Instead of choosing one, the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Area Board of Education has asked the Chetek Police Department and Barron County Sheriff’s Department to work together in providing school resource officers during school hours and activities.
For the past couple of months, the school district has been considering hiring a school resource officer. Both the Chetek Police Department and Barron County Sheriff’s Department have expressed interest in providing an officer or officers to work at the school.
In September, the board created a job description. It outlined the school’s expectations for things like staff training and building positive relationships with students. The two departments were then asked to submit proposals, along with projected costs.
Both departments submitted separate proposals on Oct. 2, and the board reviewed them for the first time on Monday, Oct. 8. Present at the meeting were board members Janene Haselhuhn, Steve Goulette and Reisner, along with Korie Lentz, appearing via conference call. Absent were Dave Bonczyk, Kelly Olson and Carri Traczyk. Also present was Superintendent Mark Johnson.
Fitzgerald addressed the board, saying he wanted to dispel some misinformation and rumors.
In early 2017, Fitzgerald approached the city of Chetek and offered to have the sheriff’s department take over policing services for the city. That proposal never went anywhere, but apparently, a variety of rumors formed over this and the district’s proposal for a school resource officer.
Fitzgerald told the board that this was not a “takeover,” that his deputy, Detective Jay Olson, did not want to become the police chief in Chetek, and it wasn’t merely “to get another position” for his department. The reason his department was looking to hire out a school resource officer was to be proactive about student safety, he said.
Fitzgerald also apologized to Kelly Olson—Det. Olson is her husband—for the pressure it had put on her and their family. The couple have children who attend the school district.
“I’m sorry for how political this position has gotten,” Fitzgerald said. “I expect the political pressure on me, but when it affects our families, I draw the line.”
The issue at hand was politics, Fitzgerald said, and was about what was best for the students and the community, he said. Det. Olson was chosen as a temporary school resource officer late last school year and that trial, went well, school officials have said. Det. Olson was continuing to work at the schools this year, as were Chetek police officers.
“I think this is truly important and we’re doing what’s right, and what’s right for the kids.” Fitzgerald said of having his department provide an school resource officer.
Chetek Police Chief Ron Ambrozaitis did not address the board before they went into closed session.
The board, along with Johnson, deliberated for about 45 minutes before reconvening in open session.
In open session, Reisner said they wanted Johnson to work with both Ambrozaitis and Fitzgerald and to come back with a joint-service plan within 60 days, after Monday, Oct. 8—by Friday, Dec. 7.
“We think that both of your departments are valuable to the school and community and it would be very impractical to exclude anybody.”
Fitzgerald asked if there would be funding available and Johnson said yes, there was funding.
“Picking one over the other, I think, puts us in a bad position, first of all, and it also leaves us open to people pointing fingers if something happens,” Johnson said. He added he personally liked working with both departments and said he thought this would work.
Det. Olson asked about what his duties would be in the meantime. Johnson said they would stay the same and asked that the departments stay involved in the schools as they had been.
“I think it only benefits to have both as much as possible,” Johnson said.
Reisner added this could be a model for other districts and Goulette said he’s heard good feedback from staff about having both departments at the schools this year.
After the meeting, both Ambrozaitis and Fitzgerald said it was a good solution and that they would work out the details to develop a joint plan.
Asked about comments on social media that questioned why districts should pay for a service that “should be free,” Fitzgerald said a school resource officer had new, extra duties. It was a new type of position that needed its own funding to sustain.
“In the meantime, we will continue to use both agencies as we have since the start of school,” Johnson said on Tuesday, Oct. 9. He noted both Det. Olson and Ambrozaitis had worked in the schools that day.
Below is the job description developed by the CWASD, which creates a formal school and law enforcement partnership.
The school resource officer position is requested to work around ten hours a week, with the school board requesting an officer be at the school from 7:45–8:15 a.m. and from 3:15–3:45 p.m. each school day. The remaining five hours should be used for building relationships with students, delivering proactive lessons to students and providing staff training on relevant topics.
The district expects the officer to be a liaison between the schools, parents, community and law enforcement for the year. Other duties expected include:
• Helping build positive relationships with students, staff and the C-W community.
• Providing training and education on safety and legal topics for students, staff and the community.
• Enhancing the collaboration between the district and law enforcement agencies and developing and implementing “proactive prevention solutions.”
• Assisting with monitoring the school facilities before, during and after school.
• Providing law enforcement as requested by the district.
Below, in summary, is what each department submitted as a proposal to the school district on Oct. 2.
• Barron County Sheriff’s Department—Det. Olson will work around 15 hours per week at the school. His shift with the department will remain 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., aligning up with regular school hours to be at the school as needed.
Fitzgerald said his department’s size—77 employees—and working relationships with the Barron County Health & Human Services Department and Rusk County Sheriff’s Department, were unique benefits. He also noted about half of the enrolled students lived in the county.
Fitzgerald proposed an annual cost of $25,000 to the district, with a five-year contract. There would be a 3 percent increase each following year, or about $750.
• Chetek Police Department—The department’s school resource officer’s hours will be determined by the department and the school district.
Ambrozaitis said his department will continue to work with students, staff and the community on issues regarding Internet crime, drug and alcohol abuse, school shooting scenarios and other safety topics, as they have been.
Ambrozaitis said the projected costs would be $10,000 per year, over a five year span. However, each year the district paid this to the department, the city of Chetek would in turn pay $10,000 toward the district’s school safety initiatives.