Chatham awaits parents’ views on school cops

CHATHAM–The Board of Education heard a proposal from county Sheriff David Bartlett last week to have a school resource officer in the school buildings, a vision he has in mind for all six districts in the county. The board also reviewed a new policy on committees and heard a presentation on anticipated expenses in the upcoming budget.

Sheriff Bartlett told the board at its March 11 meeting that one of his major goals when running for his position last year was to put officers back in schools. He is proposing to have a deputy shared between the Chatham and New Lebanon districts, with the deputy spending his or her entire shift in the schools, 20 hours a week in Chatham and 20 hours in New Lebanon.

The Germantown and Hudson districts have already agreed to share a deputy in a similar arrangement, the sheriff said.

Ichabod Crane and Taconic Hills each already has a full-time deputy. Sheriff Bartlett said those two districts each pay half of the deputy’s salary for the full-time coverage. The districts sharing a deputy, however, would not have to pay anything.

“What I’m offering to you is free,” he said. “I’m taking this out of my budget because I feel it’s very important to get police officers back into the schools.”

Some board members expressed concern over having a police presence in the schools. Member Mike Clark said he agrees it would be beneficial to have the deputy on hand if a crisis were to happen, but said he wasn’t “comfortable with the environment it would create by always having armed personnel around.”

Sheriff Bartlett said he sees this as a positive program, where the deputies could form relationships with the students, promote safety and have a positive influence. “We are not bringing storm troopers. It’s not going to be like that,” he said. “We’ve had so many tragedies in our country, and I’d rather be proactive than reactive.”

Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said other districts that she has worked for in the past have had similar arrangements with police agencies.

Board President Melony Spock said she would like to hear from parents of students before making a decision. Board member Jennifer Lindberg agreed, but added that she likes the idea and thinks it could help students understand that officers can be a resource.

Sheriff Bartlett said students would also benefit by seeing that officers aren’t “some big bad guys.”

Member Edward Knight said he thought it was a good idea as long as they have the right kind of officer. Sheriff Bartlett said the deputy would just require an office and a phone line.

“If I can keep everybody safe in the schools, I’ve done my job,” he said. “I’m real passionate about it.”

Regents Reform Agenda

The board sent a letter last week to state Education Commissioner Dr. John King, Jr., expressing their concerns over the implementation of the Regents Reform Agenda.

“Despite the positive intent of these changes, we are concerned about the negative impact of poor implementation,” the letter reads.

The letter emphasizes the board’s support for the new Common Core curriculum standards, saying that abandoning the standards “would be a disservice to our students,” but says that recent actions by the state Board of Regents actions to address public concerns were not adequate.

Committees

In response to an issue brought up by district resident David Levow, the board is reviewing a revised policy on committees. In January Mr. Levow questioned why he was not allowed to observe a meeting of the district’s Facilities Committee. In February, Mr. Clark said the district has not violated the state Open Meetings Law (OML) because the Facilities Committee is a superintendent’s committee. He said committees that have a core membership of board members are required to meet in public but committees made up mostly of staff are not subject to the law, even if some board members participate.

Last week Mr. Clark reviewed a draft of the revised policy, which clarifies the differences between the committees. According to the proposed policy, the law would not “usually” apply to administrative committees except where there are more than three board members on a committee or when the committee is discussing “matters which must go to a public referendum.” Under this new policy, Mr. Clark said, Facilities Committee meetings where potential capital project designs are discussed would now be open to the public.

In response to the new policy, Mr. Levow wrote to the board requesting its definition of terms used in the document, including “core membership” and “administrative committee.” He believes any meeting attended by two or more board members should be open to the public.

Many of the board members said that opening all committee meetings attended by two board members could be limit discussion.

“We’re not trying to be secretive,” said Ms. Nuciforo. “We’re trying to find a way to balance that transparency with the ability to do business that we need to do.”

She said board members provide community perspective as well as help her be better prepared to know what to expect when she goes before the full board.

“If you have two board members [at a Superintendent’s Committee meeting], I would like to know their thought process,” replied Mr. Levow. “I have to vote for all of you.”

Budget

School Business Administrator Michael Chudy presented a projected total budget of $29,476,547 for the 2014-15 school year, an increase of 1.03% over the current year.

The projected transportation budget totals $1,798,799, an increase of 2.21%. Mr. Chudy said one bus run will be eliminated due to dropping enrollment, which will save about $38,000. Employee benefits are expected to rise almost 5%, with health insurance rates up about 9%. The district will see a savings from five teacher retirements and benefit from a $290,000 decrease in debt service, due to having retired the debt for an energy performance contract. The cafeteria budget would increase by just over 2%. Last year’s increase was over 36%.

Food Service Supervisor Barbara Murray said she expects increased sales from the school’s vending machines.

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