officer can have positive impacts on the teens at school, possibly preventing problems before they ever occur.

Councillors also discussed the fact the SRO officer does not exclusively work at school, the SRO also performs police duties in the community.

Coun. Al Campbell stated that, after reading Clearview’s letter, the impression he got was the school division might be saying they’re out of the program.

Coun. Gord Lawlor stated he’s already been hearing concerns from community members who also support the SRO program as they’ve heard through the grapevine the school division is cancelling the program.

Councillors unanimously passed a complex motion, which reads, “Council appreciates that the board of trustees for the Clearview School Division will consider extending the ‘current SRO agreement to the end of June 30, 2021,’ and that the board of trustees is establishing an ‘exploratory committee to consider the future of the SRO program and how this could be structured financially and operationally for the benefit of all parties to the agreement.’

“Further, that the Town of Stettler can support that there will be no cost to the Clearview School Division provided that the SRO position remains vacant at the request of Clearview School Division, and the Town is able to temporarily reallocate the officer due to another vacancy in general duty positions.”

 

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.