Anchorage School District officials say it costs $3 million a year to pay for police officers to patrol schools, including those who arrested a man after he allegedly assaulted a female student outside Bartlett High School Tuesday.
School Resource Officers are sometimes the first and last line of defense against an attack at a school. Two of their number, Officers Cindy Tanaka and Kristi Mercer, were at Bartlett Tuesday morning when a student walked in and said she had been accosted and struck by a man outside. Tanaka remained with the student, while Mercer found and apprehended Rodney Stevens, 21; he has been charged with one count of second-degree assault.
"I would hate to see a teacher taking a bullet from an assailant in our school system," said Tam Agosti-Gisler, president of the Anchorage School Board.
The district's 17 SROs are employees of the Anchorage Police Department, but are assigned to protect the schools. Two of them,
SROs took the lead in an investigation into an alleged threat made by a student toward East High School last December, but they are more than just armed guards.
Agosti-Gisler credits them with helping to bring up attendance by 20 percent during the first quarter of the school year.
"There's been an increased focus on attendance, we have a 90 percent attendance goal," Agosti-Gisler said. "Our SROs have been helping us with chronic truancy, and find out what's preventing them from going to school."
10 years ago, a federal grant covered the entire cost of SROs, according to Agosti-Gisler. As the grant money dried up, the Municipality paid for half the tab.
Over the past few years, the district had to foot the entire $3 million bill for the officer's services.
Elvi Gray-Jackson, Midtown Assembly member, proposed an amendment to slice the costs in half. The city would have paid $1.5 million to support the program, but that was vetoed by the mayor.
"We came this close to allowing the school district to not pay for services they shouldn't be paying for, we came that close a 7-4 vote," said Gray-Jackson, referring to the roll call on adding the $1.5 million to the operating budget.
The Assembly needs eight votes to override a veto.
A spokesperson for Mayor Dan Sullivan says the mayor wasn't available Tuesday, but directed us to a section on the municipal website that refers to the tax cap as a reason for the veto.
Anchorage voters approved it in 1983. According to the website, "it sets the limit on how much taxes can be raised from one year to the next, regardless of the source."
Because of the mayor's veto, instead of receiving $1.5 million from the city to pay for the SROs, the school district will receive $750,000, only a quarter of what the program costs.
"I think it's very safe to say that there have been some tragic headlines that have been avoided because of the work that our SROs have done in the school," said Agosti-Gisler.
The Assembly has less than three weeks to decide whether it will override the veto.