City to pursue cop for Ellis

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 10, 2001

There is a possibility Ellis Middle School will be a little safer and the students a bit more content in the 2001-2002 school year, if the Austin Police Department is able to secure funding for a new liaison officer.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

There is a possibility Ellis Middle School will be a little safer and the students a bit more content in the 2001-2002 school year, if the Austin Police Department is able to secure funding for a new liaison officer.

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The finance and personnel committee has approved pursuing the funding for the officer, after Austin High School Liaison Officer Travis Heickley stressed the need for additional help in Austin schools.

"There is clearly a need to add an additional officer like myself at the middle school," Heickley told the committee. Heickley is stationed at Austin High School and responds to on-call requests for help at Ellis Middle School and local elementary schools.

He said his increased workload at the local schools and truancy and behavioral problems at Ellis are reasons for bringing in a new officer. "Between the elementary and high schools, we’re losing kids," he said.

The officer will serve at Ellis during the school year and on the streets of Austin during the summer, according to the specifics of the funding. At Ellis, the officer will provide conflict resolution, aid the DARE program and help wherever needed, which is many places, according to the school staff.

"I think if this grant was to be available, it would be greatly beneficial to Ellis youth," Ellis Assistant Principal Dale Erickson said. Erickson pointed out that an officer who is at Ellis all day would be able to aid with security issues in the classrooms and around the school perimeter, enforce rules and laws, provide family conferences and mediation, and deal with criminal issues as they arise, "so the proper consequences will be available and the alternatives to the consequences."

"I really feel strongly that having an officer there is a good preventative measure, for building security and the safety of the kids," Heickley said Tuesday.

Although the number of staff and students is comparable in number to where they were 30 years ago, Erickson said in the past five years "there are more issues to face than traditionally in Austin." Among them he cited physical assaults, thefts and drug usage.

Heickley, Principal Jean McDermott, counselor Leah Michels and Erickson came to the committee meeting to stress the importance of bringing an officer to the middle school and to stress the timeframe for turning in an application for the grant funding. Friday is the first due date and June 15 is the second due date. If the city had chosen to wait until the second due date to pursue the grant, chances are the funding would not be available during the upcoming school year.

The amount of the grant is expected to be $125,000, to be dispersed equally over a three-year period of time. If the amount spent for the Ellis position exceeds the nearly $42,000 in funding available each year, the city and school district will split the additional cost.

"Over three years, that is a marginal expense," Heickley said.

However, there is a stipulation that the city must guarantee the position will exist for a fourth year, with no funding from the federal government. That means that fourth year must be funded completely by the city and school district for "a full local budget cycle," according to Heickley.

Third Ward Councilman Dick Lang said he was concerned the city and Austin Public Schools board had not had a chance to review this request, but with the timeframe staring the city in the face, he said he supported Heickley pursuing the funding.

"We need to talk to the school board and be sure we’re on the same page," Councilman-at-Large Dick Chaffee said. Chaffee asked Heickley to inform the school board and to keep the finance committee and council aware of any developments.

This funding request was reviewed by the committee at the same time a request for an additional officer for the Austin Police Department was tabled, because of the absence of an under-the-weather Police Chief Paul Philipp. Yet, Philipp wants to make it clear that the liaison officer will not be a substitute for additional help on the streets of Austin.

"I’m happy with that decision (pursuing the Ellis liaison officer), as long as there is no confusion," Philipp said Tuesday. "I still feel strongly that we need to hire officers to work on the street.

Because of the recent retirement of Officer Charles Wesley and the hiring of Officer Kevin Sederquist, who was introduced to the City Council on Monday, the number of Austin officers is at 28. Last week, the council public safety and police committee recommended the hiring of one additional officer to the finance and personnel committee. That request was tabled due to Philipp’s absence from the meeting, but should be picked up again at the scheduled May 21 meeting.

Philipp, however, still will be fighting for that 30th officer, even if a 29th is added to the force.

And when would he like to be training that 30th person into his ranks?

"The sooner the better," Philipp said.