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La Crosse Mayoral Race

Candidates for La Crosse mayor discuss school district's SRO decision

From the Q&A COLLECTION: 10 candidates for La Crosse mayor answer series of Tribune questions series
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Earlier this month, the Tribune editorial board sent eight questions to the 10 candidates for mayor of La Crosse.

Here are their answers to the third question: Do you agree with the La Crosse school board’s decision to phase out the police resource officer program after nearly 30 years?

Vicki Markussen:

The School District is an integral partner with the City of La Crosse. They impact our high quality of life. In a strong partnership, we must respect the wishes of a very capable entity. They concluded that Student Resource Officers (SROs) create a school-to-prison pipeline for Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). This is the school district’s choice. Our role is to ensure the transition is smooth.

We will enter an interesting period. As Police Chief Shawn Kudron stated, officers responded to more than 280 calls for service during the last full school year. The calls will continue. Random officers will respond who do not have relationships with the staff or students. This must be navigated.

The mayor should recognize and celebrate the 27-year relationship with the schools. SROs positively interacted with students and staff, which reduced the stigma of law enforcement. Many students, through casual and friendly interactions, no longer saw an officer and thought, “Someone is getting in trouble.”

As a parent, my two oldest sons know Officer Graves by name. After a threat at school emerged, Officer Graves investigated, making my son feel safer. I recognize that is only our experience, but it was handled well. Like all programs, if its loss is felt, then the value is re-established. The service can always be restored.

Martin Gaul:

This is a difficult question to answer in the context of a race for mayor. While I do not like to see anything put in place that has a negative impact on our Police Department, I was not part of the discussions that led to the final determinations they made. As such, I respect the work of those who were charged with making a tough decision. Agree or disagree, we must remember that they were elected to make those decisions and did their duty under difficult circumstances.

Mitch Reynolds:

Yes. I also defer to the school district on this decision. The school board is a separate government entity that is responsible for the care and schooling of our children. The district commissioned, received and reviewed an extraordinarily comprehensive report on this issue. That report clearly indicated a link between policing in schools and creating a school-to-prison pipeline. The report also showed a disproportionate negative impact of policing in schools on our black and brown populations. The report appears to mirror anecdotal complaints the district has received many, many times.

The district has defined a clear path towards addressing disciplinary issues through a more proactive social intervention approach. This approach seems reasonable and rational and considerate of the extraordinary challenges faced by many of our families that often lead to conflicts within our schools.

Chris Stolpa:

Yes, I grew up in the school district during the last 30 years, and I never saw much value to that position. Money is tight for everyone. When this happens, we must start trimming some of the excess spending. I believe our teachers and faculty are more than able to handle things going on in the school.

Katherine Blanchard:

I think the liaison officer in the schools is a good program, but there may be a way to revamp it so it’s more effective. I don’t think it should be ended.

Joe Konradt:

The people of La Crosse elected the members of the school board, who in turn, made their decision about the future of the police resource officer program. Student and staff safety will continue to be our primary focus. Our schools have taken huge steps in making their buildings safe. As mayor I assure you that the police department will respond to the needs of our school system, in whatever form the school board decides.

Greg Saliaras:

I can understand the reason why it was done but I don’t fully agree with it. Especially the next year or two with all the mental issues that teenagers are facing due to the pandemic, I am afraid we will see more incidents in our high schools.

Samuel Schneider:

First of all, we must realize that the school board is a separate entity from the city, and so has the right to make its own decisions. The city is the contractor, hired to provide protection for the school at the school’s own request.

However, as it relates to the impact on our youth, I will relate some input I have heard talking from various people involved in that situation. An officer with whom I spoke to, who had worked many years with the La Crosse police department, pointed out to me the fact that if there is no officer on the school grounds, the police will be called almost every day to school. The beauty of the school resource officer now is that the officer is already familiar with the situation at the school and can be utilized immediately to de-escalate tense situations. Being on campus, he knows the various students, and has their best interests in mind.

I have spoken to several teachers and students who feel much safer with a trained professional nearby. Unfortunately, I know personal student friends and parents who have related stories to me of violent situations that have occurred in the schools in La Crosse. We cannot properly address the issue of a resource officer if we don’t first acknowledge the safety challenges in our schools.

Jessica Olson:

This was the school board’s decision. The City of La Crosse provided the service, and I respect the decision of that elected body. We need to build strong, positive working relationships between all community members regardless of the structure of our partnerships. Strong, safe public schools are the cornerstone of a healthy, growing city. The quality of our public schools attracts businesses to our city and is a big selling point for attracting long-term residents, including young families. As mayor, I will do all I can to support and work with our public schools, and I will continue to support our schools and educators in the manner they deem most appropriate.

Zebulon Kemp:

No I do not. I believe that it’s important to have that first line of defense there to be watching out for our kids going to school. The National Center for Education Statistics stated that, during the 2017-18 school year, 80% of public schools recorded that one or more incidents of theft, or other crimes, had taken place, amounting to 1.4 million incidents. During the same school year, 47% of schools reported one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes to the police, amounting to 422,800 incidents.

They also went on to say that an estimated 3,600 incidents nationwide involved the possession of a firearm or explosive device at school. That’s a pretty big risk the schools are taking with the students’ lives. That’s a risk I’m not willing to take.

Coming Sunday: With COVID-19 restrictions on events and other gatherings, what are your plans for taking care of reduced revenues the city likely will experience regarding the La Crosse Center, hotel room tax, sales tax etc?

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