December 01, 2023

School resource officer program extended for another three years

Police chief shares story of students creating petitions for officers to stay

Newton students love their school resource officers so much that one even made a PowerPoint presentation arguing why the officer should stay in the middle school. While speaking with school board members last week, Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess recounted the experience and a similar one from the year before.

“We had one in the middle school set to come out last year and go to the high school, but there was a petition for him to stay. He had hundreds of signatures to get him to stay at the middle school. So he did,” Burdess said. “This year we’re facing the same thing and he forwarded a PowerPoint presentation.”

In a unanimous vote on Nov. 13, the Newton school board renewed the district’s agreement with the local police department to provide two school resource officers (SROs) in all buildings. Burdess said the current SRO agreement would have expired with the Newton school district at the end of the school year.

“That was a five-year agreement that included the second SRO,” Burdess said at the school board meeting, prior to the vote. “Since the early ‘90s we’ve had one; decided to add a second one with the addition of the new middle school, and I think that’s been a great addition that’s seen a lot of success there.”

According to the agreement, the purpose of the SRO program is to enhance safety and improve security, prevent and respond to school-based crime, develop positive relationships between students and law enforcement and provide assistance/support to victims of crimes in the schools.

Officers involved in the program are also there to create an environment where all students feel safe and supported. The agreement is now in place until 2027.

Unless there is an action by the city council or school board, the agreement will automatically renew every three years unless there are changes that need to be reconsidered or added. The agreement is nine pages long that clearly identifies the duties of the officers, the school and the police department.

“It also outlines how we select SROs, as well as, if there is a problem, how we work through that between the district and the police department,” Burdess said before commending his SROs. “I think we’ve provided some high quality officers, at least in my tenure at the police department going on 26 years.”

According to the agreement, the school district agrees to reimburse the police department 56.25 percent of the annual salary and benefit cost of the police officers assigned to the school resource officer positions. Burdess said the City of Newton covers the other portion of the SRO salaries.

Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger highlighted the importance of the partnership with the school and police department, saying the SROs and police have been essential to the safety and security planning. They have also been pivotal in providing prevention measures for some students.

“We’re lucky,” Messinger said. “We’ve got the best police department that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.