Verona Area High School July 2020

The “social stairs” on the southern side of the new Verona Area High School. The stairs, which are both inside and outside of the building, are a place that district administration hope are heavily used by students during lunchtimes or for studying.

The Verona Area School District won’t have a City of Verona police officer regularly walking the halls of the high school this school year.

The district’s Board of Education accepted the recommendation of district administrators to not enter into a contract with the city for a police-school liaison officer (PSLO) at its Monday, Feb. 1, meeting. The board didn’t take a vote on the recommendation – a vote would have been required had there been an updated contract for the 2020-21 school year, but the previous one had expired last June without a new one replacing it.

Superintendent Dean Gorrell said he had consulted with district director of safety Corey Saffold and incoming superintendent Tremayne Clardy for the recommendation, as well as high school principal Pam Hammen. A large part of the reason, he said, was because of the reduced number of students at Verona Area High School each day throughout the rest of the school year, even after many in-person classes resume later this month.

Only around one-third of the school’s population – around 600 students – is expected on campus each day, Gorrell said. Around half of the district’s families have indicated they will prefer their children eat lunch at home, with around only 150 students in the school during each lunch period, reducing the busiest time of the day when police presence is often most needed.

Gorrell also cited the growth of the district’s security team at the high school, which has since doubled to have six security members for the larger campus.

“Given all of that, we don’t believe a contract is necessary,” he said.

Gorrell told the board he was planning to meet with city administrator Adam Sayre and police chief Bernie Coughlin later this week to discuss the potential for future contracts for the 2021-22 school year and beyond.

Sayre said in a Tuesday, Feb. 2, email to the Press that the city remains willing to work on a new contract with the district.

“With or without an agreement, the City of Verona Police Department is always willing to assist the Verona Area School District (VASD) with any emergency or non-emergency needs or requests,” he wrote. “The Verona Area High School is part of our community and we will respond to help them in the same manner as we would for any other community member(s).”

At the previous board meeting on Monday, Jan. 25, some board members were upset by the suggested edits made to the draft contract by the city. They suggested the city lacked the desire to compromise with the proposal the board had made last July.

Many of those proposed changes made by the city in the draft contract were sent back to the district in September, where many were either cut out of the contract or modified.

The board’s changes in July included codifying the goal of the PSLO from both the district and city’s points of view to ensure they’re the same; ensuring improved relationships between the PSLO and students; and restorative justice provision for students over 17 in an effort to reduce citations and arrests.

The city and police department cited department protocols as the reason for taking out other revised provisions of the contract. The city stated having a PSLO work year-round for the school district would be detrimental to the department’s staffing requirements and that the training for the PSLO would not be possible, as it would require the training to be done by the entire department and would create unnecessary staffing and overtime expenses.

Board member Meredith Stier Christensen said she felt forgoing a PSLO contract for the remainder of the school year was a reasonable decision, given the reduction of students on campus and the additional security team members.

Board president Noah Roberts added that he was interested in having the board reconsider a dean of students position, which was one of the alternative options to a PSLO that Saffold presented to the board last July.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.

News Editor

Kimberly Wethal joined Unified Newspaper Group in 2018, where she serves as the news editor for four publications and primarily covers the Verona Area School District and the City of Fitchburg. She previously was an intern with UNG starting in 2013.