The Manawa School Board voted Monday July 25, not to renew the police school liaison officer (PSLO) for the upcoming year. Since then, the community has spoken out on that decision.
Due to the sensitivity of this issue, several people interviewed have asked not to be identified.
Amother of three children from the Manawa School District said, “Things just got too exaggerated with a liaison officer. Little things were turned into big issues when they didn’t need to be. I have faith in our principals and guidance counselors; they can handle these issues. And, heaven forbid there is a more severe issue, the local police are just a phone call away.”
Board member Paul Sturm saidat the July 25 meeting, “It’s not a financial matter. Parents prefer that the first level of discipline be handled by the principals and counselors. The voters put me into office and the people that have approached me are telling me that this is what they want, and I want to be that voice for the people that contacted me.”
Manawa Chief of Police Dave Walker was asked his opinion on the decision and he responded with the following statements.
“The Board members are elected by the public and the Board’s decision is theirs to make. However, I am extremely disappointed with this decision and the way it was handled. We’ve always had a great working relationship with the school Administrators and staff. We’ve helped many children; especially the ones needing extra attention, time and care. I feel betrayed,” said Walker.
“I presented the facts to the Board that overwhelmingly speaks to the benefits we enjoy under the mutual partnership between the District and the City of Manawa. The entire community benefits; especially our children and even more so for those of our student body considered at-risk, vulnerable and having on-going problems that require repeated and time consuming attention. Without the Police Liaison who is dedicated to the school district, that vital attention is now going to be extremely limited,” explained Walker.
Many agree with Walker.
“I believe having a liaison officer is crucial in creating a positive police presence which helps to reduce potential problems,” said a Manawa Elementary School teacher. “It aids in maintaining a safe school environment and gives each student, teacher and staff member access to speak with the officer while feeling comfortable and safe.”
“I really needed her last year,” said a 10th-grade student who says she was being bullied at school. “I don’t think I would have wanted to go to school if there wasn’t an officer there.”
The PSLO program, like others in Clintonville, Waupaca and New London are funded through a little known direct tax to the community, maintained by the School Districts, called Fund 80, “Community Services Fund.” The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires the fund be limited to only those things that the entire community benefits from, not just those enrolled in the school district. The School District pays 60% (approx. $40,000) of the officer expense (salary & benefits) while the City of Manawa pays 40 %( approx. $28,000). This fund cannot be used to finance a teacher.
“I don’t think we should put a price tag, on the safety of our children,” states a member of the Manawa School District Staff. “Officer Kamba has done a great job with our student body.”
Chief Walker further explained; “As I’ve stated in the report given to the School Board, I listed some negative effects and distress this would bring. I explained the net result of the Fund 80 commitment from the School District, actually affords the staffing of two officers; one full-time officer dedicated to the school and a fourth officer position in the city. Now that the program is discontinued, not only will we lose the officer dedicated full-time to the schools, but also the City would be forced to lay-off one officer.” He continues, “This decision will negatively impact the student, staff, administration, the police department and consequently the entire city. We will have three full-time officers instead of four. And, just as the name implies our “Liaison” would become absent. The link between students, parents, staff and the greater community will not longer exist. The PSLO “workload” will be handled entirely different and The School District will therefore be assuming added liability.”
“City Officials and I would feel better if there was at the very least, some reason for the decision,” said Chief Walker.
“I was told it had absolutely nothing to do with the PSLO Officer Michelle Kamba. I strongly urged the Board to continue the program in a detailed letter that was sent to them on July 14, 2011. I likewise strongly encouraged the Board to continue the Liaison Officer program at the meeting, as did the School Superintendent and other public officials; it obviously made no difference. Other than the Treasurer who stated he had spoken to some parents and two others on the Board who stated they had similar “pro & con” conversations, I am not entirely clear why they made this drastic cut,” said Walker
“Prior to the July 25 meeting, the City had received no other reason for the School Board’s decision.”