Bexley City Council has postponed a final vote on legislation that would have the city provide a police officer to St. Charles Preparatory School, 2010 E. Broad St., to serve as a school-resource officer beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
At the third reading of Ordinance 18-19 on June 25, council voted 7-0 to table the legislation, which proposes the city enter into an agreement with Catholic Diocese of Columbus to provide the SRO to St. Charles. The original version of the legislation proposed that St. Charles cover 75 percent of the cost of the SRO, with the city paying 25 percent, or a total of $32,000 for the 2019-20 school year, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said.
At the meeting, Monique Lampke, chairwoman of council's safety committee, who introduced the legislation May 28, made a motion to amend the ordinance so St. Charles will be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of the SRO. The amended ordinance states the city will allot $64,000 from its general fund, with St. Charles to reimburse the city 100 percent. Council approved the amendment 7-0.
After discussing the ordinance among council members, Kessler, police Chief Larry Rinehart and residents who spoke both in favor of and in opposition to the city providing an SRO for St. Charles, Lampke moved to table the ordinance.
Lampke said tabling the ordinance will give St. Charles time to consult with diocese about covering the cost. It also will give the city more time to explore the proposed agreement, she said.
"I think it's appropriate that we take time to digest that," Lampke said.
Kessler said he proposed the idea of St. Charles covering the entire cost of the SRO based on feedback from council members.
Kessler said he, Rinehart and Capt. Ken Gough met with St. Charles Principal James Lower in mid-June after council's second reading of the ordinance.
Lower said he will ask the diocese to review the amended legislation for the SRO and continue to discuss the proposal with the city.
"We want to continue to work with the city of Bexley to make for a safer community," Lower said.
Lower said he initially approached the city about the possibility of providing an SRO in early 2018 after several school shootings occurred nationally.
Over the past year, he said, St. Charles has paid the city to have special-duty police officers stationed at the school on a rotating basis to assist with safety drills and other routine activities.
"Most importantly, they've been positive role models to our students, and they've demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism, courtesy and respect and we really value them as part of our St. Charles family," Lower said.
Rinehart said if council approves the SRO position for St. Charles, the police department will hire an additional officer to keep the department at full staffing levels.
He said the department would work with St. Charles administrators to schedule the SRO's shifts and does not anticipate the arrangement would cause the department to exceed its budget for overtime pay.
"It's a full partnership (with St. Charles), especially in terms of duties. Once the officer is selected, the officer will go through the state school- resource officers' school," Rinehart said. "That's when the officer is given special guidance on what the officer does and what the officer doesn't do."
Some council members said they are inclined to support the SRO proposal, and others are opposed or undecided.
"What I'm concerned about is that I was elected to be a steward of money for the city, and I can't rationalize in any way allocating money for St. Charles," council member Tim Madison said.
"It is wrong, from my perspective, to allocate money to a private institution in this kind of situation," he said.
"If we're thinking of this as paying money out, that's completely backwards," council member Steve Keyes said. "We have a golden opportunity to have, if the diocese approves of this, to have another officer protecting the city."
Council member Richard Sharp said he's not convinced the city providing an SRO to St. Charles is the best option.
"I am concerned about the students," Sharp said. "I'm not sure this is the way to most effectively protect the students."