Montgomery County lawmakers want to revive a program that has been dramatically slashed over the last decade that assigns police officers to patrol public schools.
But County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, says she’ll hear none of it until Montgomery County Public Schools agrees to share in the burden of funding the School Resource Officer Program — and the schools say they have no business hiring or evaluating police officers.
The county funds six police officers to spend time at its 25 high schools and select middle schools. In rosier budget times, the program maintained 32 officers.
“We have saved the program from complete elimination three times now,” said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville and chairman of the Public Safety Committee. “It’s sort of deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say.”
When a $4 million grant ran dry and the recession hit, the officer program met County Executive Ike Leggett’s chopping block. The program was down to 27 officers when Leggett proposed cutting 16 in his fiscal 2011 budget.
This year, the county only paid for six officers. Rockville and Gaithersburg’s city governments fund two additional officers.
Andrews and Councilman Craig Rice, D-Germantown, are requesting that the county provide enough funding to the police department for 11 officers.
But that didn’t sit well with Ervin, who heads the council’s Education Committee and blasted the school system for not paying its own way, mentioning the schools’ 52 percent share of the county’s spending. Her constituents were concerned the county was funding police for the schools instead of their neighborhoods, Ervin said.
“These are the very kind of issues that are going to keep coming up, so once you determined, in the Board of Education, that the school system budget is the sacred cow that it is, other things will suffer, and I don’t think safety should,” she said.
Marshall Spatz, budget director for MCPS, said funding the program through the school system would backfire because, under state law, the council would have to maintain that funding level per student each year — and MCPS is in the midst of an enrollment boom.
And, he said, the school system felt uncomfortable managing the program if it came under their funding purview. “They are law officers,” Spatz said. “We are not able to do that.”