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Stafford school trustees hope to hammer out security deal

August 3, 2018 GMT

Stafford Municipal School District trustees voted unanimously Thursday to work with city officials to ensure resource officers would patrol its three schools, a marked shift from a war of words waged earlier this week between city and school officials.

School Board President Christopher Caldwell said resource officers will patrol the 3,600-student school district when school begins on Aug. 15 and that no price is too high to secure schools.

“All members of the Board of Trustees are 100 percent committed to providing a safe and secure learning environment,” Caldwell said.

The spat came at a time when school officials and parents across the country are scrambling to find ways to better protect students after a spate of school shootings caused a national uproar earlier this year. A mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, which left 10 dead and 13 wounded, also panicked many in the greater Houston area.

Questions over who should pay $186,000 in salaries for patrol officers in Texas’ only municipal school district began in spring after school officials asked the Stafford City Council to reinstate one resource officer so their ranks in the district would grow to three. The council approved but asked the school district to pick up expenses related to a patrol car.

School and city officials began to search for a 2007 agreement that details how the city funds police services for schools but were unable to locate it, said Stafford City Councilor A.J. Honore. That made it unclear which expenses each entity agreed to pay for the extra security.

Stafford police officials also stumbled upon a state law that appeared to forbid the city from giving away tax-payer funded services to other government entities, a conclusion also reached by Stafford City Attorney Leah Hayes.

At a July 25 city council meeting, Hayes told councilors the city could no longer foot the bill for the resource officers. As a result, Councilman Wen Guerra proposed a motion that the city enter into a memorandum of understanding with the school district to provide the officers. The item, which was approved by a 6-1 margin, did not specify how much the city or the district would potentially pay for those services.

Stafford MSD trustees interpreted the vote as the city abandoning its 37-year practice of funding officers in Stafford’s schools. Trustees and the school district fired off a press release lambasting the decision, which was followed by harsh rebuttal penned by city officials.

Hayes and Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella did not return requests for comment.

On Monday, however, Honore, Guerra and school board trustees seemed united in making sure resource officers would be fully funded, no matter how the arrangement between the two government agencies takes shape.

“The city has to be reimbursed, but a reimbursement figure has not been worked out,” Guerra said. “As far as I’m concerned, the schools could pay $1.”

Caldwell said city and district officials in the coming weeks would hammer out details of a cost-sharing arrangement for the officers. City councilors and trustees already scheduled a meeting to begin those conversations for next week, Caldwell said.

He said the episode boiled down to a communication breakdown.

“You had two different parties trying to solve one issue, but approaching from different angles. We didn’t come together and communicate like we should have as entities, and that’s how we had conflict,” Caldwell said. “I’m glad we’ve grown on both sides and we are trying to resolve the conflict.”

Still, Honore expressed concerns that the newly discovered state law could affect more than just security services in the district.

“The danger in changing our definition is that it will change the municipal designation we will have,” Honore said. “The question becomes can we continue to pay for SAT prep courses for seniors? Allow elementaries to use the municipal pool to train students on how to swim? Can we continue to allow the drama class to use civic center and theater without making the district pay for that time?”

shelby.webb@chron.com

Twitter.com shelby/webb