BOE approves addition of three armed police officers for Westport Schools
WESTPORT — After months of deliberation, the Board of Education voted six-to-one to approve the addition of three School Resource Officers (SROs) at Westport schools.
“I think we live in very difficult, turbulent times, and I think what we’ve seen in the level of school violence around the country has prompted us to look at doing business differently,” said Superintendent Colleen Palmer said, noting especially the February Parkland, Fla. shooting, at a special meeting of the Board of Education.
The SROs will be spread out among Westport’s eight schools based on size and perceived necessity. One will be stationed full time at Staples High School. The second will be stationed halftime at Coleytown Middle School and will split the rest of the time between three elementary schools. The third will be stationed half the time at Bedford Middle School and will spend the rest of the time between the remaining two elementary schools.
“I believe this increases the safety security of all of our students and staffs. It increases the safety and security of all of our schools,” Palmer said.
It had been decided already that the existing allocation in the proposed 2018-2019 police budget for a DARE officer, whose role will be discontinued, would cover the cost of one SRO. For the others, Palmer proposed a one-time withdrawal from the schools’ cafeteria fund in the amount of $320,000 to pay for the remaining two officers — $350,000 would remain in the fund. Beginning the fiscal year 2019-2020, Palmer said the schools would seek to build the cost into the police department’s operating budget. The board chose to vote on creating the positions separate from their funding, which will be addressed at a later date.
Some members of the Board of Education expressed concern that issues of authority could arise if SROs are working in, but aren’t employed by the schools.
“When they walk into the school, in order for this to be successful, they’re working for the individual principals,” assured Police Chief Foti Koskinas.
Board member Vik Muktavaram, who was the lone dissenting vote, also questioned whether they haven’t time placement of SROs at the district’s middle and elementary schools would allow them to accomplish the stated goal of building strong relationships with students. However, given the tough budgetary year, Palmer said it was the best the district could do.
The three approved SROs is a reduction from five implemented over the course of two years that Palmer initially proposed to the board on Tuesday. Palmer and Koskinas added that in an ideal world with adequate funding, the district would have eight SROs — one for each school.
“I’ve heard two people now say in a perfect world we’d have eight. In a perfect world, we’d have none. We don’t live in that perfect world,” said board member Mark Mathias. “It may be necessary, it may be what we need. I can’t call that perfect.”
Palmer said Memorandums of Understanding outlining the role and responsibility of the SROs could be brought before the board within a few weeks.
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