Flathead Electric Cooperative unclaimed capital credit dollars will help develop school resource officer programs

Flathead Electric Cooperative (FEC) intends to help local law enforcement provide safer learning environments.” That’s according to FEC General Manager, Mark Johnson. Johnson says that through a grant, FEC will reinvest members’ unclaimed capital credit dollars back into the community as seed money to develop school resource officer (SRO) programs.

Retired capital credit checks are issued to current and former members of FEC each year. Despite the Co-op’s best efforts to find members, some of those checks go unclaimed. Once checks remain unclaimed for five or more years, Montana law requires FEC, as a member-owned, not-for-profit Cooperative, to either use that money for educational purposes in their service territory or allocate it to the state’s general fund.

Through the years, these dollars have provided hundreds of scholarships and other educational opportunities for local students and will continue to do so. The Co-op’s board of trustees, however, decided to look at the funding and determine how it could further impact the community for the good. After careful consideration, the board elected to support the development of SRO programs in Flathead County and Libby; areas served by FEC, but not currently served by an SRO.

FEC’s partial funding for the programs will be based on estimated wages and benefits of employing SROs (50% for two officers in Flathead County and 30% for one officer in Libby), with the remainder to be obtained by the county, city and/or schools for which they will serve. The Co-op’s funding will sunset in five years, at which point the intent is for the programs to be self-sustaining. Johnson says FEC believes this investment will have a positive and lasting impact on both our community and on our Cooperative.

“Not only do school resource officers provide for safe learning environments, but they also provide valuable resources to our teachers and school staff. Additionally, they are able to develop strategies to resolve problems affecting youth and protecting all students so they can reach their fullest potential.”

Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino and Libby Police Chief Scott Kessel have embraced the grants and are working on logistics in their respective law enforcement districts; and they share a consensus as to the positive impacts having officers in schools provide for all concerned. A recent study lists numerous benefits of SRO programs, including:

  • a decrease in the high school dropout rate;
  • prevention or minimization of property damage in the school and surrounding areas;
  • prevention of student injuries and even death due to violence, drug overdoses, etc.;
  • reduction of the likelihood that a student will get a criminal record;
  • increase of the likelihood that students (particularly those with mental health issues) will get the help they need from the social service and health care systems; and
  • increase in feelings of safety among students, staff and those who live in surrounding communities.

Sheriff Heino says that while one officer will be housed in Evergreen and another in Bigfork where there currently are none, they will be of assistance throughout the entire Flathead Valley, bringing resources to areas not currently served by an SRO.

“These officers will also help out at our rural area schools, as well as supplement our patrol during the summer months, which is dearly needed.”

Police Chief Scott Kessel says he too, sees a great need for an SRO in Libby schools, noting they employed an officer at one time through a federal grant until that money ran out.

“The goal of our program is not to have a simple armed guard. The SRO’s role is meant to be proactive, engaged and preventative. Having an officer in the school working with the children has unlimited benefits and could potentially even stop a tragedy like a school shooting before it occurs.”

Both lawmen say they are grateful to Flathead Electric Cooperative for opting to invest unclaimed capital credits into their school resource officer programs. They say the seed money will help unite, protect and educate their students and communities alike.