With a new contract in place that keeps police officers in high schools, the St. Paul school district now plans to hire the first group of school support liaisons, a different kind of security force.
The newly created positions represent a move away from the traditional contract security guard model by requiring the new hires to be trained to de-escalate conflicts and build relationships with kids and other staff members.
Jobs have yet to be posted, but Laura Olson, the district’s security and emergency management director, said she aims to hire seven of the liaisons during the second semester of the current school year — and to add at least 28 more in 2020-21.
The changes are part of a more student-friendly approach to district security practices, and it helped persuade the school board to vote unanimously last month to retain the seven school resource officers during the current school year.
Board Member Jeanelle Foster, who voted against the annual police contract in December 2018, said she was encouraged by the more holistic approach and by an initiative at Como Park Senior High that calls for an educational assistant and a community support liaison to work with ninth- and 10th-graders to head off fights and aggressive behavior.
“I stand in support at this time,” she said.
The new school support liaisons would be permanent employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). They differ from the existing contract security guards and the community support liaisons — the latter already in place at five schools and serving as advocates and “positive role models” for students, Olson said.
She said the hiring of school support liaisons would be accompanied by a phasing out of security guard positions.
This year, the district’s security and emergency management budget is $2.8 million — half coming from the general fund and the other half from a safe-schools levy.
About $1.3 million goes to fund the school resource officers and contract security guard positions.
St. Paul also has received $1.2 million in onetime state money and is using it to replace radio communications systems across the district. Olson said the district’s current radios no longer are produced and are costly to repair.
Also to come by school year’s end will be a new student survey seeking to gauge opinion on school resource officers.
A snapshot provided by a recent Minnesota student survey showed strong majorities of St. Paul ninth- and 11th-graders saying they thought it was a good idea to have police officers in their schools.
Foster, however, said it is essential that the district take steps to ensure all student groups are accurately reflected in such data.