When City staff presented several annual contracts to the City Councilmembers for renewal last month, they did not expect any surprises. But councilmembers on the Finance and Administration Committee balked at the School Assigned Officer agreement with the Ferndale School District saying the City was being underpaid.
Councilmembers on the Finance and Administration Committee said they were disappointed to realize the city was subsidizing the District’s use of a police officer instead of the District paying for the officer’s time based upon the actual cost to the City for the time spent performing the duties of School Assigned Officer.
The position of School Assigned Officer (SAO) is referred to as School Resource Officer in other locations.
SAO is a full-time position for 180 days of the year, excluding school holidays. When school is not in session, the officer is available to perform regular duties within the Ferndale Police Department.
In July of 2010, the City entered into an agreement with the District to provide an officer during the 2010-11 schoolyear in return for $47,000. Cost-of-living increases increased that amount to $59,000 for the 2016-17 schoolyear, $61,000 for the 2017-18 schoolyear and the 2018-19 contract was initially negotiated at $63,135.
But, council committee members argued, the actual cost to the City for the portion of time the officer was performing SAO duties was over $80,000 per year and this meant the City was using more than $20,000 of taxpayer money to subsidize the District’s cost. They instructed City staff to renegotiate with the District recognizing this higher cost.
The response from the District, according to an email from District Assistant Superintendent Mark Deebach to Police Chief Kevin Turner, was “To get a request mid fiscal year for such a dramatic change to the cost is not something that we are in a position to accept.”
At Monday’s regular meeting of the Ferndale City Council, the issue was taken up again considering the District’s response.
Mayor Jon Mutchler and City staff were adamant the city council needed to approve the 2-year contract or risk losing a valuable police presence on school campuses and the funding that pays for much of one police officer that performs regular department duties when not performing SAO duties and in emergencies.
Discussion initially focused on how to accurately assess the SAO’s cost to the City while performing SAO duties versus the cost of his time while available to perform regular FPD duties. This resulted in a tangle of mathematical references that appeared to alternatively confuse the councilmembers and City staff as they struggled to find common ground.
It was moved to accept the current 2-year agreement as initially negotiated but then that was modified to approve it as a 1-year agreement with the intention of revisiting the issue in time for the 2019-20 schoolyear negotiation. The amended motion was approved by unanimous vote of the council.
Deebach said they received the 1-year contract from City staff and happily signed it. Deebach said they look forward to working with the City to keep the SAO program going.
According to Deebach, the Ferndale SAO program has been in place since around the 2000-01 school year.