The city of Tomball has terminated its three-year agreement to provide school resource officers to Tomball ISD, the city announced in a news release Feb. 21. The city provided its 90-day termination notice in a letter to the district Dec. 9, which Community Impact obtained, meaning the contract termination is effective March 9.
In a Feb. 21 letter sent to staff and families by TISD, the district said the existing 12 SROs will remain serving TISD campuses through the end of the 2022-23 school year, per an agreement reached by the city and district.
It was not immediately clear what options TISD may be pursuing to maintain SRO services at its campuses.
According to the city’s release, the city has partnered with TISD to provide school resource officers since the early 2000s, increasing its agreed-upon number of officers most recently in September. Community Impact previously reported that the city approved an amendment to its interlocal agreement with the district, which was slated to provide 16 SROs by the end of the 2022-23 school year. Police Chief Jeff Bert said the city had until June to provide the 16 officers, up from the 12 existing officers on campuses.
The termination of the contract comes after the district approved a new interlocal agreement with Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office during its Jan. 10 meeting, which would add four SROs to Tomball ISD. In a Nov. 16 letter from Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora to Tomball Mayor Lori Klein Quinn obtained by Community Impact, Salazar-Zamora said she hoped the potential agreement would supplement the number of officers in the district to reach 20.
“Despite the city’s termination of our three-year contract, rest assured there will be no lapse in law enforcement presence, or SROs, in the district,” Salazar-Zamora said in the Feb. 21 letter. “In fact, with the anticipated addition of the four Harris County Precinct 4 constable SROs, parents, students and staff will see an increased law enforcement presence on our campuses and throughout the district.”
The agreement for additional officers was approved by Harris County Commissioners Court at the Feb. 21 meeting, Allison Suarez, TISD director of communications and marketing, confirmed in an email Feb. 22. Meeting information shows the agreement with Harris County Precinct 4 would span from March 11-Sept. 30, and the district will pay 100% of the cost, totaling $247,677 for the four officers.
Negotiating more officers
According to the city’s release, the city claims negotiations stalled in the fall of 2022 over providing more SROs after the district told the city that TISD did not want to pay for support staff.
“This issue has not been about the costs associated with but the equitable responsibilities,” City Manager David Esquivel said via email.
Support staff, which the city claims it is funding at no cost to the district, include positions such as a commanding officer and a dispatcher, according to the release.
The National Association of School Resource Officers recommends every school have at least one school resource officer, according to its website. TISD has 12 SROs for its 22 campuses. This is an increase from its five officers in 2019, according to the Feb. 21 letter from TISD.
In an effort to increase safety at school campuses following the shooting in Uvalde in May, Bert presented a plan for a 26-officer division to the district, which would include command staff, dispatchers and administrative support, according to the city’s 90-day termination notice sent Dec. 9.
“I do understand the importance of span of control and limiting the number of SROs reporting to a supervisor, but our intent and goal is to increase SRO visibility and presence on our campuses, not necessarily the build up of a larger command team with dispatchers and administrative assistants,” Salazar-Zamora said in the Nov. 16 letter to the city. “Due to limited funding, our desire is for the available funds to be utilized for direct visibility and contact with campuses.”
In the city’s 90-day termination notice, Esquivel said the city could not continue to provide SROs with that goal in mind.
“The city must enable our officers to be in a position to perform the requirements of the agreement and provide the best service possible for the students and staff,” Esquivel said in the letter. “This includes providing SROs the support and resources they need to do their job.”
The release states the two entities were set to meet in person Feb. 20 for a joint meeting; however, on Feb. 17, the district sent a letter to the city declining the meeting. The Feb. 20 agenda shows the special meeting, which was set to be held in closed session, was canceled.
In the Feb. 17 letter, Board President Lee McLeod said the district was exploring and evaluating all viable options for security and safety, as the city’s proposal to provide SRO services within city limits would not suffice.
For example, several TISD campuses are located outside of Tomball city limits as well as extend into Montgomery County, such as Decker Prairie Elementary.
“Considering the current needs of security personnel and implementation of security programs in Tomball ISD, it is in the best interest of the district to engage with one agency to oversee safety and security in the district,” McLeod said. “Without a proposal that matches our intention, the board does not believe it is necessary for the two governmental bodies to meet at this time.”
In August, Community Impact previously reported that TISD Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez said exploring the creation of an independent police department for the district was not an option.
However, Salazar-Zamora said in the Feb. 21 letter that the district may pursue establishing its own police department.
“As a fast-growth district, we continue to analyze and evaluate our safety needs, including exploring options ranging from expanding the number of SROs with current and additional partners, to the potential establishment of a Tomball ISD police department,” she said in the letter.