Livingston board votes to continue school resource officers

Five sheriff’s deputies will continue to serve as school resource officers in Livingston Parish public schools following the School Board’s unanimous vote Thursday to renew a contract with the Sheriff’s Office.

The contract renewal, which must be signed by July 1 to avoid a lapse, includes the same basic terms as the initial contract that was signed last year, Sheriff Jason Ard said.

The initial contract called for the School Board to reimburse the Sheriff’s Office about $212,500 each year for half the annual cost of the five deputies.

The contract will be changed, however, to clarify that juveniles cannot be arrested for policy violations unless a law has been broken, Ard said.

Assistant Superintendent Rick Wentzel said the resource officers, who are commissioned law enforcement officers assigned to provide security for a school or group of schools, have been a welcome addition to the district’s campuses.

“Their presence, mentoring the kids, is the most important thing, and I want to thank you for allowing that to continue because it has been very important to our schools,” Wentzel told Ard.

Ard said recent evaluations of the school resource officer program brought many compliments from school officials.

“The only complaint I get is that we don’t have enough of them,” Ard said. “Other than that, things are going really well.”

Ard said after the meeting that although policing the campuses and making arrests are among a school resource officer’s duties, the vast majority of the work is just being there to serve as a role model for the students.

He said one of his deputies often stayed after school to help a student improve his reading skills.

Ard said he would like to add more deputies to the program but noted there would be an additional cost for doing so.

In addition to the five sheriff’s deputies, the district also has two officers from the Denham Springs and Walker police departments who serve as school resource officers on the campuses within those cities.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.