After discussing the costs and benefits of having a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in the local high school, Stettler town council approved a revised agreement with its partners for such an officer.
The decision was made at the July 6 regular meeting of council.
Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Greg Switenky presented councillors with the revised school resource officer (SRO) agreement which involves a number of stakeholders, including funding partners Clearwater Public Schools and the County of Stettler.
The meeting agenda contained a copy of the agreement, which was similar to the previous one developed about 20 years ago.
For readers who may not be aware SROs are police officers who work inside the school and deal with students, staff and families on a day-to-day basis.
Technically the SROs are still members of the local RCMP detachment, however.
Switenky stated the agreement is still funded three ways, between town, county and school division and several times during the meeting it was stated an RCMP position in Stettler area costs between $120,000 and $150,000 per year, depending on factors such as overtime pay.
Mayor Sean Nolls clarified during discussion the town and county each pay about 35 per cent of the $120,000, while the school division pays about 30 per cent.
Switenky stated this was an open-ended agreement with no specific end date, and that it was a “living” document which could be revised again in the future as circumstances require.
The CAO also pointed out the new agreement has a ceiling for cost sharing, specifically for the school division. If for some reason the SRO costs more than $120,000 per year, the agreement states only the town and county will pay extra money.
Switenky stated if the SRO program is run properly it has a lot of value to the Stettler community, especially the youth.
Coun. Al Campbell asked why Clearview Public Schools pays less for the SRO than the town and county.
Campbell stated about 20 years ago it was Clearview Public Schools, not the Town of Stettler, that brought this program forward.
Switenky answered school boards have financial limitations that municipalities don’t; the CAO stated the town has a tax base, while the school division relies on per-student provincial funding.
The CAO stated the revised agreement was the result of a lot of negotiation and Clearview Public Schools could have backed out of the SRO program, but didn’t.
Campbell stated he felt the town was shouldering more than its own burden. “What bothers me is they’re not paying their fair share,” said Campbell.
Referring to the 35/35/30 split Campbell said, “To me, that’s dead wrong.”
Coun. Scott Pfeiffer noted that in the summer when the high school is closed the SRO works in the Stettler region as a normal police officer, which is policing the town receives for its extra money.
Coun. Wayne Smith stated it seemed the school division was ready to cancel the SRO program and the 35/35/30 split was probably the best deal possible.
Switenky also pointed out the lone SRO officer in theory could be handling about 10 per cent of Stettler’s population at the high school, which is good value for money.
Councillors voted 6 to 1 in favour of authorizing the Town of Stettler to sign the revised SRO agreement with the County of Stettler and Clearview Public Schools.
Campbell was the lone dissenter.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter