McHenry Council, Dist. 156 approve school officer program

McHENRY – A police officer will be roaming the halls of McHenry's two high schools next school year.

Both the McHenry City Council and the District 156 school board approved an intergovernmental agreement that will re-institute the school resource officer program, which was cut due to financial difficulties ahead of the 2009-10 school year.

Although the program was unanimously approved by the City Council, the school board was more hesitant, with two board members casting no votes.

The conversation came primarily down to money, said board Secretary Pro Tem Gary Kinshofer, who chairs the Finance Committee.

When the idea was first brought up, Kinshofer was hesitant, wanting a better fix on the district's long-range forecast and budget, especially in terms of how the then still unresolved labor contracts would affect those.

But with the teachers union contract approved, Kinshofer was ready to move ahead with the program.

"Now that we know we can add safety and can afford it, ... it seemed like something we should do," he said.

The two board members who voted against the program – Tim Hying and Don Cichoski – did not respond to a request for an interview.

Under the approved agreement, District 156 would cover 70 percent of a first-year officer’s salary, not the salary of the more experienced – and more expensive – officer placed in the schools, Roberts said.

The cost to the district will increase 3 percent each year of the non-binding five-year agreement, and the district is responsible for any overtime.

The district will also pay the city $7,750 to offset the cost to hire a new officer, but the city will be responsible for the overall cost of training and the two months of salary and benefits before the school year starts.

"The priorities were financial," Superintendent Mike Roberts said. "Could we afford it? And it's my contention that boy, in this day and age, I don't know if you can't afford it."

The city also implemented a Adopt-a-School program earlier with District 15, through which one daytime patrol officer is assigned to each school, Police Chief John Jones said.

Officers are also performing unannounced safety checks, a new policy adopted since the school districts, city and McHenry Township Fire Protection District formed a committee to address school safety, Jones said.

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