Gillett board considers hiring an SRO

Members want budget numbers, input from new superintendent
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

Members of the Gillett School Board want to see some numbers before they commit to hiring a school resource officer to interact with students.

The board heard a presentation from local law enforcement and emergency officials about the advantages of having a police officer or sheriff’s deputy stationed at a school to be available when help is needed.

“This is much more than just purely a law enforcement role, they are actually part of what they do at the school,” said Tracy Ondik, director of the Gillett Ambulance Service, before introducing Police Chief Shane Breitenbach.

The chief described activities the officer can be involved with on an everyday basis, such as de-escalation and conflict resolution, bullying prevention, alcohol and other drug abuse education, or how to handle social media responsibly.

Officers have seen what can happen to a person’s life if they make wrong decisions, Breitenbach said.

“So when we talk to them, it’s not just a bunch of baloney like ‘It’s what it says in the book,’” he said. “We can say no, this is real life. We’ve seen it. This is what will happen, so you really need to think about your choices and decisions that you make in your life. That’s something only people who are exposed to that or have been involved in those environments could really pass on to the youth.”

The the officer would spend the entire work week at the schools, and during the summer they would help out with regular shifts, covering vacations, working special events like the Gillett Independence Day celebration and the Oconto County Youth Fair, Breitenbach said.

The Suring School District is in its second academic year with a school resource officer from the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department, which made a presentation at the March board meeting. Oconto Falls and other districts work with the officers from their local police departments. The law enforcement agency would share some of the costs with the school district.

Superintendent Wayne Johnson said he has worked with many the officers during his career in education, now in its 54th year, and during that time he has seen a shift in attitude toward police.

“I remember as a child my parents telling me, ‘If you don’t behave, that police officers going to get you.’ In my generation that’s how policemen were looked at,” Johnson said. “What we’d really like to see if this happens is the parent would say, ‘If you need help and Mom or Dad isn’t there, that man or woman officer is there to help you.’ It’s more than just a school benefit, it’s a community benefit.”

Johnson added the big question is how the district could afford to add an the officer to its staff.

Board member Jamie Heroux, who headed up an ad hoc committee, said the panel met and agreed that the district should commit to having an the officer starting with the next school year.

Board President Jamie Young said he would like to see more budget information and also have incoming Superintendent Nathan Hansen explore the issue. Hansen, currently the White Lake superintendent, starts July 1 in Gillett and attended the April 18 meeting as a guest.

“I’ve worked with SROs, and they really bring a ton of things to a school district,” Hansen said. “The big thing of course is what Dr. Johnson said, too, is weighing it against the budget.”

Board member Cliff Gerbers agreed that it should be Hansen’s recommendation.

“This type of thing on staffing should come from administration, not from the board,” Gerbers said. “I don’t think a couple of months is going to make a difference. I would like to see us further down the budget and have Nathan on board before we make any final decision.”