By Mollie Rushmeyer, Correspondent
Officer Tom Franklin with the Royalton Police Department told the Royalton School Board Monday about the benefits and the need for a K-9 unit in Morrison County, and in particular, the city of Royalton.
Morrison County currently has access to one K-9 officer through the Sheriff’s Department. But, Franklin said, it’s a big county, over 1,100 square miles and 32,000 residents, for one K-9 officer to cover all the requests. To book the K-9 unit to do a drug sweep of the school is not an easy feat, he said, but is needed to deter drug use in the school as well as continue to combat the large number of drugs being trafficked through Royalton on Highway 10 every day.
Royalton Middle School/High School (MS/HS) Principal Joel Swenson said a drug sweep has been done once each year for a decade. This is when a K-9 unit (the trained canine and the officer trained to work with it) goes into the school to look for drugs.
The findings, meaning drugs found in the possession of students, have been fairly insignificant. However, Swenson said he knows the drugs are out there, they are available and there’s peer pressure.
“We want to be proactive,” Swenson said. “We want to make sure it won’t become a problem.”
That sentiment was echoed in Franklin’s presentation. He also said some of the other positives of having a more readily available K-9 unit are to have the canines as officer backup for safety during traffic stops, to decrease loss of human life, to deter people from using violence during arrests and to help in finding lost or missing persons.
Royalton Police Chief Adam Gunderson said residents will not fund the $80,000 needed to get the K-9 unit in place, but said public support and donations are appreciated. Grants and civic organization as well as individual donations will go toward the project if it moves forward.
Gunderson said the project will be presented to the Royalton City Council Tuesday, and still needs approval.
Just this week, Franklin said, he had a traffic stop on Highway 10 where drugs and illegal firearms were present. With drug traffickers using more and more creative ways to smuggle their products, inside toys, electronics, furniture and more, a K-9’s ability to sniff out the hidden drugs could mean the difference between getting them off the street or not, he said.
“Drugs are becoming a big problem in the area,” Gunderson said. “The K-9 unit will benefit Royalton as well as the surrounding area.”
Depending on timing and circumstance, Gunderson said they intend to partner with other local law enforcement in the Minnesota State Patrol and throughout Morrison County, as well as parts of Benton County when a K-9 unit is needed. He also plans to have the K-9 unit at the schools in Royalton not only to discourage drug use, but to start with younger students to get them acquainted with the police force and the K-9 officers, showing that they aren’t “bad guys.”
With an average between 1-2 percent of Morrison County 11th graders in 2016 reporting in a national survey done by Substance Abuse in Minnesota that they had used drugs like Ecstacy, methamphetamine and crack/cocaine — the drug use in the area falls under the national average. Even the average of 9.9 percent report of using marijuana in the past 30 days was much lower than the 25.5 percent national average in 2016.
And Swenson wants it to stay that way.
“We’re battling it (drugs) just like other schools,” said Swenson. “I’m afraid of the challenges. You hear of what’s available, the ease of getting it. You just wonder how much are they exposed to.”
Swenson fully supports getting a K-9 unit for the Royalton Police Department to serve the community as a whole, but also to help the school system, the highest concentration of people and biggest employer in town, he said.
“What keeps them safe, keeps us safe,” Swenson said.
Royalton School Board Briefs
Other business during Monday’s Royalton School Board meeting, included:
- Board Director Ellie Holm bringing up for discussion the possibility of doing an ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training for school staff, which covers what to do if there is an active shooter event within the school. The organization will train up to 50 staff at a time;
- High School/Middle School (MS/HS) Principal Joel Swenson reporting the middle school/high school received a $2,500 grant to start a greenhouse;
- Discussing next year’s budget, and whether there would be a public vote on a tax levy or Board vote. Chairperson Noel Guerard said he didn’t want to take away his neighbor’s right to vote. Several in the audience said they voted for board members who they trusted to make those decisions. Cost of holding a citizen vote was also brought up, which is approximately $12,000 – $15,000. The Board will vote on whether levy will be left in the Board’s or residents’ hands at the May meeting;
- Approving FMLA leave for Kathy Nelson from approximately March 10 through April 6;
- Approving the hiring of Dylan Kummet as a junior high baseball coach and Tony Kile as a van driver;
- Accepting resignations from Mara Jacobson as a JV volleyball coach, Kayla Ziwicki as a paraprofessional, and Andrea Czeck as a paraprofessional;
- Approving the facility use for residents policy;
- Adding a preschool teacher, a preschool paraprofessional, a .1 FTE to a current MS/HS physical education teacher position, two custodians for the renovated MS/HS space, MS/HS academic interventionist who will take the place of three paraprofessionals and add support for special education and Title I students, a cook, and two kitchen helpers in the 2017-18 school year;
- Director Dale Lenz offering to arrange a Board training to discuss and review Board member roles, which costs $900 and would come from a training budget already in place for the Board; and
- Hearing Elementary Principal Dr. Phil Gurbada report wood chips would be used in one area of the elementary playground and in the “mud pit” area drainage will be fixed and then gravel put down.
The Royalton School Board will hold a regular Board meeting in the high school media center Monday, May 15, at 6 p.m.