116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids school board president David Tominsky said Thursday the board is not considering changing its decision on a contract for school resource officers — police — in schools after the mayor offered for the city to pay for two of the officers to work in middle schools.
These officers would bring the total number of police in Cedar Rapids schools back up to seven, where it had been — but this time with the city picking up the tab for two.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell offered for the city to fully fund the two officers in a letter to the school board dated Tuesday. The school board, however, voted July 11 to remove the positions from the middle schools.
“The board has examined the SRO program comprehensively, made a data-driven decision, and voted earlier this month on a path forward,” Tominsky said in an email to The Gazette. “After review of the mayor’s letter, no board member will be changing their vote.”
The board approved five school resource officers — at Kennedy, Washington, Jefferson and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center. But the board’s action is in conflict with a Cedar Rapids City Council vote that includes keeping police officers stationed each in McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School, where police responded to a slightly higher number of incidents this past academic year than in other middle schools.
These two officers also would help address needs at other middle schools, under the city’s vote. But the mayor this week offered the two officers to start their days at the Cedar Rapids Police Department instead of the schools.
The new contract approved by the school board still needs to go to the City Council for approval. The council next meets Aug. 9.
Funding was “not at the heart of this conversation,” O’Donnell said, as deeper issues surrounding equity in policing and the definition of school safety surfaced in discussions. But she added the city looked to support the district’s effort to shift support toward mental health and other supportive services by defraying the costs of two officers. The two entities normally split the costs.
“It is disappointing to hear that the school board is rejecting the city’s offer to support students with SROs in the middle schools,” O’Donnell said. “The next step for me is to get with the members of the City Council and the city manager and determine what the contract looks like with five SROs.”
O’Donnell wanted to consult with police officials as well to ensure the contract terms worked for them, so five officers wouldn’t be doing the work of seven. She said a review of the amended contract seemed to simply swap the number of officers.
Cedar Rapids school district officials did not respond to questions about what might happen if the contract is not approved by both entities by the first day of school, which is quickly approaching.
The school district began an audit of its school resource officer program last summer after many students asked for change, driven by a disproportionate rate of Black students being arrested.
While the number of high school students charged with crimes decreased 84 percent during the 2021-22 school year, the number of Black students being charged remains disproportionate.
Black students in Cedar Rapids middle schools are almost seven times more likely to be charged with a crime than their white peers.
But city officials say charges are based on incidents in the schools.
Police data show that during the 2021-22 school year, there were 51 incidents across Cedar Rapids middle schools, 30 of which were at McKinley and Wilson, and they include issues such as simple assaults, schools threats and loaded weapons. The data encompasses any incidents generating a police report whether a school resource or patrol officer responded. The district reported 33 requests involving only school resource officers across elementary and middle schools.
Though some City Council members felt strongly about keeping seven officers in the schools, not all eight of O’Donnell’s elected colleagues supported her letter.
Council member Ashley Vanorny publicly opposed it, though she voted June 14 for it along with the rest of the nine-member council.
The council’s resolution technically empowers the city manager to negotiate a school resource officer contract with the school district on the council’s terms calling for seven officers.
Vanorny declined to say whether she felt the mayor — one of nine votes — overstepped her authority in sending the letter.
O’Donnell said she spoke to five council colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting about the letter. Three — Scott Overland, Scott Olson and Ann Poe — were absent. Those five were aware of the offer and all were supportive except for Vanorny.
Council members Tyler Olson and Dale Todd, chair of the Public Safety and Youth Services Committee, were involved in discussions with O’Donnell and the city manager about how to proceed.
Vanorny said June 14 that state underfunding of public education contributes to issues within schools and the officers “become a catchall” to address other inequities. Given the number of incidents and an environment in which some educators have shared with her feeling unsafe in classrooms, she said she supported the officers being in schools now, but didn’t view them as a long-term solution.
Vanorny told The Gazette she viewed that vote as putting the matter back in the school board’s jurisdiction.
“It’s not our place to tell the school district how they need to run the schools,” Vanorny said. “It’s our place to support and be a partner, and if they’ve decided that five is the quantity of SROs that they want, I stand by that firmly.”
Comments: (319) 398-8411; email@example.com