District 156 assesses whether it can afford officer at schools

McHENRY – No longer in a "catastrophic financial situation," the District 156 school board is reassessing its fiscal priorities.

The conversation was triggered by a proposal by administration that the district reestablish a partnership with the city of McHenry that puts police officers back into the schools.

"After two and a half years of really scaling back and saying no to most additions because we simply didn't have the money[, that] is now changing," Superintendent Mike Roberts said in an email to the board. "Now, our problem has become we have a little money, we don't have to say no to everything, but yet we cannot afford to be cavalier in our finances."

The board is still in the beginning stages of considering the proposal, Finance Committee Chairman Gary Kinshofer said.

"Safety and security is obviously our No. 1 concern at the school," Kinshofer said. "Part of our job on the school board is to figure out what we want to do and then how do we fund it. ... If we're in a financial position to add additional security, we would be dumb not to."

But Kinshofer isn't sure whether the district is in the financial position to do so.

The board needs to look at the district's long-range forecast and budget, especially in terms of how the still-to-be-negotiated labor contracts will affect those.

At the Finance Committee meeting Monday evening, Shelly L. Casella-Dercole, with the firm Eder, Casella & Co., laid out the district's finances as part of the the annual audit report.

"You're still improving in certain funds, but I talked about the ed[ucation] fund at the IMRF [Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund] / Social Security fund are really in trouble," Casella-Dercole said. "You lost money in both of those funds this year, so the bleeding is still continuing and those fund balances, you can just essentially consider them to be zero."

District staff also is discussing with city staff how the cost of the officer (or two) would be split.

Roberts proposed a 70-30 split, with the district covering 70 percent of the cost, which is how the program was handled when it was first established in 1997 with one officer.

Starting in the 2000-01 school year, the district added a second officer with one officer at each high school with the help of a grant. After the grant expired, the district kept both positions, and the cost was split 60-40.

Of 22 area high schools surveyed, only McHenry East High School, McHenry West High School and Johnsburg High School don't have school resource officers.

How costs are handled by the other 19 schools varies widely, according to board documents. Some have one entity, either the district or the municipality, handling 100 percent of the cost. Others split it 50-50 or 70-30 or 66-34.

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