St. Paul school board votes to reduce amount of school resource officers

The St. Paul Public Schools school board voted to cut two of the district’s school resource officer positions as a way to help overcome a $27 million deficit, according to district leaders.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, five school board members voted to reduce the number of SROs from nine to seven. One member voted no and another abstained.

The cut will help the district save about $200,000, with the City of St. Paul contributing $100,000 of the $797,974.45 total for the yearlong contract.

Ahead of the vote, a packed house of St. Paul Public School’s students and staff made their voices heard.  Some demanded better pay, others asked the board to retain school resource officers.

“St. Paul Police officers prevent crimes, it’s not a pathway to prison, it’s a hallway to hope,” said Linda Kantner.

But some students, like Avonni Williams, ask SROs be nixed all together.

“SROs should not be in school because it can cause intimidation inside and outside of the school,” said Williams.

Williams is a sophomore at Washington Technology Magnet High School.

“Anything they can do, a staff member can do, except for arrests,” said Williams.

District officials say the new SRO contract will help alleviate a $27 million budget deficit, down from $60 million since 2014.

“Our school staffing will stay the same, what we are reducing is our two mobile positions,” said Laura Olson, the district’s director of security and emergency management.

Student arrests have dropped from 57 to 5 in the last two years, according to Olson. She remains confident they can sustain the loss of two SROs.

“We have community liaison support, we have contract security support, we have security and emergency management support,” she said.

The stance echoes Williams’ take.

“It’s just very awkward because they just sit around,” said Williams. “Security does more than SROs do.”

Olson says the focus is to hold students accountable, rather than criminalize teens.

“I think SROs have become really good at sitting back and listening to what students have to say,” said Olson.

Of the seven SROs that will come into the schools this year, four are officers of color. Olson also says 92 percent of students surveyed want an SRO at school, but she says she understands there’s a percentage that don’t. She welcomes those students to share their perspective with her directly.