Local superintendents and Young express support for SRO

OBSERVER File Photo Dunkirk Schools’ Superintendent Dr. James Tracy said the district doesn’t have funds budgeted right now for a school resource officer since they haven’t had one for some time. Tracy said state Sen. Patrick Gallivan’s call for funding in the state budget for school resource officers is an excellent idea.

A New York State senator’s call for school resource officer funding is drawing favorable response from state Sen. Cathy Young and two local superintendents who are working to bring such programs back.

Just days after a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, state Sen. Patrick Gallivan said the state should incentivize school districts to hire SROs to deter such tragedies seen throughout the country. Gallivan, R-Elma, said he wants funding in the state budget for SROs in all schools.

In the past, the Senate has secured funding to fund programs on a limited basis for some schools to hire an SRO either part-time or on a shared basis. Gallivan said it’s time to expand the program statewide for the benefit of all school districts.

The return of a school resource officer wasn’t met with opposition when the education boards for Dunkirk and Fredonia began discussions late last year. For both districts, SRO programs were cut a few years ago as neither could sustain the funding necessary to keep it going.

Discussions continue as to the potential avenues to go about the return of an SRO program within each school district. Tight budgets and limited funds, however, are still creating concerns whether such a program can be sustained year to year.

The Dunkirk City School District slashed the program in 2016 amid budget constraints and loss of PILOT payments from NRG. Earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. James Tracy put two SRO options before the board of education to examine and discuss.

As it stands now, Tracy said the district has no funds budgeted due to the fact the district hasn’t had an SRO in some time. If the district continues down the road of bringing on a city officer, Tracy said costs could start at $70,000 and end up being anywhere from $85,000 to $100,000 a year.

While footing the cost could be a difficult task, Tracy acknowledged support of Gallivan’s call for state aid.

“I think it’s an excellent idea to be able to provide some sort of funding that districts can apply for to help either pay or partially pay for SRO officers,” Tracy said. “I think you’d find that most of our neighboring school districts in Chautauqua County and Erie County don’t have SROs. Part of it is some don’t have nearby police. The other is a cost factor.”

Tracy said the city and school district are meeting next week to hash out what’s possible in order to bring an SRO back.

The Fredonia Central School District went without a SRO to start the 2015-16 school year. Budget constraints and the village pulling the plug on its partnership factored into the cut.

Discussions went on in 2016 in a bid to bring one back. No agreement could be reached, however.

With the village and school district talking again, Fredonia School Superintendent Jeffrey Sortisio said he’s preparing to outline options to the board of education members. As for Gallivan’s call, Sortisio expressed support for the idea.

“Anytime the state can allocate funds to schools for programs, and an SRO I certainly would consider a program, it definitely would be beneficial,” he said. “It would ease the burden on our budget and our taxpayers, and at the same time, give the opportunity to incorporate something that could be good for the school and the community.”

Young, R-Olean, said she’s heard many school districts say they would love funding for resource officers and the added safety capabilities they provide. For those reasons, Young said in a statement to the OBSERVER that she believes Gallivan’s proposal is timely, important and should be a priority in budget discussions. Young said funding for SROs became more scarce. And with that, their presence diminished.

“When families send their children off to school, they need and deserve every assurance that they will be in a safe and secure environment,” she said. “There is nothing more crucial. In the past, the security of many state school districts was enhanced by the presence of school resource officers who were not only a safeguard against outside threats, but also a deterrent to student bullying and fighting and provided important educational programs on cybersecurity, drug and alcohol abuse and self-defense.”