Superintendent excited to bring on SRO

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy Dunkirk Schools’ Superintendent Dr. James Tracy says the district will be bringing on Steve Zentz as its school resource officer during Thursday’s board of education meeting.

With City Council’s approval Monday, Dunkirk Schools’ Superintendent Dr. James Tracy publicly announced Thursday the district will bring on Steve Zentz as its school resource officer.

Two candidates applied for the SRO position, and Tracy said Police Chief Dave Ortolano let the school district join the interview and ultimately make the decision.

“It’s interesting because we developed our interview questions based on 20 different things we identified we want this individual to do,” Tracy said. “I found it interesting the candidate that’s going to be our SRO actually addressed some of those things even before we asked him (the questions).”

While the SRO falls under city police and under the responsibility of Ortolano, Tracy said Zentz’s assignment will be at the district. His daily workload and schedule and times will be assigned by the superintendent.As SRO, Tracy said the duties go further than walking the halls on school days. Tracy said the officer will go into classrooms to teach children safety items such as “Stranger Danger.” Heading up the district’s safety committee, he’ll also work with administrative staff and teachers to prepare for emergency situations and act as a liaison between the district and law enforcement.

“He’s also going to hopefully become a confidant and somebody kids can go to,” Tracy said. “Hopefully we’ll begin to kind of change how kids see our police. We’re excited about that.”

Through the agreement, Tracy said the city has the district paying for the officer who will be hired to replace Zentz, which is a beginning officer. That number is around $92,000. Taxpayers will be paying it through school district taxes.

“We’re not even paying for somebody who has 19 years. That would be really cost prohibitive,” Tracy said. “At least we have that kind of agreement, but it is going to cost the district the cost of police which includes insurance and everything.”

The three-year SRO agreement comes at time of question over how NRG’s decision to forgo the power plant’s repowering will financially impact both entities in the years ahead. With new uncertainty over a PILOT agreement with NRG and decreasing state mitigation aid, Board President Dave Damico said the board and superintendent have set up a meeting with the school district’s three unions’ presidents and vice presidents for Aug. 17.

“That’ll be our kickoff meeting (to) bring everybody in and sit down and see what we can come up with,” Damico said.

While Tracy acknowledged that it’s become a serious situation, he said there’s things the district can do.

“We will sit down and talk about how we can look at this differently as a system in order to try to save money and cut money here and there without cutting quality of programming and without hurting our kids and community,” Tracy said.