The Madison School Board is poised to take up Monday a new contract that would keep police officers in Madison’s high schools, while giving the district the option to reduce the number of officers by one starting in the 2020-21 school year.
The School Board is holding a special meeting to discuss and potentially vote on the contentious issue, which in recent months has seen protesters shut down meetings or force the board to go into a room closed to the public.
The proposed agreement would continue stationing one Madison police officer, known as a school resource officer, or SRO, at East, La Follette, Memorial and West high schools in the 2019-20 school year.
But if the district provides enough notice, it could reduce the total number of high schools served by the officers from four to three in either the 2020-21 or 2021-22 school years. The current agreement expires at the end of this month.
The proposal follows months of negotiations between the Madison School District and Madison Police Department after a previously proposed contract, which passed the board in December, included an amendment police called a nonstarter.
“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 SROs are a valuable, complementary piece in making our schools safer,” Police Chief Mike Koval said in a statement.
But Koval expressed opposition to the option to drop one officer.
He used a metaphor about a road trip with four children in the car but seat belts for only three, resulting in one child riding without a seat belt and risking injury.
“I love all my kids equally, and I don’t want to have to make a choice as to which kid should be less protected against potential harm(s),” Koval said.
He also questioned how police response time to an incident at a high school without an SRO would be affected, and called choosing what high school would not have an officer “problematic.”
“I have never been silent when I object to things that could impact public safety, and I am against the clause that would provide the district the option of reducing our presence in all of the four high schools,” Koval said.
He acknowledged, though, that the decision to continue the contract is up to elected school and city representatives.
School Board President Gloria Reyes declined to comment on the proposed contract before the board has considered it.
For nearly three years, a vocal group of activists, including social justice organization Freedom Inc., has demanded the district remove SROs from the high schools, arguing they disproportionately arrest and cite students of color and affect the learning of minority students.
As part of the new contract, district and police officials would meet quarterly to go over data showing contacts between the officers and students broken down by race, gender and disability status.
The reviews would also need to identify if calls for assistance are initiated by the SRO or at the request of a school staff member.
It also calls for both parties to “work collaboratively to identify all possible causes of disproportionality and develop steps to eliminate it.”
The district would need to give notice by Sept. 15 if it wants to drop to three officers in the 2020-21 school year and by June 10, 2020, for the number of officers to be reduced by Jan. 1, 2021.
School Board member Ananda Mirilli has previously said she is open to the idea of removing one of the officers as a pilot program.
If the district decides to drop an SRO, it must specify what school will lose the officer and a reason for the reduction. The contract would give the Police Department the discretion to reassign the remaining officers to the remaining schools.
If the School Board approves the contract, it would go to the City Council for a vote.
In December, the School Board passed a contract 4-2 that would continue the program, but an amendment was made at the meeting that would have given the district the final say on whether an officer is pulled from a high school if problems with them cannot be resolved.
That amendment was rejected by the police department, arguing the police chief has the sole authority on the placement of officers.
Marci Paulsen, an assistant city attorney who negotiated the agreement, said that clause has been dropped from the contract that is to go before the School Board.