The usually sparse and quiet Village Hall boardroom in Clarendon Hills was at capacity and full of chatter Monday night as trustees discussed the future of the drug education program in Clarendon Hills schools.
Village of Clarendon Hills leadership proposed a plan Monday that would replace the DARE program in the village’s schools and drastically reduce the hours that the Clarendon Hills Police Department’s school liaison spends in local classrooms so that he can contribute to the cash-strapped department’s regular patrol rotation.
“When we were looking at where our resources are going ... we cannot afford to have a full time officer in the schools anymore," Clarendon Hills Police Chief Ted Jenkins said to a crowd of residents.
In a plan presented by Jenkins and village manager Randy Recklaus, current DARE Officer Rick Talerico’s total classroom time would shrink to 40 hours per year—about 10 percent of what it is currently—and District 181’s state-mandated Social Emotional Learning for Academic Success (SELAS) program would pick up the lessons lost.
Jenkins said Talerico currently spends 431 hours per year in classrooms at Prospect School, Walker School, Clarendon Hills Middle School, Notre Dame Parish School, and Hinsdale Central High School. Talerico also spends 956 hours prepping for those classroom hours and performing other school-related duties.
Talerico’s 1,387 school-time hours each year make up 61 percent of his total work hours; he spends 868 hours per year on normal police patrol. Jenkins says he needs that latter number to go up.
“In a small department, everybody has to wear a lot of hats,” Jenkins said. “Right now Rick only wears that [DARE] hat.”
Recklaus agreed with Jenkins that it’s important in a small department to share responsibility, and that the DARE model, where only one officer can perform the duty, doesn’t fit that mold.
“It’s a bit incongruent with the way we typically operate,” Recklaus said.
The Clarendon Hills Police Department has 13 officers, down from 15 in 2010, and there needs to be two officers on the street at all times, Recklaus said. A thin force means increased overtime when one or more officers need work off, be it for family leave, military service, or more typical reasons.
"This has really stressed our system," Recklaus said.
Being able to plug Talerico back into the regular patrol rotation, Recklaus and Jenkins said, would help the department run more smoothly.
Former Walker School principal Kevin Russell, who now serves as District 181’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction, was in attendance Monday night and said the district would accept a plan to slash the police liaison’s classroom hours. District staff will work to develop a curriculum through the SELAS program that, more through regular classroom teachers, will continue to provide students with the lessons taught by the DARE program.
According to the Clarendon Hills Police Department website, DARE is "a comprehensive prevention education program designed to equip elementary school children with skills to recognize and resist social pressures to experiment with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs." Lessons taught by Talerico take on subjects that include peer pressure, self esteem, and communication.
Russell said he’s confident such curriculum can be developed, but the first year (likely the upcoming 2012-13 school year) might not be easy.
“It might take a little while to get this thing off the ground,” he said, emphasizing the importance of continued communication and feedback between the village and the district. “I don’t think [any of it] sounds unreasonable, but nothing ever goes perfect the first time around.”
Jenkins said the most important part of the Clarendon Hills DARE program since it was started in 1990 has not necessarily been the curriculum, but instead "the relationships that we’re able to establish in those schools with students and administration."
The chief thinks keeping Talerico in the schools, though for a smaller portion of time, and allowing other officers to serve as liaisons from time to time would keep those relationships intact.
Parents had plenty of questions about the new plan and several said they support it, especially if more specifics are provided. At least one attendee, though, wasn't convinced.
Biljana Rivera, a Walker and CHMS parent, told trustees that Talerico's presence is worth "a million dollars" and that she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the DARE program in her kids' education, even if it means moving.
"I can teach my kids to read; I can teach my kids to write; I can teach my kids to be emotionally social," Rivera said. "But I cannot tell them to not use drugs [more than] I already have. And nobody does a better job than Officer Talerico."
The Village Board did not vote on staff’s replacement plan Monday night; that would likely come at its Aug. 20 meeting.