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Resource officer linked to school budget adoption

The Harlem Valley is in the throes of budget season. Not for towns, but for school districts. Last week, most local districts in these parts adopted their budgets. That means they were adopted by their Boards of Education (BOE). This includes the North East (Webutuck) Central School District, the Pine Plains Central School District and the Millbrook Central School District. 

Next, the public will have to weigh in. On Tuesday, May 21, school districts across the state are holding budget votes and elections. We certainly hope that residents living in these districts will make it to the polls, to either approve or reject the budgets and elect their next BOE members.

And we hope it will turn out that the budgets get the OK from the public. Board members worked hard with district leadership, teachers and staff to draft the most responsible budgets they could. They took into consideration need versus cost.

One issue we were especially concerned about, in the Webutuck district specifically, was whether the BOE would approve keeping a School Resource Officer (SRO) on board. School Resource Officers are actually deputies from the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office. 

Webutuck, though some might not realize it, was considering getting rid of the position in favor of using the money elsewhere. With today’s high rate of school violence, we are very pleased that such a questionable decision did not come to pass.

SROs provide security for students and school personnel. They provide peace of mind. They provide police training. They provide expertise. They are a vital part of the school community and employing them in our districts is critically important to keeping everyone safe. 

Webutuck, Pine Plains and Millbrook all have SROs. In Webutuck, the SRO cost $89,000 this year and will drop to $82,000 next, for seven hours a day versus eight. In Pine Plains the SRO will cost $92,500 in 2019-20. In Millbrook the SRO costs $89,000, and that number is not expected to increase. 

Salaries can vary somewhat, depending on what school districts feel they can budget. School boards negotiate with the Sheriff’s Office to decide on those amounts. According to Pine Plains BOE President Chip Couse, other counties in New York state have been provided SRO services at significantly lower costs since “those county legislators have a stronger belief in the program and subsidize it through their own budgets.

This paper, for one, thinks it’s very worthwhile, and something our county legislators might want to consider — especially when SROs are at risk of losing their placement in our schools.

Can having an SRO prevent a tragedy? No. Sadly, nothing can. But they can help handle a dangerous situation, bring it under control and protect as many people as possible while doing so. They can also help to detain any suspects and coordinate the police response. Having a police officer on site when violence breaks out is invaluable — certainly worth the money — and should not be forsaken for other programs or expenses. 

As Webutuck BOE member Nikki Johnson acknowledged, “politically, our best move would be to think about what the community would want with the SRO.” She said so the night Webutuck adopted its budget. She’s right. The optics of not having an SRO in today’s day and age are not good. They’re so poor, in fact, that the issue could derail a budget getting voter approval. That’s why, at the end of the day, many districts err on the side of having these resource officers.

Whatever the reason, we laud our board members for keeping SROs in our schools. While we hope they are forever unnecessary, we also hope the issue remains a priority for years to come.