Officials agree to hire new police officer for Dist. 15

The Independent District 15 School Board and St. Francis City Council have voted in agreement that the school district and city should share costs to increase police presence in the schools for safety and educational purposes.

After the school board gave its approval Feb. 11, St. Francis Police Chief Jeff Harapat told his council Feb. 18 that district officials would be involved in the interview process for a new police liaison officer.

Harapat told the Anoka County UnionHerald that applications were being accepted through this week and interviews would be scheduled later in March. “We have a lot of good candidates coming in, people with experience,” he said.

School officials approached the city about interest in more police presence last November, when a St. Francis Community Drug Awareness group also began hosting area forums in the wake of two student deaths that were linked to heroin use in 2013.

A new police employee would begin service with 400 hours of field training. The city and school district leaders would prefer that the new officer start that training in the schools this spring to become familiar with the buildings, principals and teachers. The officer could be assigned patrol duties on weekends this spring, and would remain in city service in the summer before school resumes next fall. “We need to make sure we find an applicant that fits the needs of the city and the schools,” Harapat said.

With their positive vote for city approval, St. Francis council members agreed to an added expense of $12,000 for 2014 that was not budgeted. The chief prepared them to budget $27,000 for the city’s share in 2015.

District 15 will cover the balance of the new officer’s contract with available school safety funds. Unlike previous school resource officers hired by the district, the new city and school employee will bring education on drug awareness and other topics to district buildings outside of St. Francis city limits including East Bethel and Cedar Creek community schools. Harapat noted those communities get regular public safety coverage from Anoka County, but that Sheriff James Stuart has given his blessing for St. Francis Police to reach out in the other cities’ schools.

“We are going to work together,” Harapat said.

Contract approved for interim superintendent

School Board members voted Feb. 24 to increase the salary of Troy Ferguson, associate director of community education, as he has concurrently served as interim superintendent of schools since Jan. 22.

Board members approved Ferguson’s interim role after placing both Superintendent Ed Saxton and Human Resources Director David Lindberg on paid administrative leave at the beginning of review of a personnel matter involving the men. Lindberg had reported to the board that Saxton attempted to terminate his employment without cause or due process Jan. 8.

Ferguson will receive an extra $2,500 monthly, retroactive to his starting date as interim superintendent, and the increase will stay in place through June 30 or until Saxton returns to his role or the position is otherwise filled.

Board chairperson David Roberts reported at the Feb. 24 meeting that the independent legal counsel hired by the district Jan. 27 has estimated that investigations in the personnel issue should be complete by March 10. However, that does not mean the information will be ready for discussion by the board at its scheduled meeting that evening, Roberts said.

Days to be made up in June

The district has scheduled school make-up days in June to recover the class time lost to frigid weather and school cancellations this winter.

Graduating seniors will celebrate their commencement May 30 as originally planned, but other district students now are scheduled to continue classes through Wednesday, June 4. One last staff day for training and development will be June 5.

Board member Betsy Roed noted Feb. 24 that some residents had questioned whether the district’s shortened spring break week of March 3, 4 and 5, with the third trimester starting March 6, was in response to the missed winter days. She noted for the record that a shortened spring break for this school year was planned two years ago.

Interim Superintendent Ferguson said some residents have questioned the need to make up lost class time in June. He stressed Feb. 24 that those hours will be valuable. “To have students miss those four days with our teachers is not acceptable,” he said.