By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Independent
Due to ever-tightening budgets, a long-standing Clearview Public Schools program may draw to a close at the end of the 2021 school year.
Since 2001, Clearview Public Schools in Stettler has participated in and partially funded the School Resource Officer program, which sees a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police based out of WM. E. Hay Secondary School.
The Clearview Public Schools board of the day approached the Town of Stettler and the County of Stettler to help fund the program; however, the agreement has not been reviewed since it was initially signed and with tightening budgets, in December 2019 Clearview gave notice to the other two partners that they would withdraw from the agreement at the end of 2020 though the door was left open to renegotiate the agreement.
Unfortunately, before any meaningful communication happened between the parties the world was thrust into the pandemic and discussions surrounding the program never happened.
However, with the Town, County, and Clearview all entering budget cycles the conversation has resumed, with a meeting between all parties two weeks ago, and then followed another at the Clearview Public Schools board meeting the week after.
“We finally got together two weeks ago, and we talked,” said Town of Stettler Chief Administrative Officer Greg Switenky.
“It was a very frank discussion. I think in the end, the Town and the County are still prepared to fund this position.”
Following the Nov. 25th Clearview board meeting, the board informed the Town that they would agree to extend the program until the end of the 2021 school year in June, and that they would establish an exploratory committee exploring options to keep the position in the school.
The exploratory committee membership will be determined at a later time.
“It’s important that we try to solve this thing and see if there is a path forward to keeping an SRO in our community,” said Switenky.
Unlike many municipalities, due to its size Stettler is under contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to provide policing services in the community.
Under the agreement, the Town pays for eight members, though as a service that provides rural policing as well, additional members are supplied by the Province.
While the SRO is one of the eight members paid for by the Town, that officer is based out of the school, unless drawn elsewhere due to operational demands.
When the program started in 2001, the average yearly cost for an RCMP member was around $70,000.
However, over the last two decades a member costs the Town between $130,000 to $140,000.
Under the agreement, the cost for the SRO was split between the three parties, with the Town paying 25 per cent, the County paying 25 per cent, and the school board paying 50 per cent, though it should be noted that if the SRO was delegated elsewhere to meet RCMP operational needs the school board did not have to pay their share.
“(The RCMP members) are a pretty substantial line item on our budget,” said Switenky.
“If the funding partnership falls apart and the whole position becomes an expense to the Town of Stettler, it puts into jeopardy the ability to keep that position in the community.”
Despite agreeing to extend the program until the end of the 2021 school year, the Clearview Board did request that, if possible, the SRO position be moved to any vacant general duty policing position that may be available in Stettler so as to minimize costs while all parties chart the path forward.
The Town of Stettler council did agree to see about the request, though they did note that staffing is done by the RCMP and that they have little control over it.
All parties will continue discussion in the New Year to hopefully get a new agreement in place for the position.