116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY – The Iowa City school district will not go after a federal grant that would help pay for police officers in schools, but the debate over the underlying issue is not necessarily over.
The school board voted 7-0 Tuesday night not to apply for a Community Oriented Policing Services grant to place one school resource officer at City High and another at West High.
With the application having to be submitted May 22, Superintendent Stephen Murley recommended against moving forward because of concerns over the cost and a desire for more community input on an issue that just came up this month.
But he said he would like to continue the discussion with the Iowa City Police Department, which the school district would have partnered with on the grant, and explore other funding sources. The Iowa City Council voted last week to apply for the grant.
Some school board members, though, said the district needed to take a further step back and see what community members thought about the basic question of whether armed police officers should be in schools.
The consensus of the several members of the public who spoke at the meeting was officers should not be based in schools.
Research casts doubt on whether having school resource officers improves safety but has found that the practice causes relatively minor offenses to be treated as crimes.
“Kids act out. They do dumb things,” said Andrew Coghill-Behrends, a parent of three kids in the Iowa City school district. “But we need to remember that we owe them our guidance and not our punishment at all times.”
The Rev. Dorothy Whiston, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Iowa City, said there was “grave concern” over statistics that show racial minorities are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
“We have a lot of concerns about the relationship between the (Iowa City) Police Department and minority youth in this town,” she said.
The cost of the program was a worry for school officials. The city's proposal called for the school district to cover the local matching funds required in the grant and for the two officers' compensation after the grant expires.
The federal money would stop after three years. The four-year agreement envisioned by the city and the school district would require $211,498 in local matching funds.
“We've got significant concerns about that cost component. … We do not have the funding available to participate in that grant,” Murley said.
School board member Patti Fields said she did not think it was a good idea to create a program to go after funding.
Having police officers in schools “is a philosophy we've got to embrace first before we chase money,” she said.