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Madison Police Officer Justin Creech is the school resource officer at West High School.

Under a newly proposed contract between the city and the Madison Metropolitan School District, MMSD has the ability to move away from having an officer in each of the city's four high schools starting in the 2020-21 school year. 

Under the new language in the contract, MMSD would have until Sept. 15 to tell the city if it would like to reduce the number of SROs assigned to Madison schools from four to three. The district would have to select which school should have a reduction. The reduction would then take place the following school year. 

The new contract language follows a negotiation strategy the Madison School Board broadly supported last month to move towards removing an SRO from at least one of Madison's high schools. 

The new contract will be discussed at the board's June 10 meeting and likely be up for a vote later in the month. The contract would run until June 2022.

"The Board is considering a proposal from the City that is based upon prior negotiations," School Board President Gloria Reyes said in an email Friday afternoon. "It would not be appropriate to comment at this time before the Board has fully considered the proposal."

In December, the Madison School Board approved an amended contract to keep police officers in the high schools after the current contract expires June 30. The added language would have given school officials the ability to remove an officer from a school if they found cause. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval and the city had argued that the added language was illegal, because personnel decisions on officers are under the authority of the police chief. 

Assistant city attorney Marci Paulsen said that under the new contract, Koval still has the final say on whether to remove an officer, but that the district and Koval would meet to discuss if such a concern came up about an officer. If Koval were to deny a request to remove an officer, he would have to put his reasoning in writing. 

"I am relieved and grateful that the pleas of parents, students, teachers and staff have been acknowledged and we can continue to demonstrate that the SRO's are a valuable, complementary piece in making our schools safer while fostering positive engagements which place a particular emphasis on being relational in helping all of our students achieve their goals," Koval said in a statement on Friday. 

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However, Koval said he was against the clause in the contract that allowed for the reduction from four to three officers, saying that the school designated to go without an SRO "may experience unintended consequences."

"Chances are, the Patrol cop will not know or have any specific insights on the unique needs of the student or have any underlying relationship," Koval said in the statement.  "Bottom line?  It would come as no surprise to me if we saw an increase in citations.  Not by design, but due to the limitations of a Patrol response vs. an SRO response.  Right now, the preliminary numbers suggest that citations are down almost 70% from last year, reflective of the current SRO model that is working."

The contract also includes an ability for either party to opt-out before the start of the 2021-22 school year, and includes commitments to increase efforts to promote restorative justice practices.

A possible shift toward having a school go without an SRO signals a major development in the role of SROs in Madison, who have been in the high schools since the 1990s. The School Board has faced political pressure from community groups such as Freedom Inc., which have spoken out at dozens of board meetings calling for the removal of officers from the schools.  

Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.