URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Council members cleared the way for Urbana’s school district to end its school resource officer program, but the school board voted 5-2 to approve its 2020-2021 budget, including the SRO program.
The council passed resolution Monday night essentially stepping out of the board’s way. The school board met Tuesday night and after a meeting spanning more than three hours, ultimately voted to approve its budget, with $327,000 included for the SRO program. Board members debated amending that particular line item to reflect COVID-19’s impact on in-person learning, but ultimately did not cherry pick any items within the budget that had been set.
School board vice president Tori Exum said it would be unfair to have a full discussion of whether SROs belong in schools in the context of the budget vote on Tuesday rather than at a future date with more advance notice.
“We owe it to these kids, to the administrators and to the people in the schools every day to give them an opportunity to say whether they’re in agreement,” Exum said. “We owe it to that majority [in favor of SROs] to say, ‘hey, we are back at the table on this and we want to hear from you again.'”
She criticized some of the vocal opponents of the SRO program that have been speaking out in public comments at school board and city council meetings. Exum also pointed to some of the letters written by students to board members that were read aloud Tuesday night in support of the SRO program.
“We don’t see you at these events,” she said. “That’s what these kids are saying. That’s what you hear in their letters. How dare you? That’s what they’re saying… It’s time to step up. If you have so much to say about the bad stuff that’s happening in our schools, why don’t we see you in our schools?”
The school board approved funding for an SRO program in late 2019. School board president Anne Hall and member Peggy Patten, the two to vote against the budget, maintained they were not focused on a debate of the merits of the SRO program at Tuesday’s meeting, but rather whether it would be practical to maintain the same funding for the program if students remain remote or return at lower levels for hybrid-learning later in the year.
“I’m not advocating we revisit every issue we’ve voted on, but everything has changed since December for our district,” Hall said. “And I’m trying to stick to tonight’s discussion of our budget and I agree with Peggy. There are so many ways we can spend our money and I don’t believe it’s possible for an SRO to do the job that they’re contracted to do with no students in the building.”
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said until instructed otherwise, the school district will move forward with training and including SROs within the support team. She spoke at Monday night’s council meeting about the debate as well.
“We value our SROs,” Ivory-Tatum said. “I think we have the opportunity to do something great.”