The Hudson School District will pay 75 percent of the cost of having a police officer in the high school if the Hudson City Council has its way.
Monday night, the council directed City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick to draft a contract containing the new cost-sharing percentage. The understanding was that it would be forwarded to the Hudson Board of Education.
Until now, the city and school district have split the cost of Liaison Officer Mark Crimmin's salary, benefits and equipment expenses 50/50 for 10 months of the year. On an annual basis, the city has borne roughly 58.3 percent of the cost of the position, and the school district, 41.7 percent.
"The city has been carrying far too much of the cost for this officer," Alderperson Lori Bernard said during Monday night's discussion of the issue.
Mayor Dean Knudson said the question of liaison officer funding arose last summer when the school district asked for another officer for the middle school.
"We just couldn't fit it in our budget," Knudson said.
He said there's agreement among all of the parties on the value of having a liaison officer in a school, but the city has been paying an inequitable share of the cost.
Knudson said he had researched the school-municipality split of the costs for liaison officers in other Wisconsin school districts, and the city of Hudson is paying more than most communities.
In some communities, the school district picks up 100 percent of the cost, and in others, 80 percent, he said.
Knudson said it was hard to find any school district paying less for a liaison officer than the Hudson district.
Under the old agreement, the city would pay $53,527 of the $91,760 total cost of the liaison officer position in 2009. The total includes $87,010 in salary and benefits for Crimmins, plus $4,750 in equipment costs.
The contract between the city and the school district on funding of the position expired at the end of 2008.
Knudson said he had been negotiating with school officials for a change in the funding formula, but so far they had resisted a significant increase in the school's share of the costs.
"I'm a supporter of the police-school liaison position," he said. "We've got a lot of common ground. We asked for a tweaking of the pay, and it didn't happen."
In a meeting that preceded the City Council meeting, the council's Finance Committee recommended writing a new contract under which the school district would fund 75 percent of the position expenses.
The Finance Committee also recommended giving the school the option of being billed on an hourly (prorated) basis for the officer's actual cost to the city.
Bernard said that would allow the school to use the liaison officer as much as its budget permits. The city would use the officer in another capacity when he wasn't at the school, and the city would pay for his work outside the school.
Knudson chairs the Finance Committee. The other members are alderpersons Lee Wyland, Alan Burchill and Lori Bernard.
The rest of the council also supported the recommendation.
Alderperson Scot O'Malley said city residents were in effect being "double-taxed" for the liaison officer position because they also pay 41 percent of the school taxes.
The city's argument is that the school tax more equitably distributes cost of the liaison officer position. Most of the district's students are from one of the outlying municipalities, yet the city has been the biggest funder of the position.
Hudson Police Chief Marty Jensen warned the council that if the school district balked at paying more for a liaison officer and discontinued the position, the number of police calls to the school would increase.
"He's doing a lot of police work in the school," Jensen said of Crimmins.
He reported that the liaison officer issued 245 tickets to high school students last year, including 139 for truancy.
Crimmins frequently investigates cases of theft, underage drinking or drug possession, Jensen said.
He said that before the high school had a liaison officer, the police were being called to the school two or three times a day.
Bernard replied that the need for the law enforcement is being created at the school, and the school should pay for it.
Jensen countered that the police are frequently called to businesses to deal with shoplifters, and the businesses aren't charged for that service.
In an issue sheet presented to council members, Jensen said his research indicated that in a majority of Wisconsin communities, the cost of school-police liaison officer is split 50/50 between the school district and the municipality.
He said Hudson school officials had proposed that the district be allowed to "ease into" the 50/50 split.
The district was willing to pay 55 percent of the program costs for 10 months of 2009, Jensen said. The city would pay 100 percent of the liaison officer's salary and benefits the remaining two months.
In 2010, the school district and the city would split the cost of the position 50/50 for the entire year.
How the Hudson Board of Education reacts to the city's contract proposal remains to be seen.