Camas officials mull 50-50 split to keep officers in schools

City of Camas, CSD may split costs to retain two SROs

Camas Police Chief Tina Jones approached Camas City Council members this week with a request for city officials to increase the city’s share of a 23-year-old funding agreement between the city and the Camas School District that pays for two school resource officers (SROs).

If approved by city council and Camas School Board members, the new agreement would replace the old funding formula — in which the school district paid for 75% of the costs associated with the two SROs and the city footed the remaining 25% — with a 50-50 split between the city and the school district.

Jones and Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone appeared before the Camas City Council on Monday, Aug. 7, to talk about the need for the funding change.

“The financial situation in the school district has recently changed and forced them to come to some difficult decisions regarding positions (and expenditures),” Jones told the Council, referring to the school district’s decreasing enrollment, revenues and more than $5 million in budget cuts ahead of the 2023-24 school year.

The proposed change would likely cost the city between $50,000 and $60,000 in annual, unbudgeted expenses, Jones said.

“The amendment would also have to be considered by the school board,” the police chief said. “It will allow us to maintain two assigned SROs, which is a great benefit to parents, staff, students and the community at large.”

Jones told city council members that SROs try to build trust with Camas youth during the course of their days inside Camas schools. Sometimes, Jones said, those types of relationships pay off in big ways.

“Last week, one officer responded to a call and was able to save the life of a youth who was despondent and dangling over a bridge in our city,” Jones said. “The relationship the SRO had with that youth was key to a positive outcome.”

Anzalone said he had the opportunity to discuss the program with Jones and her predecessor, retired police chief Mitch Lackey.

“Mitch shared how important that relationship with the city and schools has been over his career, and said he would like (the SRO program) to continue,” Anzalone told city councilors Monday.

The new funding agreement — which city councilors will consider during their next regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 21 — would save the school district enough money to pay for one full-time staff position, Anzalone added.

Camas City Councilman Don Chaney, who served as the city’s police chief prior to Lackey, said Monday that he was in favor of retaining the SRO program inside Camas’ schools.

“That relationship is so valuable,” Chaney said. “My predecessor implemented that strategy … and the relationship (officers) have with our schools is special.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu also lent her support to the SRO program, saying Monday that she believes the program is “extremely important.”

Anzalone told Camas school board members in June that district administrators had considered reducing the program to one SRO instead of two due to the district’s budget constraints, but that conversations with city officials, including Camas Mayor Steve Hogan, indicated city officials might be open to paying more to retain two SROs in Camas schools.

“I talked to the mayor and council and, almost immediately, they said, “What do we need to do to keep two officers in our schools?’” Anzalone said.

Corey McEnry, the president of the Camas School Board, said the SRO program was “a perfect example of the city-schools relationship and what it’s supposed to be doing.”

Camas City Council members plan to take up the issue again during their next Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 21.