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Local: Education

Montgomery County Council says no extra school officers without concrete plan

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Local,Maryland,Education,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Montgomery County lawmakers said they won't give the public schools more resource police officers until school officials create a concrete plan on how they would be used.

County Executive Ike Leggett has proposed adding six more school officers in his fiscal 2014 budget, which would double the current workforce, but County Council members criticized the lack of clarity on how the officers would be used.

Council members asked Montgomery County Public Schools and the county police to write a memorandum of understanding to establish a hierarchy of responsibility and an operating plan for officers countywide. Currently, the school principal decides when an officer can intervene in incidents involving students.

Increased security in schools has become an increasingly hot issue in districts across the county after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut in December.

Police officers in Montgomery County are assigned to specific schools to assist when situations involving law enforcement arise. They also provide training to students and can provide safety assistance for after-school activities.

Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, suggested the council make extra officers contingent on a new plan by MCPS and police. He said the county has gone too long hearing "rumblings" about the necessity of such a plan without one being created.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, also said she was frustrated that every year, MCPS and police promise to make an agreement about implementation but never produce one. She said the council needs a plan since money for the resource officers comes out of the county's pocket -- not the school board's.

"As fiscal stewards, we are being asked to fund something without knowing if it's going to be viable," she said, adding that MCPS "can't even come to the table" to discuss funding for the officers.

Robert Hellmuth, director of school safety and security at MCPS, said the district is dedicated to working with police to make sure there's a protocol in place before the resource officers go to their assigned schools.

The county funds the six current resource officers and various other safety measures, such as crossing guards, for the school district for about $286.3 million. That is not included as part of MCPS' budget.

School officers were put into schools in 2002, with a $4 million grant that put 32 officers in Montgomery County schools. In 2010, that number was scaled back to 27 and has since dwindled to six officers. Including patrol officers who assist in schools, there are 14 officers working with MCPS.

Police and MCPS officials said they would work to get a memorandum of understanding before summer.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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