Despite opposition by three Tempe Union Governing Board members last year, school resource officers never left the Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista campuses.
And last week, Phoenix City Council took a big step toward ensuring they won’t be leaving for the rest of the current school year. But the Tempe Union Governing Board, which initially was to do its part Sept. 15, put off action untikl next month.
Council unanimously approved paying 25 percent of the SRO salaries and benefits, with the district responsible for the remaining three quarters.
Led by member Brian Garcia, who is now board president, Governing Board members Andres Barraza and Berdetta Hodge in July voted against Superintendent Kevin Mendivil’s request for $450,000 to pay for SROs at Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools.
But that money was never re-appropriated for additional social workers and counselors, which Garcia and Barraza wanted to do.
However, at the time of the 3-2 vote, the money was basically not assigned to any expenditure.
Mendivil stressed that the money was still in the budget for the SROs and that the board could reallocate it at another time.
“The $450,000 that was earmarked for SROs is still a part of the budget,” Mendivil said then, adding, “We just have that flexibility now to make wise decisions.”
He repeated his intention “to look at the variety of ways in which we can secure additional funding from the City of Tempe and from the City of Phoenix.”
The three board members’ vote against SROs came amid the national outcry over a rash of civilian deaths caused by police officers.
Uniformed resource officers were dragged into the national debate by activists who claim SROs intimidated students, “militarized campuses” and treated students of color more harshly than whites.
That argument had supporters among students and other Tempe Union community members – as well as police opponents outside the district – though there was scant evidence produced to support their assertions as far as the two Ahwatukee campuses were concerned.
Many other parents and students also opposed the move against SROs and pointed to the numerous non-enforcement activities of SROs.
All the Tempe Union principals protested the move, writing in a joint letter that resource officers are “not just cops on campus.”
They said SROs “positively educate students about the law, both in small groups and larger classrooms, support and mentor students when they are feeling pressure, help our students make good and wise decisions, get to know our students and their families and connect them to community resources, understand the pressures that teenagers are dealing with so police officers can better deal with our students and young people in our community, protect our campus community from outside threats, and be an integral part of our school support teams.”
Tempe Union joins 18 other school districts for whom the city is paying the partial cost of a total 58 SROs at 65 schools. Several schools share SROs.
Those districts include American Charter Schools, Laveen Elementary; Cartwright Elementary, Murphy Elementary, Cave Creek Unified, Paradise Valley Unified, Deer Valley Unified, Premier Charter, Empower College Prep, Scottsdale Unified, Glendale Union, Tolleson Union, Horizon Community Learning Center, Washington Elementary, Kaizen Education Foundation, Wilson and Kyrene, according to a city administration memo to Council.
Tempe Union spokeswoman Megan Sterling said the district’s end of the agreement with Phoenix will be on the board’s agenda for its meeting Sept. 15.However, the contract was never put on the agenda and it is unclear when it might go before the board, which does not meet again until Oct. 13.
Council’s action helps to ensure that Tempe Union’s two Ahwatukee campuses are not the only ones in the district without SROs. All its Tempe campuses have SROs from Tempe Police, thanks to public safety grants from the state Department of Education. Kyrene has SROs at four middle schools – Aprende, Akimel A-al, Centennial and Pueblo.
That department declined to fund Tempe Union’s request for SROs at all its campuses, and took back the money it had awarded for an officer at the Compadre campus before the board decided to close that school.
“ADE re-absorbed the grant money,” Sterling said. “Since the campus is closed for the time being, we could not repurpose it for anything else, according to the rules of the grant.”
The Education Department annually gets more requests for SROs than its federal funding can pay for.
Sterling said off-duty officers were working at Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe from the first day of the 2021-22 school year through “an SRO testing process” that would help the district and the police department determine the best fits for the two campuses.
Phoenix Police say an SRO costs $180,379 a year and that a school district is responsible for picking up $135,284 of that amount.
That total SRO cost for a Phoenix officer includes $81,479 annual salary, $7,613 in career enhancement pay, $1,150 clothing allowance and $2,080 in “productivity enhancement pay” for a total $92,322. Of that amount, the school district is on the hook for $69,242.
On top of that is another $88,057 in fringe benefit costs for which a school district is responsible for $66,043.