City, BPS seek compromise on credits - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:56 pm
City, BPS seek compromise on credits

The recent negotiations about how much Bellevue Public Schools will pay for school resource officers isn’t a dispute about the district sharing the cost of the program.

Superintendent Frank Harwood said the schools have agreed to share the costs. The two public entities must now determine what credit, if any, BPS gets for other services it provides city residents.

The city first asked BPS to pay for the resource officers in summer 2011, when City Administrator Dan Berlowitz noted that the majority of cities that provide resource officers at least split the cost, as Bellevue does for two officers who are assigned to Omaha Public Schools buildings.

A request that BPS also share costs was not made in time to be included in the district’s 2011-12 budget, and the issue went unresolved. OPS continued to support half the cost of its resource officers, while BPS allowed the City of Bellevue to keep picking up the check.

That discrepancy caught the eye of Councilwoman Carol Blood, who argued that Bellevue taxpayers are paying differing amounts for school resource officers depending on whether they live in the Omaha or Bellevue school districts.

“It needs to be what it is, which is fair and equal,” Blood said.

Omaha Public Schools contracts for two full-time Bellevue police officers to patrol two buildings and pays nearly $50,000 for the service. BPS agreed $50,000 would cover its share of the cost of the two BPS resource officers, but negotiations have focused on how much credit the district should receive for facility use and other services provided to the city.

The school board approved a payment of $25,000 for the current fiscal year, based on the district’s estimate that it provides an additional $25,000 worth of facility use and other services to the city.

That offer struck Blood and others on the council as too little, and a vote on the contract was tabled until Monday’s council meeting. Meanwhile, Berlowitz was sent back to the negotiating table to get a better deal for the city.

Blood estimates the Bellevue Police Department has provided $1.5 million in free services to the Bellevue schools over the past decade, and she said she wants BPS to pay the full $50,000 that OPS already pays.

When the conversation first surfaced, Harwood said he began to look at what the Bellevue school district does for the city government to see if there was a disparity between the two public entities.

“If we’re going to start asking one side to pay for the other side, we need to start looking at the benefit they get as well,” Harwood said. “It’s really easy to remember the things that you do for others, and you don’t always remember the things they do for you.”

As budgets get tighter, it’s worth asking whether one side benefits more than the other and how to save taxpayer money, he said. Harwood said his discussions with Berlowitz have been “very amicable.”

“There’s nothing unhealthy about the conversation,” Harwood said. “This is not a battle between the city and the school district in any way.”

While the City of Bellevue is not quite alone among neighboring jurisdictions in demanding at least some compensation for its school resource officers, Bellevue doesn’t have as much company in Sarpy County.

Papillion City Administrator Dan Hoins said the Papillion-La Vista School District pays nothing for the officers provided by the Papillion Police Department. Darren Carlson, the city’s community relations coordinator, said PLSD does provide space for officers in its facility and any incidental costs.

Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis said Sarpy County receives no compensation for stationing an officer at Bellevue’s Lewis & Clark Middle School. However, BPS does provide the sheriff’s office space the deputy uses as a base to serve nearby schools.

Davis said the deputy the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office provides is technically not a resource officer but is supposed to teach solely the DARE and GREAT drug- and gang-resistance programs.

The Bellevue Police Department provides officers to teach those programs in other BPS buildings. The Bellevue police no longer assigns officers to Mission or Logan Fontenelle middle schools.

Sheriff’s deputies also are stationed in Gretna Public Schools and Springfield Platteview Community Schools buildings, and both districts pay the county for that service. Davis said the exact amount paid by each of the districts was not immediately available.

The La Vista Police Department doesn’t have a school resource officer, said Mitch Beaumont, the city’s community relations coordinator.

La Vista, along with Papillion, does provide officers at no charge to the Papillion-La Vista School District to teach the DARE program in elementary schools.

Both Papillion-La Vista high schools are located in Papillion’s jurisdiction.

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