(TNS) - School districts across the region are looking to increase police presence in their buildings as a response to the latest round of school safety concerns.
At least nine local districts have included funding in their proposed budgets to establish new school resource-officer positions or another position that would be filled by a police officer. School district budgets go up for public approval Tuesday.
Districts are working with local police agencies to find ways to split the cost of new officers or shift existing officers to a more established position in the schools. The logistics of the positions, as well as the final cost-sharing agreements, were still under negotiation between districts and police agencies as of Thursday.
But come Tuesday, voters in Gloversville, North Colonie, Stillwater, Mechanicville, Fort Plain, Fonda-Fultonville, Mayfield, Schuylerville and South Glens Falls school districts will be asked to approve funding to ramp up the police presence in those districts.
“A school resource officer has four main roles: law enforcer, informal counselor, emergency manager and educator,” according to a summary of the Fonda-Fultonville budget proposal.
Districts started seriously eyeing a move toward school resource officers as safety discussions took to the fore in the aftermath of a February school shooting in Florida. Police agencies started increasing patrols and visits to local schools, as school officials considered other safety improvements, including an increase in surveillance cameras and changes to visitor procedures.
The statewide sheriffs association also pushed for state funding to employ a school resource officer in every school in the state, but no such funding has materialized from lawmakers. Proponents of expanding school resource officers argue an officer dedicated to a specific school or district can better build relationships with students and staff and be positioned on the front lines in case of a school emergency. But others argue armed officers in schools risk criminalizing what should be treated as student behavior and creating a sense of students under surveillance.
The proposed Gloversville school district budget includes $150,000 for three new school resource officers, under a budget line for school resource and truancy officers.
Lt. Brad Schaffer, spokesman for the Gloversville Police Department, said the police agency was prepared to reassign and retrain one officer to serve as a school resource officer. He said additional positions were still under discussion; the Gloversville police chief and schools superintendent were scheduled to meet on the matter Thursday afternoon, Schaffer said.
Some districts hadn’t planned on expanding positions but decided to move forward with the school resource officers.
“While we weren’t looking to really move the budget at all this year, myself and the board felt it was the right way to go to ensure we have not just a police presence in the school but programming and the kind of relationship-building you get with a person assigned to the school full time,” said Stillwater Superintendent Patricia Morris.
Stillwater allocated up to $90,000 for the officer position. Morris said while Saratoga County sheriff deputies have increased patrols and visits to the district in recent months, it would be even better if a specific officer were dedicated to serving the district. That consistency would strengthen the relationship between the officer and the schools, as well as give the officer an intimate knowledge of the school’s safety plans.
“They are here frequently in the hallway and that’s good for students to see they are here to help and not to be a hindrance,” Morris said of the increased police presence. “Having that presence, that is a deterrent but that’s one piece of it, the bigger piece is having that known presence and relationship building.”
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo on Wednesday said he was in discussions with five school districts in the county about facilitating school resource officers by the start of next year. But he said he wouldn’t provide more details until plans had been formalized.
In Fort Plain, Superintendent David Ziskin said the district is working with local police agencies to develop what he called a school safety officer position. The school safety officer would be stationed in the district and would monitor entrances and exits but wouldn’t play the educational role traditional in the resource officer model. He said the district has allocated $22,000 in the proposed budget for the position.
“That’s been a great asset already with bringing a sense of reassurance to people in the building,” Ziskin said of recent increases in visits from local officers, which would be continued under the proposed budget. “Having the eyes and ears rotating throughout our campuses have already had an impact on how we drill for safety; it’s improved our practice and improved the safety in our schools.”
North Colonie has $40,000 earmarked in its budget proposal for a school resource officer; South Colonie schools were one of the few districts in the region to maintain a resource officer after state funds dried up about a decade ago. In budget materials, the district said the officer position would work with students in law-related classes as well as in safety and alcohol and drug prevention programs.
“The North Colonie school resource officer would ultimately be a service-oriented position,” Superintendent Joseph Corr is quoted as saying in the district’s annual budget newsletter. “A [resource officer] is not a cure-all, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Schuylerville, Mechanicville, Mayfield and South Glens Falls school district have all also indicated in budget materials their proposals fund a school resource officer.
In Schenectady, some students and community activists have put the school board on notice that school resource officers would not be welcomed with open arms at Schenectady High School.
“We do want tighter security, but we want to reiterate that we do not want armed security officers in our schools – ever,” high school senior Shayla Kerr told the school board during its March 14 school board meeting.
Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring last week said he has had recent discussions with Police Chief Eric Clifford about how to refine the relationship between city police and the school district.
Spring said the two leaders are focusing on creating more consistency around which officers would include visits to schools as part of their regular routines. They are also discussing how to develop a system for what those school visits would consist of, establishing a checklist of sorts that would include things like visiting with school leadership and checking on the security of exits and entrances.
He said they are not considering stationing officers in the schools.
“Policing the hallways is probably not something either of us are looking for, but we do want the police to have a really good familiarity with the inner workings of both our buildings and processes,” Spring said.
Schenectady Police Sgt. Matt Dearing, returning a request for comment from Clifford, said no formal plan was in place and characterized the meeting between Spring and Clifford as "preliminary discussions."
Dearing said the police department is also looking to strengthen communication with the district as well as relationships with students. He defended the school resource officer model, arguing "our view of a school resource officer is an officer there to help students... to be a familiar face that students can talk to."
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