Beefing up school safety

Post Falls hopes to add third SRO; Lakeland plans upgrades with levy funds

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Neil Uhrig, a Post Falls Police Department school resource officer, walks past students Thursday during his rounds at Post Falls High School.

The Post Falls School District hopes to add a third school resource officer and Lakeland is planning safety upgrades in response to last month's Connecticut school shooting tragedy.

Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane is adding $40,000 to his recommendation to the school board to send a supplemental levy proposal to voters on March 12.

The additional amount makes the total for the levy proposal $4,255,000 per year for two years. The school board on Monday will consider sending the proposal to voters.

Keane said the SRO add-on is the result from school and police officials meeting and reviewing emergency plans in light of the massacre.

"(Police) believe that our current plans are well done and thorough," Keane said. "However, they believe that they and we could do a better job of ensuring student safety if we had an additional school resource officer."

Police Chief Scot Haug said city council approval will also be needed to make the proposal a go since the position would be funded with a combination of school district and city funds, as the two existing SROs are.

If the funding is approved, the position would start next fall, Haug said.

Neil Uhrig is an SRO who focuses on Post Falls High, while J.D. Putnam works at the five elementary and two middle schools.

"Both are extremely busy," Haug said. "We're seeing more and more calls at the schools, but we don't have the staffing to place another officer in schools without filling that position.

"By adding this additional resource, we would be able to increase our presence in the schools which in my view adds to the overall security at our schools, but it also continues to build the relationship between the police department, school district and our children."

Post Falls' first SRO started in 1990 and another was added about 10 years later.

Keane said, even with the SRO funding add-on to the levy proposal, residents' school district taxes won't be raised because of a retiring bond debt for Prairie View Elementary.

However, if the proposal fails, it would reduce taxes by $45 a year for a home with $100,000 of taxable value.

The levy proposal represents the current supplemental levy approved by voters in 2011 for $2.615 million per year for two years, plus an additional $1.6 million per year for two years.

The district is currently receiving $23.3 million from the state as compared to $26.5 million in 2009. The district reduced its expenditures by $1.5 million in response, Keane said.

If the board agrees to forward Keane's recommendation to voters, a simple majority (50 percent, plus one vote) would be needed for the proposal to pass.

Lakeland plans to use some of its funds that voters approved last year on safety enhancements.

"We have not determined a specific amount," Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells said. "We are going to go through a needs assessment building by building and determine the priorities. Our goal is to enhance safety at all school buildings."

Lakeland does not have an SRO, but receives safety assistance from the county's juvenile diversion program.

Coeur d'Alene plans to ask voters to approve about $1 million more on its March supplemental levy to enhance safety. The amount comes on the heels of a $12.9 million proposal.

The school district is also eyeing adding three new SROs, bringing the total number to eight for the district's 17 school buildings.

The additional officers wouldn't be funded through the additional levy request, rather the school district would absorb the costs.

On the state level, Gov. Butch Otter recently tapped Col. Jerry Russell, who is retiring as Idaho State Police director this month, to assess safety in public schools and recommend improvements.

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