CHATHAM–The Board of Education has deferred its decision whether to accept an offer from the Sheriff’s Office for a school resource officer.
At its meeting this week the board also adopted a tentative 2014-15 budget proposal of $29,468,429, with a tax levy increase of 0.66%, the lowest tax increase proposed in more than 15 years.
The vote on the school resource officer (SRO) had been scheduled for the Tuesday, April 8 board meeting, but input from parents a week earlier prompted the board to hold off while they gather more information.
When Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett ran for election last year, he pledged to put police officers back in school buildings. So far this year every district but Chatham has accepted his post-election offer for an SRO. The Taconic Hills and Ichabod Crane districts will each have a full-time deputy, whith half the officer’s salary paid by the district. Germantown, Hudson and New Lebanon School Districts will each have a deputy on site for 20 hours a week at no cost to the districts. On March 11, Sheriff Bartlett made a similar 20-hour proposal to Chatham’s school board.
After deciding to consult the community before making a decision, the board scheduled a public input session April 1 for parents to voice their opinions and learn more about the proposal. Sheriff Bartlett and Deputy Wendy Guntert were present to answer questions, and explained that the role of the SRO would be to act as a positive role model, help with counseling and educate students on drugs and safety. The sheriff said he is offering the position out of his department’s budget because of his passion to help.
He was met with mixed reactions from parents that night. Several members of the community expressed support, citing student safety, while others spoke of drug problem in the world. Opponents of the proposal voiced concerns about having weapons in school. Some asked the board to not make a decision as quickly as planned. A survey was handed out following the session, and was sent home for parents later in the week. There is also an online survey accessible until April 11 at http://chathamcentralschools.com.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo presented more background on what the SRO’s role would be and recommended to the board that they accept Sheriff Bartlett’s proposal. But board members said they need more time for research and discussion.
“One of the things that bothered me when we first started talking about this was the lack of mention of the possible negative aspects,” said board member Mike Clark.
During the public comment, several community members expressed their concerns. Wayne Coe said his biggest issue is allowing guns in school. He also said studies show that violent crime in schools is lower than it was 20 years ago and that the introduction of an SRO into a school increases the likelihood of criminal arrest of students by 500%.
Another community member that there is a high number of accidental weapon discharges inside school buildings by police officers.
Mike Wolowitz said statistics he found online show that students are 200 times more likely to die in a car accident than an incident inside the school. He says the deputy’s time would be better served preventing drunk driving.
Tara Groom said she strongly supports the SRO proposal. “It’s an additional resource for our administrators, teachers, boards, and whole community,” she said. “I think we’ve been offered a tremendous opportunity.”
Ms. Nuciforo, during her presentation, said that officers from the Village Police, Sheriff’s Office and State Police routinely come into Chatham’s schools once every one to two weeks to walk through the halls to get familiar with the buildings in case of an emergency.
Board member James Marks said he likes the idea of the SRO, but would like the board to take more time to set up guidelines first. He said one of the requirements he would like to see is that the board has the right to interview the deputy first.
Member Craig Simmons said he questioned the need when it was first proposed but now sees the benefit. He said that district staff he’s talked to all are in support of the proposal. He added that the board has to think about the “what ifs.”
“What if something happened and we could have prevented it?,” he asked.
Member Gail Day asked how the SRO would affect some of the programs that the district already offers regarding issues such as drug abuse and bullying.
Ms. Nuciforo said the SRO will “integrate into our program.”
Collin Anderson, the board’s student representative, said he spent his freshman year at a school that had an SRO, and said it “did not feel like prison.”
“You just go about your day,” he said.
Also at the April 8 meeting, the board:
*Adopted the tentative 2014-2015 budget proposed for $29,468,429, an increase of 1.01% over last year. The tax levy increase of 0.66%, the lowest in over 15 years, is just $100 below Chatham’s property tax cap this year
*Accepted the resignation for retirement of Jean Scheriff, director of data assessment and special programs. Mr. Clark and board President Melony Spock thanked her for her service.