WATERFORD — Whenever school is in session, there is now also at least one police officer at Waterford Union High School.
The Waterford Village Board released emergency funds on Dec. 3 to pay for the school resource officer. That was the day after a 17-year-old student was shot at Waukesha South High School by a police officer when the student allegedly pointed a gun at an officer; the student had actually brought pellet guns to school, but officers didn’t know that at the time.
Waukesha South is located about 11 miles north of the Tichigan area of the Town of Waterford.
Other Wisconsin schools also experienced gun scares during the first week of December.
Now, the Waterford High School District’s constituents will be asked to vote on whether the school should keep the officer.
On Monday night, the School Board unanimously approved putting a referendum on the April 7 ballot. The referendum will ask voters if the school will be allowed to exceed its revenue cap, starting with the 2020-2021 school year, by up to $95,000 to keep the officer in the school.
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The district encompasses both the Town and Village of Waterford, and parts of Rochester, Dover, Norway and Raymond.
Discussions of placing a school resource officer in the school have been going on for months. In July, progress on those discussions stalled. Leaders of the school district, Village of Waterford and Town of Waterford all agreed that the high school should have an officer placed there. But they disagreed on how the officer position should be funded and the scope of the assigned officer’s duties.
With this referendum, that debate could be settled by voters.
The village’s emergency funds only pay for the officer into April, Waterford High School Principal Dan Foster said.
“I would like to thank, publicly, the village for stepping up to provide funds for our SRO,” School Board President Don Engler said at the conclusion of Monday’s bard meeting.
Foster said he has been happy with how the SRO has worked so far. Having an officer in the school has improved efficiencies, including during a K-9 search of the school that occurred earlier this month and safety inspections. It also reduces response times when an officer is needed for an emergency or to take a report.
Strengthening the connection between law enforcement and the school also is beneficial, Foster said. He cited the example of “the vaping epidemic everyone talks about.” If there’s a major bust of illegal vaping products nearby, or if a new product hits the market that’s popular with teenagers, the police officer can quickly relay that information to school administrators.
Three or four officers from the Town of Waterford Police Department serve as the SRO on a rotation basis, Foster said. The Police Department serves both the town and village.