November 26, 2021

School districts studying ways to hire officers

Taking a second look at SROs

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland Junior-Senior High School resource officer Rob Reyngoudt watches students Wednesday during dismissal. The school has had a resource officer since 2004.

School districts in and around Cortland County are considering adding to their budgets — or tapping state funds, if the state allocates them — to hire school resource officers in the wake of school shootings, particularly in Parkland, Florida.

Moravia Superintendent John Birmingham and high school Principal Bryan Ford said they plan to ask for $30,000 in the 2018-19 budget to hire a retired state trooper as a school resource officer.

The district had a retired trooper in the schools for several years, funded by a grant, but when the grant ran out, the district ended the program, Birmingham said.

The idea of the position was revived at a November staff meeting, he said; the latest school shootings cemented the idea.

A Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead, and another shooting in Maryland on March 20 reportedly came to an end when the school officer intervened. Two died in that attack, including the shooter, who was killed by a bullet from his own gun.

The state Senate has included in its version of the state budget a measure to provide funding for school resource officers in schools outside of New York City, up to $50,000 each.

However, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said she would rather see the Senate agree to increasing Foundation Aid, which districts could use as they see fit, either to hire a safety officer or some other purpose.

“Some might very much want to do this, if they had a good experience with SROs and want to repeat it, that’s fine,” Lifton said. “Other districts, what I’m hearing, is … (they would) rather spend foundation aid money for hiring two social workers for students and talk about dealing with at-risk kids.”

That’s what McGraw Central School District plans to do, Superintendent Melinda McCool said: budget to provide increased social services next year, rather than a school resource officer.

“I would rather see the funds included in a foundation aid increase to allow districts to address school safety as determined locally,” McCool stated in an email.

School resource officers – who has one

Cortland: Has had a school resource officer since 2004 at the junior-senior high school. He also works with other schools in the district, except Virgil Elementary which the sheriff responds to.

Cincinnatus: Does not have a school resource officer and is reviewing its safety measures, including the possibility of a resource officer as budgeting allows.

DeRuyter: Does not have a school resource officer. The district is hoping the state budget allocates funds that would let it hire one. The Madison County Board of Supervisors is also exploring funding for the schools in the county to hire school resource officers.

Dryden: Could not be reached.

Groton: Does not have one, is not budgeting for one

Homer: Has two school resource officers, one daytime and one evening and would add another depending on state funding.

Moravia: Does not have one, is budgeting for one.

McGraw: Does not have a school resource officer, budgeting to increase social work services instead.

Marathon: Does not have a school resource officer, would hire one depending on state funding.

Tully: Has a school resource officer.

Source: District superintendents

Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford), who sits on the Senate Education Committee, took a break during session Wednesday to say that while he supports adding money for school resource officers, there was not yet movement by the assembly to include it in the budget.

The state Association of Chiefs of Police also supports state funding for school resource officers, particularly because some schools cannot afford to establish or continue their programs.

“These programs have had a strong track record of success and help to foster positive police interactions with young people in the communities we serve,” the organization stated.

However, Cortland School Resource Officer Rob Reyngoudt said that while he thinks the Senate’s measure is a step in the right direction, he does not want to confuse the role of a school resource officer with that of an armed security guard. Reyngoudt routinely interacts with students to prevent violence and guide troubled kids toward help.

The term “school resource officer” should be very specific to a partnership between a school and a police department, providing an officer who has arrest and investigative powers and access to information a retired cop or security guard could not get.

“I get information from our officers working the midnight shift, who will say, ‘Heads up, I responded to a domestic last night and the kid involved was blah blah blah and you may want to check and see if he’s OK,’” Reyngoudt said. “How is that going to go to a retired officer and is it legal to share that?”