Joint meeting between Anchorage Assembly, school board gets heated over school resource officer funding

Anchorage Assembly members are still debating who should bear the responsibility of funding school resource officers in the Anchorage School District, and the d
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 6:20 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Assembly members are still debating who should bear the responsibility of funding school resource officers in the Anchorage School District, and the district superintendent said Friday she felt like she was under attack by some assembly members.

A joint meeting between the assembly and the Anchorage School Board on Friday started with business as usual, but things became contentious and a little heated when assembly member Forrest Dunbar asked Superintendent Deena Bishop why the district offered to fund the School Resource Officer Program in their preliminary budget.

The school board voted in February to fund 75% of the program going forward when it passed the district’s fiscal year 2023 preliminary budget.

“Why did you feel that you had to shift a significant amount of those costs into your budget?” Dunbar asked. “... We funded it. Then we overrode the mayor’s veto. I think it’s an indication that there’s strong support on the appropriating body of the municipality to support the SROs and not lay off police officers.”

He added that by the district presenting the preliminary budget in the way that it did to the school board, it “seemed” like they put them in a situation “where they had to be the bad guys and pull it out of there.” Dunbar said he thinks the municipality should have continued to bear the responsibility.

Bishop told Dunbar and the assembly members that the district offered to fund a significant portion of the program because they were not confident the municipality would, based on some previous comments assembly members made, and considering that the district’s fiscal year starts on July 1 and the city’s full funding contribution runs out June 30.

“It wasn’t a risk that I wanted to take given the financial situation we are in this year with funds,” Bishop said.

Moving on to a new school year, Bishop said “leaving it to chance” wasn’t a risk she wanted to take with the program.

Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson attributed the lack of confidence to the assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson trading vetoes on who would fund the program.

Bronson first proposed to shift 75% of the financial responsibility to the district as part of his proposed municipal budget last year. When passing the city’s budget in November, the assembly opted to restore full city funding for the program, and school officers were funded by the municipality through the rest of this school year.

Bronson vetoed several elements of the city budget, which would have returned this year’s school resource officer funding to a 25-75 split, but the assembly overrode those vetoes.

“There’s a lot of revisionist history going on here when the mayor and others show up and say, ‘we support school resource officers,’” Quinn-Davidson said. “Show me your values and put it in your budget.”

School Board President Margo Bellamy added that she feels the school district has the assembly’s support, but that she felt “conflicted” when voting on the preliminary budget.

”I don’t know that I want to say I can’t count on it, but in building this budget I wasn’t really comfortable counting on it,” Bellamy said.

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said he was disappointed by the board’s decision to fund the School Resource Officer Program, and that he didn’t know how the assembly could have made their support more clear. The assembly overrode the mayor’s veto 9-2.

Assembly member Jamie Allard, who attended the meeting by phone, said that since officers work in the school, in order for the district to take ownership of the program, they should be the ones to fund it.

At the meeting, Bishop said she felt some of the assembly members were politicizing the situation and were attacking her for the board’s decision. However, she said there is still time for the assembly to prove they are committed to funding the program.

”If the assembly shares they support the SRO program we would see that in their fiscal note,” Bishop said. “They can certainly provide the funds outside of the operational funds to pay for the SRO’s.”

Bishop said the School Resource Officer Program will cost the school district $2.3 million this upcoming fiscal year. The money is coming out of its operational budget.

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