Less than a year after the Oregon School District board members unanimously rejected the village’s version of an agreement to keep a police officer at the high school, they were much happier with the new plan.
The school board not only unanimously approved a 2020-21 deal for a school resource officer at its Monday, Aug. 10 meeting, members praised what they called a new level of cooperation with the Oregon Police Department.
The result is mostly a continuation from last year’s agreement, with an understanding that Oregon police chief Jennifer Pagenkopf will be in charge of the program and that it might need to change if she were to resign.
It states the mission of the program is to “improve school safety and the educational climate at the school” and that the SRO has three roles – educator, informal counselor/mentor and law enforcement officer. It also says the program’s goal includes providing a safe learning environment and valuable resources to school staff, fostering positive relationships with youth and developing strategies to resolve problems affecting youth and protecting all students.
The “big decision point” in the contract, district legal counsel Jina Jonen said, was deciding to reimburse the village for 700 hours of work for SRO Alex Koratko in a school year that at the very least will start virtually.
Jonen said district officials were confident Koratko would provide that value, and the board appeared to be happy with the process that led to the deal.
District officials, in particular Jonen, had been meeting over the summer with Pagenkopf and other members of the department to plan for this year’s program.
On Aug. 3, Jonen, district superintendent Leslie Bergstrom and board members Krista Flanagan and Tim LeBrun, met with the Village of Oregon’s Personnel, Public Safety and Protection Committee and agreed that no substantive changes were needed to the agreement from last year, other than updating new titles and dates.
Where they’ve come from is a much different place from Aug. 26, 2019, when the board rejected the village’s version of an agreement and then-chief Brian Uhl posted a rebuttal the next day on Facebook, leading to a rebuke from the Village Board.
That version had included, at Uhl’s request, allowing an assault rifle to be kept inside OHS and students to be interviewed by police without their parents’ presence. School board members also complained it was not clear enough about the SRO’s role as an educator, and Jonen recommended not agreeing to the village’s proposal.
Monday, Jonen told the board district officials “felt pretty strongly” they wanted to work with Pagenkopf, who succeeded Uhl as chief after he resigned in February. She said if Pagenkopf were to leave the position, “we’ll have to come back and talk about (the agreement).”
Jonen also said the SRO will have plenty to do with more than 100 students in K-4 buildings for programming and students in grades 7-12 at school occasionally for labs or social emotional learning projects.
“We do anticipate having students on campus that could need his assistance,” she said. “If we are able to add more students in person, then we anticipate that we will need significant hours from him as well, in terms of prevention strategies and education strategies.”
Flanagan credited Jonen and Pagenkopf for the time they’ve spent working on the agreement and the relationship they are building between the district and police department.
“This is really a program that is built on trust, and those two have a lot of trust, and Jenny’s worked really hard to get this program to where it’s at today from where it was a year ago,” Flanagan said.
LeBrun said he “wholeheartedly agreed” with that assessment.
“Jina and Jenny have done such a great job developing that relationship that we’ve always wanted to have (and) I can feel it’s very genuine,” he said. “They are both working very well in the interest of our kids, and I couldn’t have asked for a better relationship from them, especially concerning where we’ve come from.”