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Council approves resource officer for Charter schools

By Staff | Jan 15, 2013

In the old days last month it would have taken two weeks before the city council could vote on something such as putting a resource officer in Cape Coral charter schools.

But with the new rules on the way city council meetings are run, Councilmember Kevin McGrail had no problem motioning to place a student SRO at the Oasis elementary, middle and high schools and at McAuliffe Elementary School.

And the city council had no problem passing it unanimously, wondering why they couldn’t put one in every school.

The resource officer would be in charge of security of more than 3,000 charter school students in Cape Coral. He or she would also be responsible for handling other conflicts, such as custody, DCF, bullying and abuse.

It is something Lee County schools have had for years but, because the charter school can’t get county money to put a green shirt on the job, they will get the blue shirts of the city.

Gene Raphael, who was an SRO at Ida Baker High School at its inception, will perform the task at the four schools.

It has been on the front burner of everyone involved in the charter school system in the wake of last month’s tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.

“There was nobody who loves children who wasn’t shocked by that event,” McGrail said. “There’s no guarantee it won’t happen somewhere else, but there’s something you could put in place. A sworn officer to protect 3,000 students is a small investment.”

The SRO will be paid for by the charter school system and the police department, since the charter schools can’t ask for county money.

“We wouldn’t ask for SRO funding if the sheriff’s office could fund us,” said Lee Bush, principal of McAuliffe Charter Elementary School and member of the Cherter School Authority. “We prefer Cape personnel because we can’t turn to anyone else. The need for protection goes without question.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz was all aboard, though he did warn of “painting a false perception” by hiring just one SRO instead of four.

Police Chief Jay Murphy said that since the Oasis schools are in one small area, one officer can cover the system. The problem would be the more remote McAuliffe Elementary.

Leetz and others also floated around other safety measures, such as accounting for all access cards teachers get to make sure none are floating around for someone unauthorized to get one.

Mayor John Sullivan also suggested the controversial method of arming teachers or have an ROTC officer do the same job, since he/she is military.

The ball got rolling quickly through the help of City Manager John Szerlag, Murphy, and city Business Manager Victoria Bateman, among others, to find the money to fund the officer.

Bateman said the price for the rest of the year is less than $40,000. The system received $56,000 from the state for security, and recently also added a set of doors outside Oasis campus to limit access.

Bush said the school already has electronic locks and a discipline officer who handles school suspensions and the like.

There are questions on how the SRO will be funded over a three-year period, which is how Szerlag prefers to do things. Murphy said the ability to keep an SRO at the charter schools depended on the council’s commitment to it.

“We can do this with your blessing and taxpayer’s money. Are you willing to ante 50 percent?” Murphy asked. “Anything is possible with funding. What is the service level you’re willing to pay for?”