Council Rejects Agreement with District for SROs

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Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The Middleton City Council rejected the intergovernmental agreement with the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District to provide school resource officers (SRO) for the 2020-21 school year at Middleton High School (MHS) and Kromrey Middle School.

The agreement which was approved at the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) Board of Education June 22 meeting came under scrutiny from district social workers and staff, alumni, parents and a district formed committee established to address racial equity in student and staff interactions when it was passed in the board’s consent agenda without discussion.

Under the agreement the city provides two officers for MHS and Kromrey and the district reimburses the city for 50 percent of the actual wages, fringe benefits, overtime and related officer compensation incurred over a 10 month period for each SRO. The city’s 2020 budget indicates the district paid the city $87,076.

The Village of Cross Plains provides the SRO at Glacier Creek Middle School, which the village board unanimously approved at its June 30 meeting.

Mayor Grudip Brar and council members said they received numerous emails and a petition in the days leading up to the meeting calling for the SRO program to be cancelled or put on hold while it is reevaluated.

Ald. Robert Burke, who made the motion to reject the contract, said he came into the meeting having read numerous emails but felt he lacked the full story. He said he also felt the school board should be making the decision.

“I came into this meeting thinking this is not the place to stop the SRO program, after hearing all of the people with their stories, with their data, I found myself swayed,” Burke said. “That is why I am voting for rejection of the SRO program.”

During the public comment period more than a dozen people spoke in opposition to the council approving the agreement.

Former MCPASD student Hanna Noughani said as a person of color she did not feel the police created positive relationships with students.

“They are daunting figures in the schools, scary and they don’t belong there,” Noughani said.

Another alumni, Stephen Kollison, said as an African-American student he felt the greatest crime happening in the district was the low graduation rate among Black students.

“In 2014 MHS was rated the top school in all of Wisconsin, in that same year only 52 percent of the Black students were able to graduate in four years from that school,” Kollison said. “That is a crime.”

Former student Peter Opitz said he is concerned about students of color in the district who have trauma related to police involved deaths. He would like the funds put towards more social workers, counselors and educators.

Opitz said Middleton is not different from other cities with racial disparities in policing.

“The Middleton Police department takes a progressive approach to community policing but despite the departments well intentioned initiatives their arrest records show a different story,” Opitz said. “During the past three years arrests of Black individuals have increased over 30 percent despite a nine percent decrease in total arrests. As of 2018 Black people made up just 5.1 percent of Middleton’s population but comprised over 27 percent of the arrests.”

Former student Lauren Dahler stated that  Madison said there is no data to support the argument that police prevent violence in schools, while there is related to hyper-penalization of Black students and underinvestment in their academic success.

“If you wait and approve this contract you are harming students of color and ensuring that the racial achievement gap widens even further,” Dahler said.

Jeff Wissink, a member of the MHS School Community Partnership Committee, parent of two MCPASD students and 25 year veteran of law enforcement, asked the council to vote no or table the agreement.

“I am a huge supporter of law enforcement, I love my Middleton police officers, but we have to use data, and we have to use intelligence when it comes to how we allocate our resources and where we put our police officers,” Wissink said.

Wissink urged council members not to rely on their own personal experiences when making their decision.

“If you really care about the kids, you want to try to work on this achievement gap, get the cops out of the schools, it doesn’t mean the police won’t need to be in the school at some point,” Wissink said. “If there is criminal activity or the school district is concerned about something they can always call the police, have them come and consult them or download video and let them investigate.”

Janet Legare, a pediatrician, said she does not approve of having officers in middle schools.

“Having police in schools emphasizes more punishment and increases anxiety in students,” Lugare said.

Parent Caitlin Singleton said her children are fearful of Middleton police because of negative experiences their father, a Black man, has had.

Another parent, Vivek Balasubramaniam, said he was disappointed that the school board approved the contract without community input and consideration while evidence shows the program may be harmful to some students.

Middleton Youth Center Director Gabrielle Hinahara who also serves on the MHS School Community Partnership Committee said she was surprised to learn the SRO agreement was passed by the school board.

Hinahara said there was some discussion related to continuing the SRO program at the committee’s June 9. Despite school board president Annette Ashley and superintendent Dana Monogue sitting on the committee and being present at that meeting the agreement renewal was not mentioned.

“On June 22 the school board voted unanimously to renew their agreement with the Cross Plains and Middleton police departments with little to no community or staff input or consultation with the group specifically tasked to work on racial equity within the district,” Hinahara said.

Hinahara, along with 10 other members of the committee, penned a letter to the board calling on it to delay the agreement until the SRO program was reevaluated.

The board also received letters signed by all the district’s social workers and the West Middleton Equity Team calling for a review of the program.

She said in her experience working with underprivileged kids at the youth center more resources are needed.

“What I see at the youth center are students who need greater access to school support staff including counselors and social workers, students who need opportunities for restorative justice conversations when conflicts arise and students who need and deserve an antiracist education,” Hinahara said. “The resources used to fund SROs could instead fund these efforts.”

MCPASD alumni Maia Brunel-Hamel, Margaux Sorenson and Lew Blank also urged the council to vote against the agreement.

During the council discussion Ald. Luke Fuszard said the council hasn’t heard an organized response from the police in defense of the program.

“It's too big of an issue for us to make a definitive determination about the long term future of this program within 72 hours,” Fuszard said.

Ald. Susan West said she was disturbed by the timeline for which people were asking. She said she is in favor of waiting and gathering more data.

“Simply removing the SROs is not going to solve that educational gap,” West said.

West said she believes there are positive aspects to the program and is not convinced SROs are sending students of color off on a life of crime. West said the decision needs to be made by the school board.

Ald. Kathy Olson said she was uncomfortable with the fact the school board passed the SRO contract in its consent agenda with no discussion. She added Middleton has room for improvement in the ratio of students to social workers and she does not think middle school is a place to have police officers, but the city should not pull the plug without having a plan in place.

Ald. Mark Sullivan said the decision to end the program should be made by the school board but suggested amending the agreement to terminate in December to put pressure on the school board to make a plan.

Ald. Burke said the evaluation could move forward without keeping the officers in place while it happens.

“I do not like the idea of delaying this another six months,” Burke said.

Mayor Brar said he was also troubled that the school board approved the agreement in a consent agenda and that it also appeared in the council’s consent agenda noting he was especially troubled that the MHS School Community Partnership Committee was not consulted.

Ald. Olson asked if there is any issue for the district in delaying approval of the agreement.

School board president Ashley said she would not like to shorten the timeframe for the board to make a decision on the SRO program, which was planned for January.

“We are committed to thoroughly reviewing and evaluating our SRO program,” Ashley said. “We want to learn directly from those involved in the program. We want to hear from our students of color that are impacted by this program at all three schools.”

Ashley said the board would also like to hear from principles, staff, families and community members.

Olson asked Ashley if the board could commit to starting the discussion at the board’s next meeting. Ashley responded the next agenda is committed to the fall reopening plan and that the board would prefer more time to review the program.

Council president Dan Ramsey said he would also like to hear more voices relating to the SRO program, including those who’ve been impacted by it, but on the other hand a year to review was a big ask.

City attorney Larry Bechler explained that the council’s action to reject the agreement does not prevent the school district from resubmitting it at a later time.

“[Rejecting the agreement] does not eliminate the topic, it simply eliminates the proposal,” Bechler said. “If a different or the same proposal came back later it would stand on its own feet separate from what is before you today.”

The intergovernmental agreement was rejected on a split vote by the council with Mayor Brar breaking the tie voting yes to reject it.

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