Plainwell schools plans to have police officer in fall

By: 
Daniel Pepper

Plainwell Community Schools intends to have a school resource officer on campus to begin school in the fall.
District and local officials are still working out how they’ll go about having a police officer on campus again, but all expressed at least rhetorical support for the idea.
Superintendent Matt Montange said, “We’re confident we can come up with something that will work.”
The Plainwell school board authorized him to start discussions on the matter, though the funding won’t be officially approved until the school board passes its 2018-19 budget, scheduled for the Monday, June 18, regular meeting.
The budget contains funding for part of the position and, assuming board members approve it, the district is seeking to find other municipalities to partner with it.
Montange said parents had been very supportive of the idea.
While the discussions started after recent high-profile school shootings and a wave of student activism across the country, Montange said the vision is for something broader than a police officer guarding the school.
“We really look it more as a preemptive strategy,” he said. “It goes beyond a car, a gun and a badge.
“It’s someone who works with the staff, works with the kids, teaches programs and gets to know everyone.
“Someone who’s really embedded in the district and really works on preventative programs more than trying to recover if something were to happen.”
The vision would have the resource officer involved with every grade—kindergarten through 12th —and all of the district’s buildings.
“We want to get it done and we want to have them there next year,” Montange said.
Gun Plain Township board members decided not to join in the effort by employing the officer for the three months of the year school is out at their Thursday, June 7, regular board meeting.
Supervisor Mike VanDenBerg said, “I’ll tell the school we’re not ready to do that at this time.”
Township board members discussed the idea of a Plainwell public safety officer whose salary would be funded by the schools for nine months of the year and then by the township for the other three.
The township currently contracts for an Allegan County Sheriff’s Officer deputy 40 hours per week.
Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker attended the meeting and said that it should be possible to work out the jurisdictional differences between city and county police or  even if the effort was crossing county lines with the part of Plainwell’s district in Kalamazoo County.
“I appreciate the schools, the city everyone who is looking at this,” Baker said. “Getting school resource officers back in the schools is a priority for us.”
Asked whether the sheriff’s office could provide resource officers with joint funding, Baker said the department had done that previously under a grant through the Allegan Area Educational Services Agency.
Township trustee Ron Kopka said, “We don’t really need an extra officer in the summer.”
VanDenBerg said that while calls go up in the summertime he thought the cost wasn’t worth it.
VanDenBerg said he knew many township residents had students in school
“It’d help the school district, but I still have to look out for all our residents’ money,” he said.  
Plainwell city manager Erik Wilson said the city was looking for a collaborative way to fund the position.
Wilson said, “We’re looking to form a partnership to see how we could fund a school resource officer. We haven’t nailed down the exact details.”
The first idea, Wilson said, had involved the city providing a Plainwell public safety officer’s vehicle, training, supplies and liability insurance and other jurisdictions funding the salary but that proposal was not set in stone.
“I think, obviously, everyone needs to put something into the pot to get this accomplished,” he said. “My hope is to figure out what everybody can do and how we get this accomplished.”
The school resource officer program was discontinued in 2009 as part of budget cuts.
Wilson said “The goal is to establish an SRO in the schools and I think everybody wants it.”
Contact Dan Pepper at dpepper@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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