KYTX CBD 19 VIDEO
Staff Writer and
KYTX CBS 19's MICHELE REESE
Tyler Independent School District administrators say a $1.1 million police department budget to keep students safe is money well spent, but some in the community question whether the money could better be used to keep educational programs from being cut.
These cuts have some asking why the district needs its own police department instead of resource officers like it had before the department was created in 2003.
“The safety of children in school is an issue every parent is concerned about, but so is education,” said Jamie Womack, Tyler-based field representative for the Texas American Federation of Teachers.
Ms. Womack questioned whether the district's police department should have an operating budget of $1.1 million when public schools across the state are facing financial crisis.
“I'm a little alarmed that amount of money is being spent when I have teachers call me all the time feeling they are not working in a safe environment,” Ms. Womack told the Investigators when hearing the department's operating cost for 2010-2011.
“Whew, that's a lot of money. A lot more could be done than worrying about a police department. If it's cutting away from the kids it is wrong and it's as simple as that,” Robert Williams, a parent of two John Tyler High School students and a Stewart Middle School student said.
Williams added, “One million dollars, that's too much.”
Williams and others asked how the money is spent and if is it justified.
Through the Texas Open Records Act the Investigators obtained financial data and crime reports from the TISD Police Department and compared that information to information provided by the Tyler Police Department when city officers were used on campuses.
The findings show the costs associated with protecting TISD students and staff has increased from $73,434 for a Tyler Police Department officer placed at each high school in 2001-2002 school year to $1.1 million in the 2010-2011 school year for a TISD police chief, 14 peace officers, a police dispatcher and a locksmith.
Superintendent Randy Reid said the costs cannot be compared to the safety of students.
“I think having officers on campus obviously provides a measure of security but it also provides a feeling of safety and security for families as they drop their students off and I don't think you can measure that,” he said.
Reid added, “If you look at our total budget it's less than one percent of our budget and I would think there are not many people who would think that spending less than one percent of your budget was too much on safety and security.”
The records indicate salaries for the TISD Police Department this year totaled $605,303.18 for the chief, the 14 officers, dispatcher and locksmith.
In addition to that total is an itemized list of expenditures including fuel, vehicles, supplies, insurance and bonding costs, teacher retirement and other costs associated with a school related police department. The total cost of these expenditures and salaries amount to $1,065,252.23.
However, the department lost its chief of police this year and Reid said the decision has been made to cut that $65,000 position, and use a lead officer with a slightly higher salary than other officers to run the department.
A look at similar size school districts in Texas with their own police departments showed that Beaumont ISD had a budget of $1.3 million for 24 officers and Waco ISD had a budget of $1.7 million for 15 peace officers, 20 security guards, 33 crossing guards and a secretary.
Tyler's crossing guards are volunteers with the city of Tyler and do not cost the district any money.
Those districts similar in size with Tyler that contract with city police showed San Angelo ISD spent $349,645 for city police assigned to six campuses and Amarillo ISD spent $800,000 for 11 Amarillo police officers to protect their campuses.
The superintendent said he had worked at other school districts where the city and district had collaborative agreements for policing the schools, but he still believed TISD did the right thing in creating its own department in 2003.
He stressed the benefits of the school district having its own police department instead of relying on city police far outweighed the negatives, but said he understood how the rising costs might alarm some parents and taxpayers.
“I wouldn't want to diminish that concept at all, because we know that it's a lot more money. However, 10 years ago salaries were quite a bit different. 10 years ago the level of crime we would see in our communities was different and remember our schools are a microcosm of our community. If you see increased crime in your community you're very likely to see an increased level in your schools,” he said.
With an increase in crime comes the need for a larger police presence, the superintendent said.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Documents show that during the past school year TISD police responded to 1,416 calls at all of the schools and Rose Stadium that consisted of everything from false alarms to felony crimes such as burglary and possession of narcotics.
The officers made 92 arrests and issued 274 citations in those cases.
In 2003 two Tyler police officers handled a total of 410 calls between John Tyler High School and Robert E. Lee High School. Other calls that were handled by the department on an as needed basis at the other campuses were not available.
