KNOXVILLE — The value of a Knoxville Police officer’s role in the city’s schools was questioned at Monday night’s city council meeting. Ultimately, a plan to extend an agreement between the city and the school district was dialed down from four years to one.
Under the agreement, the city and the Knoxville Community School District split equally the cost of School Resource Officer Kyle Keller’s salary and benefits during the school year. During the summer months, he serves as a street officer on the city’s tab.
Police Chief Dan Losada sang the praises of the agreement Monday, saying that Keller’s work in the schools builds relationships and breaks down barriers. His ongoing presence in the hallways helps KPD work more efficiently, Losada said.
Keller gets his share of high-fives from students, and these build relationships with students that have led to tips about vandalism, theft and drugs, Losada said. He also teaches students and staff about safety and dispels distrust about police, the chief noted.
“That’s the biggest thing to me,” Losada said. “They’re not afraid of the uniform.”
Council member Megan Suhr asked Losada and KCSD Superintendent Cassi Pearson many questions about the agreement. Suhr said that fewer than 10 percent of Iowa’s school districts employ school resource officers and questioned whether a smaller community like Knoxville needs a resource officer.
Suhr also sought hard data about Keller’s work in the schools. She questioned whether tasks such as checking up on truant students could be performed without the school-city agreement. Losada said data doesn’t exist for many aspects of Keller’s job, but promised to provide more regular reports.
Pearson said the day-to-day interaction with Keller is invaluable to her faculty and staff.
“Now that they’ve gotten to experience that, they’re going to have a hard time giving it up if the city decides to try to do something different, she said.
In the end, the council voted to continue the agreement with the schools, but only one year at a time. While the council was prepared to extend the agreement for four years with an opt-out clause, Council Member Dylan Morse joined with Suhr in suggesting an annual renewal. KCSD’s board still must approve the agreement.
In other action, the council set a public hearing for Nov. 20 to discuss issuing nearly $4 million in bonds to pay for improvements to the south part of Young’s Park, runway and hangar improvements at the airport, and continued street and sewer work.