By McKenzie Williams
Last Tuesday, June 18, at the Libby Public School’s Administration Building, 2,047 residents turned out to cast their ballots regarding the proposed general fund mill levy which would have funded a School Resource Officer (SRO).
The levy was defeated by 235 votes with 44% in favor and 56% against.
The SRO would have been a sworn law enforcement officer who worked in Libby’s public schools during the school year and in the community during the summers.
The position would have been primarily responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools.
Libby Public Schools had a SRO in the past, thanks to grant funding, but when the grant ended so did the position.
“There are many positives to having a specially trained person like a law enforcement officer in our buildings. We live in some everchanging times, and in schools we are seeing more and more issues of mental health, tobacco use, and other at-risk behaviors that an SRO can work with in a positive, proactive manner. This person would be able to do everything from teaching preventative measures, to registering and training our youngsters about bike safety. Schools utilize these positions more as a proactive approach to education, then a reactive approach to law enforcement,” said Craig Barringer, Superintendent of Libby Public Schools.
Some money had already been given by Flathead Electric Cooperative to pay for 30% of the SRO position for five years. The money had been approved late last year, and although the district would have liked to take advantage of the opportunity, funding the remainder of the position was not in the budget.
Libby Public Schools was asking taxpayers for a permanent $70,000 annual levy to fund the SRO. The increase would have meant an increase in property taxes. An increase of $14.88 per year for a home valued at $200,000 was anticipated, but only property owners would have been responsible for paying the SRO’s wages.
Barringer said the school will not give up on finding a way to take advantage of the opportunity for an SRO in Libby.
“We will continue to look for ways to fund a School Resource Officer,” he said. “School districts around the state are looking for ways to fund positions similar to this. We will look for grants or opportunities to work with our local law enforcement to find ways to implement a SRO program of some kind.”