The Investigators: TISD Police budget questioned

By Michele Reese and Kenneth Dean

TYLER (KYTX) -- As school budgets get slashed across the state, districts are looking for ways to cut costs. While some teaching positions hang in the balance, the budget for the T.I.S.D.'s police department has been growing. Investigators Kenneth Dean and Michele Reese dig deep into the T.I.S.D. Police Department.

"I'm concerned that this large amount of money is being spent in this one area, though we've cut in other areas," Jamie Womack said.

Womack was a T.I.S.D. teacher. Now, she's a field representative for the American Federation of Teachers. When she found out the Tyler I.S.D. spends nearly $1.1 million dollars on it's police department, she was stunned.

"[I was] A little alarmed that amount of money is being spent when I have teachers call me all the time feeling they are not working in a safe environment," Womack said.

She said money is being wasted while cuts are being made to positions and programs.

"The reading recovery program being eliminated that's a vital program for first graders," she said. "The accelerated reader program they are doing away with that. Among other programs a literacy coordinator being combined with an instructional specialist."

Some T.I.S.D.'s parents echo Womack's concerns.

"Whew that's a lot. A lot more can be done than worrying about the police dept," Robert Williams said. Williams is a parent of two John Tyler High School students and a Stewart Middle School student.

"I want my child to be protected while he's at school, but at the same time what's the point in going to school if the programs and the teachers to facilitate his learning aren't there," Moore Middle School parent, Sarah Skinner, said. 

Through the Texas Open Records Act, The Investigators were able to obtain financial data from both Tyler ISD Police and the Tyler Police Department. We compared the numbers to 2002 when Tyler police officers were still responsible for patrolling school campuses.

In 2002, Tyler I. S.D. paid just over $73,000 for two Tyler Police officers. Then, in 2003, the district created its own police department. Its budget then was $520,000. Now the budget stands at just under $1.1 million. That's an increase of almost a million dollars since 2002.

"If you look at our total budget it's less than 1 percent of our budget and I would think there are not many people who would think that spending less than 1 percent of your budget was too much on safety and security," TISD Superintendent Randy Reid said.

Dr. Reid defends the department's budget.

"I think having officers on campus obviously provides a measure of security, but it also provides a feeling of safety and security for families as they drop their students off," he said. "I don't think you can measure that."

So the Investigators turned to the numbers. In 2002, two Tyler Police officers reported 258 incidents at Robert E. Lee and 270 incidents at John Tyler.

Last year, the six T.I.S.D. officers who patrol the high schools worked 412 cases at Lee and 400 at John Tyler. But Tyler police said the numbers don't tell the whole story. They say, unlike T.I.S.D. officers, Tyler Police didn't file reports for minor incidents, like use of bad language.

"When you say they worked those cases in 2002-2003 that may have been all that they were doing if they were steadily being pulled from one campus to the other then there is no preventative nature to what they are doing. our officers by patrolling the campuses regularly could be helping us prevent could also be a deterrent from having outsiders come on campus."

But when a major event happens on a T.I.S.D. campus, it is Tyler police who respond. That's because the T.I.S.D. Police Department doesn't have a crime scene unit.

But Dr. Reid said his officers do, what the Tyler police can't.

"Often times when you work with the city sometimes you have the same officer with you everyday," Reid said. "But sometimes it's different officers that are in and out and they don't make that connection and relationship with your students and teachers that I believe help us avoid some situations, but also to help us solve some crime as well."

The Waco ISD is similar in size to Tyler. It has its own police department and spends about $600 thousand dollars more than T.I.S.D.

The difference is, Waco I.S.D. employs 68 officers and guards. Tyler I.S.D. employs about a quarter of that, with 14 police officers, a police chief, a dispatcher and a locksmith.

Reid insists it's cheaper and better than going back to using Tyler police officers.

"If we did not have our own police force we would be spending close to that amount."

But the investigators have learned that other similar size districts, who rely on their city police department, spend far less.

San Angelo, for instance, hires 6 city police officers at a cost of about $350 thousand a year. Amarillo pays 11 officers. Its annual budget is $800 thousand.

But Reid said the $1.1 million his district spends is justified.

"We have them all summer long," he said. "So what they are doing now, they are working security during the day and broaden our night time evening security."

Security Womack said is not worth the price.

"When I have teachers being called in asked to resign because they are probationary teachers I would expect the district would make cuts everywhere," she said.

Dr. Reid said the district is cutting the police chief position, now that Police Chief Rex Brown has resigned. That will save about $60 thousand.

Here is a list of other District in the East Texas area with Police Departments:

Athens : $182,576

Brownsboro: $42,250

Chapel Hill: $58, 946

Jacksonville: $152,972

Mt. Pleasant: $427,966







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