Bexley City Council has approved legislation that will enable St. Charles Preparatory School, 2010 E. Broad St., to hire a Bexley police officer to serve as a school-resource officer.
In a 6-1 vote Oct. 15, council members approved Ordinance 18-19, which stipulates that St. Charles will cover 100% of costs the city will incur in hiring the school-resource officer, including salary, benefits and training. Council member Richard Sharp abstained from the vote, citing a business-related conflict of interest.
Council members said they support the amended version of the ordinance. A previous version of the legislation, introduced earlier this year, split the costs between the city and St. Charles, with the school covering 75% and the city covering 25%. The previous version drew opposition from some council members and residents who said the private school should cover all the costs.
Mayor Ben Kessler said St. Charles administrators approached the city in April 2018 about partnering on a school-resource officer program for the school. Over the past year, St. Charles has paid the city to have special-duty police officers stationed at the school, on a rotating basis, during school hours.
Earlier this spring, St. Charles administrators proposed the idea of having a full-time school-resource officer.
Kessler said hiring the school-resource officer is estimated to cost between $119,882 and $134,855 for the agreement between the city and St. Charles, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 1 and continue through July 31, 2020. The school is expected to pay in monthly installments based on invoices from the city, Kessler said.
"The full hiring cost includes first-time equipment, it includes training, it includes a psychological evaluation, testing, background checks," Kessler said.
The city still would be responsible for any workers' compensation or unemployment compensation claims associated with the officer because the person will be a city employee who is assigned to St. Charles, city attorney Marc Fishel said.
"If there's a workers' comp claim, that will affect our workers' comp costs if that officer gets injured while he or she is working on duty at St. Charles," Fishel said. "They're our employee. Same would be true if that person is terminated and they end up getting unemployment. That's going to be on the city of Bexley. There's no way to change that potential liability."
The city and St. Charles have the option to renew or terminate the agreement before July 31, 2020, according to the legislation.
If council would choose to terminate the agreement, "we could keep that officer on, if council chose to fund that," Bexley police Chief Larry Rinehart said. "Or there are contractual provisions that we would lay that officer off, and that would be up to city council."
Kessler said if the agreement ends, the city administration would evaluate the police department's staffing levels.
"The most common scenario is that we would examine it and we'd see that we have a retirement coming up in the short-term and we'd decide to temporarily fund that SRO officer until they would just backfill that position" of the retiring officer, Kessler said.
Council member Tim Madison said he initially opposed the original proposal that would have required the city to cover some of the costs, but he said he supported the amended legislation that put all the costs on St. Charles.
"I'm excited to have an SRO at St. Charles, if that's what St. Charles wants," Madison said. "I'm pleased that this is now not costing the city any money."
Council member Steve Keyes said the first year of the agreement can serve as a test case to monitor how it will work out.
"For those residents who have raised concerns about, does an SRO actually work in a school, does an SRO treat kids of color differently, in some way disfavorably ... I think ultimately that determination needs to be made by each school on a case-by-case basis," Keyes said.
"I guarantee you that St. Charles as well as the city of Bexley are well aware that this first year of this SRO is going to be under a microscope."
Council member Monique Lampke, chairwoman of council's Safety and Health Committee who introduced Ordinance 18-19, said she has observed positive interactions between the city's special-duty officers and St. Charles students.
She said St. Charles conducted due diligence before requesting the SRO.
"They did extensive consultation and received input from their finance committee, their advisory board, their superintendent and the current bishop," Lampke said. "At each layer, it was determined that an SRO made sense for St. Charles."
St. Charles Principal James Lower said St. Charles requested the SRO to enhance safety on campus.
"We really value our relationship, our position, our part of the Bexley community. We want this school-resource officer to feel valued in our community, as well," he said.
"We think as time goes on, whoever that person will be, will be a very important part of our team."