School resource officer plans stall, pending funding, community agreement

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POTSDAM — Much of the March newsletter from Potsdam Central School District Superintendent Joann M. Chambers was dedicated to answering questions about the possibility of bringing in a school resource officer to Potsdam.

An SRO is an armed, sworn law enforcement officer who works in a school, and in Potsdam would be officially a member of the village police department with a salary paid by the school district.

Such a role has received increased attention after the deadly school shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The shooting prompted the New York State Sheriffs Association to call for state funding of armed school resource officers at “every grade school and high school in the state.”

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is also pushing for the return of the SRO program, which declined after state grant funding was cut.

The Board of Education first asked Mrs. Chambers to look into the possibility of an SRO in the fall of last year, well before the shooting, but the district could benefit from proposals to renew state grants to fund SROs.

The proposal put together by Mrs. Chambers for the board includes a salary — $30,000, the maximum a retired law enforcement officer could earn while keeping retirement benefits — and a job description.

According to this description, the officer would be a person dedicated to student safety who could check security features like cameras and locks, as well as providing educational programming, including information about drug abuse, suicide prevention or law enforcement careers.

The officer would also enforce laws and act as a first responder to an emergency, if necessary.

The officer would not, however, be involved in student discipline for any non-criminal offenses.

The school held an open forum to consider the question on Feb. 5.

“It was a very civil dialogue,” Mrs. Chambers said of the forum. “It was a really good dialog.”

As a follow-up to the forum, Mrs. Chambers answered a number of questions in the March newsletter for residents who had not been able to attend.

At the moment, though, the community still has unanswered questions, and the funding for the position hinges on what form any state grants might take.

“No decision has been made,” Mrs. Chambers said. “I think it’s a really complex issue.”

Part of it will be resolved in the next few weeks as the state budget is finalized, according to Mrs. Chambers.

If funding is provided, that could make it much easier to implement an SRO next year. If state aid is cut, the district might have to cut some existing programs back, making it hard to justify spending $30,000 on a new position.

As for the community, the conversation is ongoing.

“We still need some more time to work with our community and answer questions,” Mrs. Chambers said.

Because nothing has been settled yet, Mrs. Chambers had not formally discussed the SRO position with the Potsdam Police Department.

“No updates on that,” Chief Mark Murray said when asked, adding “We’ll fully support the school’s mission.”

Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Murray will hold a joint public forum in the next few weeks on school safety and how to respond to an active shooter. The date for the forum is yet to be announced.

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