Thanks to grant funding, the Sunnyside Housing Authority and Sunnyside Police Department have partnered together to create a new police officer position.
Longtime Sunnyside police officer Severiano "Chico" Rodriguez has accepted the position, which will assist the housing authority and its tenants.
Rodriguez, who has been with Sunnyside since 1986, will continue to serve as a fully commissioned officer with the housing authority.
The new job means that as of March 15, Rodriguez will no longer be the school resource officer (SRO) for Harrison Middle School.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole refuted rumors that Rodriguez was forced from his post.
"This is the third time that Chico has sought out a new position and every time we have people at board meetings saying how the school district doesn't want him. The people who support him don't come to that conclusion on a factual basis," Cole said.
"We're pleased with Chico's performance. There was no negative push by us," he added. "Actually, if I was an officer looking at a job for stability, I might have made the same decision given the public funding for education."
Budget concerns is the reason Rodriguez is making the switch after 10 years working in schools as an SRO.
"With the budget cuts they couldn't guarantee they would have funding next year," he said. "I would either have to have gone back to the road or take the position with HUD (the housing authority)."
The choice was clear, Rodriguez added, as with the housing authority he is guaranteed at least two years and the opportunity to work day shifts.
Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder confirmed there were no guarantees for next year given possible cuts by the legislature, schools and or city.
"We never commit from year to year," he said.
Despite the financial realities of working in an education setting, he said it wasn't an easy decision to leave Harrison Middle School.
"I leave my heart behind," he said. "It's been an awesome experience being there with the kids and the parents."
Whatever happens with potential budget cuts in education, the reality is that right now the city and school district have an agreement for three SROs in Sunnyside schools.
Rodriguez's departure means there are only two SROs in the district.
Radder said the vacancy will be filled for the remainder of the school year on an as-needed basis by gang reduction officer Melissa Rodriguez, whose position is grant-funded.
When she's not at Harrison, Radder said another qualified officer will be there to make sure someone is present at all times.
Cole said that would be okay, as long as it means the schools have the equivalent of three SROs.
He said the school and city plan to meet to finalize details of Rodriguez's replacement.