School safety

Fredonia eyes SRO to be teacher, security, mentor at $40k cost

OBSERVER Photo by Andrew David Kuczkowski Fredonia Superintendent Jeffrey A. Sortisio, middle, smiles before a board of education meeting on Tuesday. Also pictured are, from left, School Board President Michael Bobseine and member David Giambrone.

Fredonia Superintendent Jeffrey A. Sortisio updated the school board on his school resource officer, or SRO, findings. The board, with its budgeted $40,000 for the upcoming year, found out it’s numbers limit who it can hire as it aspires to get not only a security presence, but one who can be an instructor as well.

Sortisio stated to the board that he met with Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace and Fredonia Village Police Chief Brad Meyers on April 11.

He learned that the Sheriff’s Office sends out SROs to districts with a price tag of about $75,000 — that number comes from the cost to replace him for another deputy to patrol the streets.

The superintendent left the early April board of education meeting stating he would find out more details about hiring a retiree. However, hiring a retiree would require an agency to sponsor him.

“The downside to this model is you need a partner to partner with, and in order for the sheriff, or even the village to be involved, this type of position would be a civil service position,” he said. “For instance, if we were able to convince the sheriff’s (office) to partner with us, he would need approval from the human resource department, the Legislature, the department of civil service as well as the union representative for the sheriff’s (office).”

Both Meyers and Gerace informed Sortisio that their respective police unions would struggle to accept that option.

The other possibility presented by Sortisio was what Skaneateles did with its school district. The school that is located just west of Syracuse hired two retired policemen, one was a sheriff’s deputy in a different county and the other was a state trooper. The duo was hired as school guards, not SROs. It was unknown if they cycle in and out or were hired to both be in the district full time.

The superintendent entailed to the board that a school guard can have some roles, but that training needs to be paid for by the district. He can hold a gun, but he cannot make any arrests.

“There is a provision that allows the superintendent to authorize a school guard to be armed on campus, but their duties and responsibilities would be significantly diminished from what we’ve talked about,” Sortisio said. “We talked a lot about programs and teaching courses and making connections and what not.”

The board and Sortisio dabbled into what a school guard was but will get a more defined role at the next meeting.

The parameters that the SRO or the possible school guard should have, per the board and Sortisio, are a teaching role for courses, a role model for students and a presence for safety.

The money barrier is much different than what area schools are spending. For Jamestown City School District, Sortisio told the board that it pays around $93,000 for three SROs and security guards (which he did not elaborate if that all comes from that $93,000 or if those officers are cycling in a rotation); Bemus Point, or Maple Grove, pays the county around $75,000; Silver Creek is the same at around $75,000; and the Dunkirk Board of Education agreed to budget around $80,000 for the 2018-19 to go through the city’s police department, but there is no deal for the upcoming year, yet.

The one issue that a few board members brought up was the cost per value.

“The one thing that sticks in my mind, though: $93,000 for an SRO as compared to $47,000 for a teacher with a master’s degree and three steps, I have a hard time taking that,” Fredonia school board member Daniel Ihasz said. “We put ourselves in a much better place, I think, because we have a social worker line, which we thought was very important.

“All of the issues with violence in the schools and the shootings and so on, guns are a problem, and I think the bigger problem is what is going on with our kids and if we can find a way to reach them. That is money well spent. … I am not sure that spending 93,000 or 75,000 on a SRO is going to solve that problem.”

School Board President Michael Bobseine stated that he wanted to have a meeting with county leaders, including County Executive George Borrello, to consider opening a position in the Sheriff’s Office for a retiree to work as a SRO within districts.

The three options that Sortisio concluded to the board was going with the State Police, which is unknown for cost and role; hiring a school guard, which has restrictions to operation; or going back to negotiating with Fredonia Police.

The superintendent stated that he and Meyers did not talk about the cost of having a Fredonia Village Police officer in the district, but assumes that it will be similar to the former deal.

“The last contract that we had with the village, which has been expired the last couple of years, was about $35,000. So, it’s between $35-40,000,” Sortisio said.

As far as the Fredonia Village Police Department having officers who are able to teach and secure the building, Sortisio said he needs to speak to Meyers.

The goal that Sortisio has with Fredonia is to have “the most we can with the best cost.”

The Fredonia Board of Education will meet on Tuesday, May 8 with the annual district budget hearing at 6 p.m. and the meeting to follow at 6:30 p.m. The meetings are held at the high school library.

Twitter: @ByKuczkowski