School district considering partnership with Iowa City police for armed officers

BY STACEY MURRAY | MAY 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City School District Governance Committee on Monday discussed a federal grant that could bring armed police officers to the Iowa City district schools.

“We want to highlight the safety procedures we’ve taken, given the recent increase in violence in schools,” board member Sarah Swisher said.

The Iowa City police are in the process of reapplying for the grant. The department has been given the funding previously, and it would like to partner with the School District. Previously, with funds from the grant, the city placed two officers downtown.

The School District did not make any definitive plans but expressed interest, allowing the department to move forward and apply for the grants.

Although officials are unsure if the police will receive the funds, the School Board began to ask questions in regards to the grant and what it would mean for the district.

School Board officials said two high-school principals, John Bacon of City High and Jerry Arganbright of West High, supported continued discussion at Monday’s governance meeting, despite their lack of interest in 2007.

The grant requires a four-year commitment from the district but only provides funds for the first three years. This commitment would ask the district to put in place one or two armed resource officers on its campuses. The grant doesn’t pay for the entirety of the officers’ salaries, and what isn’t paid for through grant funds is covered by the district and the city.

Board members expressed concern about a future problem that could arise from the program. The part of the salary the district would be faced to pay could cause the district to choose between the resource officers’ salaries or numerous teachers, because the money comes from the same district fund.

Before any implementation began, board officials said they would want input from both the community and the district.

The faculty and staffs will be asked to provide comment on the proposed partnership.

“It’s come so fast, we need to hear from a lot of people,” board President Marla Swesey said.

Board officials said they expected the community members to be highly involved and will anticipate holding public comment periods before any action is taken.

“Keep in mind the community needs to weigh in,” board member Patti Fields said.

Two district parents stepped forward to voice concerns, saying they weren’t interested in furthering the resource-officer discussion.

Local resident Eric Johnson said the timing is less than ideal for these conversations because he doesn’t know if the district wants to implement these officers at the same moment the diversity policy begins.

“We should take time to consider if it’s absolutely necessary,” he said.

School board member Jeff McGinness highlighted that if the grants are accepted, the district has the opportunity to back out of the agreement.

The district plans to continue to discuss the matter with the faculty and staff while additionally seeking answers to questions raised by board in regards to funding and commitment.

The Iowa City City Council will meet on May 14 to discuss its part in the possible implementation of resource officers.

The board will meet again on May 21, when Superintendent Steve Murley is expected to bring more information before the district.

While questions remain, the board members said they’re aware of both positive and negative aspects if they choose to move forward with the police in the future.

“We know there are benefits, and we know there are drawbacks,” McGinness said.

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