This assurance came from both the Stafford Police Chief Richard Ramirez and Stafford MSD Board of Trustees President Christopher Caldwell following an email announcement from the school district last week calling the city “irresponsible” for its July 25 decision to not fund three police officers as paid school resource officers.
In that email, school board trustees blasted city officials saying they were caught off guard by the city’s decision to discontinue an old agreement that allowed the city to pay for school officers.
“This is an unprecedented move in the history of Stafford and one that works against the district’s commitment to safety. With less than a month until the 2018-2019 school year begins, the district was blindsided by an irresponsible decision that will affect our entire community,” the school communication said.
One board trustee, school board Vice President Xavier Herrera, said in the email that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.
“Without a clear plan in place or availability of discussion prior to the vote is consciously irresponsible,” Herrera said.
“Playing politics in today’s climate places our students and staff in unnecessary danger,” Herrera added.
But the police chief said he has been in talks with school superintendent since March. In June the new board president took over negotiations and communications broke down, the chief said.
“They were asked to draft something in their best interest and they didn’t. I’m not trying to air dirty laundry but we tried to work it out and quite frankly, politicians got involved and messed it all up,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez also countered the school’s “irresponsible’ claim by saying the school’s communication blast misrepresented the facts, unfairly targeted the mayor and unduly alarmed residents.
“They’ve had this information and it could have been written into their budget. According to their email blast, they make it look like the mayor is behind it, but I ran it past them first and they failed to respond,” said the chief.
The school district’s email stirred up a maelstrom of finger pointing, accusations and illustrations of the politically charged atmosphere in Stafford.
Since the district’s inception, the city of Stafford provided police on the campus grounds. It started with one DARE officer years ago and the police chief said he recently wanted to add a third police officer to the school. He asked the school to pay for the officer’s police cruiser for about $52,000.
This is where the conflicting statements begin.
New board president Caldwell requested an inter-local agreement and that’s when the city learned the law changed 11 years ago and they were working with old statutes that no longer allow the city to provide services to the school without fair compensation.
Caldwell said he asked the chief and mayor to contact him and it never happened. The chief said he asked the school to draft its own agreement favorable to the school and it never happened.
“It’s a municipal school district so I thought it don’t apply to us because we are a municipality. But our city attorney said no,” Ramirez explained.
Ramirez said he was working with the superintendent.
“I don’t negotiate with elected officials and the superintendent and I worked together and we thought that was going along just fine. But in June the communications stopped, the superintendent said all negotiations had to go through the new board president so I requested for the mayor to get involved,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said they initially asked the school to write up an inter-local agreement and the school refused.
“Because we were running short on time six weeks ago, I sent it to the school for their review and I got no response. The (city) attorney did all the legalese in it and again I asked for their response. I heard nothing and assumed they were fine with it. So I sent it to our mayor. The school had this before our mayor,” Ramirez said.
In his research, the police chief said that most schools pay 100 percent of the training, salary, and benefits of police officers for the entire year. He asked the school to reimburse the city for the police presence on campus. That would mean compensation for two officers nine months of the year and one officer 10 months of the year. He also asked the school to split the maintenance costs for a police cruiser.
The inter-local agreement not only addresses compensation, it also gives Stafford police jurisdiction on the Stafford campus. Currently, only the superintendent can give permission.
Ramirez said his hands are tied by the law.
“I can’t go above and beyond. If I provide that service for Stafford because Fort Bend Independent School District is in Stafford, I would have to do that for them as well,” said the police chief.
During the July 25 meeting, the Stafford City Council struggled with the idea. But the city attorney explained they had to come up with an agreement that showed fair compensation, which could not be an arbitrary $1 or $10 fee.
They voted 6-1 to change their policy with council member AJ. Honore providing the only no vote. Honore said he did not have any problem with recognizing the need for an agreement in place.
“We should have one before school starts, but why does this agreement not reflect what we do now. This is a huge policy shift and not reflective of how we currently operate,” he said.
At one point the city attorney suggested they could even consider getting back pay for services rendered. That idea was nixed by Mayor Leonard Scarcella.
“If we went back to 1982 and computed everything we’d have a large portion of the school fund balance. I don’t want any misunderstanding. I don’t want to go back one day to get payback for what was done in previous years. You mentioned we could consider that, but it won’t be initiated from me,” Scarcella said.
Despite the mayor’s comments last week, Honore issued a statement Monday agreeing with the school district and blasting the mayor for “abusive use of authority.”
“Mayor Scarcella’s opposition to Stafford’s 37-year policy of providing support to SMSD has focused on an interpretation of a Texas code that does not expressly apply to the City’s unique relationship to the only municipal school district in Texas and cannot logically be implied to prohibit the City of Stafford from structuring an agreement to continue providing municipal school security for our children,” Honore said in a prepared statement.
“This is simply a wild misperception to shift resources from the school and mislead the conversation of poor budget planning at City Hall…. The city’s budget woes mixed with the mayor’s relentless efforts to control SMSD’s enrollment policy and budget is the real motivation behind the change of his shift in providing school security services,” said Honore.
Sandwiched in all the finger pointing is an effort to make parents feel confident about school security.
“If I don’t have this inter-local agreement in place, I can’t send an officer down there like we’ve done the last 30 years. But even if the two government bodies can’t get it done, I assure you, we will have police there,” said Ramirez.
Caldwell agreed saying, “there was a drop in communication somewhere down the line so we said let’s just move forward and make sure this doesn’t happen again. The chief and I are on the same page.”