Education City cuts school officer position

August 13, 2005

Hood River City Police Officer Tiffany Hicks is not going to be around to greet students when school starts this year.

Hicks has been put back on patrol and her position as School Resource Officer is on hiatus — at least for the upcoming year.

Bob Francis, city manager, said budget constraints led to the decision that Hicks resume regular duties.

He said the city could not afford to pick up the $70,000-$75,000 annual cost for her specialized role. He said it was unfair to ask city taxpayers to shoulder that financial burden when two of the three schools that she served were outside of the city limits.

The Hood River School District pledged $30,000 toward Hicks’ wages and benefits — but only if the Oregon Legislature came through with extra funding. However, Francis still didn’t know whether that would happen or not when the budget figures were being set in late June. So, he and Bruce Ludwig, city police chief, decided that Hicks’ time should be dedicated to public safety until the issue was resolved.

“With our budget being as tight as it is, we just couldn’t commit to something when the funds were that uncertain,” said Francis.

Hicks said it has been very difficult, after four years on the job, to contemplate not being a mentor for at-risk youth anymore.

“I have really appreciated having the chance to work in the schools and its been so rewarding for me personally. It’s greatly disappointing to have it end,” she said.

School Superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady is hopeful the SRO program can still be revived. She believes strongly that a proactive law enforcement presence at Hood River Middle School, Wy’east Middle School and Cascade Locks School has yielded good results.

“I hope this position is not going to go away for the year. We do feel the need for an SRO and have explored expanding that role into the high school,” said Evenson-Brady.

She said the “frustration” of the district is that it cannot commit to long-term funding under the current state budgetary system. It is impossible, said Evenson-Brady, to know what will be available more than one year at a time. Therefore, until legislative changes are made, she said there are no firm guarantees that even classroom needs will be met.

“We are certainly interested in partnering with a law enforcement agency and having an SRO. What we are unable to do — ever — under the current system is make a long-term commitment about that funding,” she said.

Without that long-term guarantee from the city and school, Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler is hesitant to take over the program. Ludwig has approached him about applying for the same federal funds the city first used to hire Hicks. Under that grant from the Department of Justice, the money for an SRO was paid on a decreasing scale over four years. The intent was to give the city time to accommodate the funding in its budget. In return for accepting the federal dollars, the city was mandated to pay the full cost for Hicks’ position during the final year.

Wampler does not want to apply for the federal aid if he cannot cover the expenses for the SRO down the road. He said that would go against his fiscal policy of never committing resources to something unless his regular budget can already cover the costs.

“It’s something we’d really love to do but, at this point, with everyone’s financial situation, there is no guarantee,” he said.

Ludwig said if Hicks’ time is dedicated toward SRO duties, her role needs to be full-time. He said it is impossible for a part-time patrol officer to keep abreast of investigations and other duties.

“We need to make sure that a patrol officer is focused on the fundamentals of policing and that is providing excellent customer service,” said Ludwig.

Meanwhile, as the school year approaches and it seems unlikely that Hicks will be back on the job, HRMS Principal Bob Dais said the students are going to be “heartsick.” For the past five years, he said Hicks has taught preteens and teens about making proactive and healthy lifestyle choices. She has also been invaluable in handling child abuse complaints and lining needy families up with help from area service agencies.

“It’s just an unbelievable loss for our school. Tiffany had a unique ability to deal with children who are working through some difficult circumstances. Kids love her, they talk to her and she helps them,” said Dais.

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