EAST HELENA — As leaders in Helena continue discussions on whether to make any changes to their school resource officer program, the East Helena School District has finalized an agreement to bring in its first SRO.
The district’s board of trustees voted unanimously Monday to accept a contract with the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, to provide a school resource officer starting this August. The officer will be LCSO Cpl. Jeff Stoltz, who will be based at the new East Helena High School but will work in other district schools as well.
Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said he has been trying to secure an SRO for the district for years. He sees having an officer on campus as a way to provide greater accessibility and create relationships.
“The peace officer is there to support them,” he said. “They’re not just disciplinarians that run around handing out tickets to everybody, and in the East Helena School District, we’re not going to want to move in that direction. We want to work in a cooperative relationship with an officer that builds relationships with kids, teaches kids.”
Stoltz is set to begin a national SRO training program next week. Whitmoyer said they are still looking at how best to utilize him, but that the first task will be to evaluate East Helena schools for security.
East Helena’s decision comes as the Helena City Commission is considering the future of its officers in Helena Public Schools. Some people have called on the city to remove SROs, saying their presence could create a less welcoming environment for students and questioning whether they are the best way to address issues within schools.
Whitmoyer said the reaction from East Helena families have been strongly in support of the new SRO. He said board members did take the questions other communities have considered into account, but that they felt this was still the right step for theirs.
“Our concern is East Helena, Montana,” he said. “If East Helena, Montana, needs a school resource officer and believes that that’s a good fit for our mission and direction, then we make the decision.”
Whitmoyer said, since they are just beginning the SRO program at East Helena schools, they will have the ability to tailor it to the community – and address some of the concerns that have been raised in other areas.
“The beautiful thing about what we are doing is that this is East Helena, this is how East Helena does business,” he said. “We’re not going to have a resource officer that will model something happening in Tallahassee. This will be about what East Helena wants and needs.”
Sheriff Leo Dutton said the overall cost for adding the SRO will be about $241,000 over the next three years. About half of that money will come from a federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant, through the U.S. Department of Justice. The school district and the sheriff’s office will split the remaining costs.
Dutton applied for the grant. He thanked U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme for helping them secure it.
The first day of classes in the East Helena School District is set for August 26.