In 2010 six TISD police officers handled a total of 832 calls at the two schools, but there are some differences in the calls handled in 2003 and 2010.
The 2010 TISD police calls lists 56 responses to bad language, 16 disruptions of class and 24 truancies. Tyler police said when they were on campus they did not typically work bad language cases or minor disruptions of class and truancy was handled by the school office unless patrol units saw a truant student walking around in the city.
Though TISD police do work felony cases, Reid admitted they do not have the experience or the equipment needed to work cases such as sexual assault, aggravated assault or homicide where a crime scene unit and seasoned detectives are needed.
In addition, Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle said if there was a shooting or a hostage situation at any of the Tyler schools, it would be his officers that would be responding to the scene to take control of the situation.
Swindle said his officers would enter the school in the event of an active shooter and engage the shooter until the situation was resolved.
Reid countered that officers on campus serve as a preventive measure, but when John Tyler High School teacher Todd Henry was stabbed to death by his student Byron Truvia, there were several TISD officers just outside the classroom.
In that case, Tyler Police Department, the Smith County Sheriff's Office and the Smith County District Attorney took the leads in the case because they had the experience to deal with a homicide crime scene.
Since the fatal stabbing, Reid said the district has taken additional measures for safety of students and faculty, but Ms. Womack questioned whether those measures are costing teacher positions or cuts in programs.
Reid took issue with the idea that teacher positions were being cut due to lack of funds because of state cuts or because monies were being spent on safety instead of education.
“One thing I would like to add, you've mentioned several times that we are cutting teachers, we haven't. We've cut some teaching allocations but we have not actually cut teachers from the classroom. We have been able to handle those things through attrition. We had some probationary teachers who were not offered contracts but that was based on performance,” he said. “I think quality teachers in the classroom are the key.”
Reid said due to funding issues, some programs had been cut, but added new programs had been put in place to help alleviate some of the problem areas.
During a February board meeting, Tyler ISD administrators announced the district was cutting more than 30 positions next school year at the elementary school level as a result of losses in federal stimulus and grant funds. These reductions were unrelated to state budget cuts.
The district kept roughly 50 slots for instructional coaches and response-to-intervention teachers for math and reading.
The instructional coaches will help teachers with classroom instructional methods and the intervention teachers will help students who are struggling in math and reading.
Deputy Superintendent Cecil McDaniel said during the February meeting that the district has to provide certain services to struggling students and adhere to state standards.
With that in mind, district officials assessed campus staffing needs and designed the plan to meet those needs.
Ms. Womack said she feared the reading program cuts would be seen in the next few years in state mandated test scores.
“The scores are going to drop significantly. We may see a drop in our scores next year but it may take four or five years down the road for us to really see the devastating impact of eliminating programs and putting more children in the classroom,” she said.
She continued, “(The money) could go toward a lot of programs that my teachers are very upset about. The reading recovery program being eliminated, that's a vital program for first graders. These kids come in and they're non-readers and these reading recovery teachers work with them in intense intervention one on one and most of the teachers say when they get done with the program they come back in the class reading better than the other children.”
Ms. Womack's concerns were reiterated by parents who said they believe safety is needed, but they did not want vital educational programs to suffer.
Reid said the TISD police force also keeps the buildings safe during the summer when thieves have targeted large commercial buildings for copper theft.
“One theft like that at one building could cost us a lot of money,” he said.
Ms. Womack said she had reports from teachers where they were the ones breaking up fights and not the officers on campus.
“One teacher said, ‘We've gotten to where we don't call for security anymore we just call the office because he's not going to show up,'” she said.
Ms. Womack continued, “A significant amount of money is being wasted I feel like. If they can't go and do everything that Tyler police department can do on these campuses, then yeah,” she said.
Moore MST Academy Parent Sarah Skinner said she was concerned with cuts to educational programs.
“I want my child to be protected while he's at school but at the same time what's the point in going to school if the programs and the teachers to facilitate his learning aren't there,”
Tyler Paper Staff Writer Emily Guevara contributed to this report.