Board of Education continues to ponder SRO funding
WESTPORT — Unexpected state money may be the answer to Westport’s goal of adding three school resource officers to the district this year.
“The town has been notified ... that there are educational cost sharing funds coming to the town of approximately $473,000,” Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer told the Board of Education on Monday. “That’s stop-gap, that’s not a long-term strategy. But the budget has been put in place, the mill rate’s established, so that might be one option for the town.”
ECS grants are the major form of educational aid given to towns by the state. But in recent years, the amount given to Westport and many other affluent towns has diminished. This year, Westport budgeted for no ECS funding.
In April, the Board of Education voted to approve the SROs. According to Palmer, there is now a proposal before the Board of Finance that would allow three SROs to start this fall. One would replace the existing DARE officer, but funding for the remaining two remains in question.
The total cost for the upcoming year, including new cars, for the two unfunded officers would be $320,000.
“We’ve got to figure out, if we’re seeking this, what would be the funding mechanism?” Palmer said.
Several options were presented. Board of Education member Elaine Whitney suggested using the ECS grant to fund one year of SROs, and said she was open to a cost-share, with the BOE taking on 50 or 60 percent of costs in subsequent years. Board of Education Chairman Michael Gordon said he felt the first year should be funded by a mix of ECS and the board’s carryover or cafeteria funds, as Palmer had suggested might be an option earlier this spring.
“I did, in April, to get it over the line,” said Palmer, of her suggestion to use one of those two accounts. But, she told the board neither account was ideal. “I wouldn’t have suggested it if I thought it was an issue. It’s just, both of those are limited funds,” she said.
The Board of Education needs approval on funding from the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting. Gordon and the Board of Education voted to recommend the SROs be funded using ECS grant money for the first year, and that working groups with town and school representatives be established to determine the most suitable options for funding in years to come.
“What I don’t want to happen is for the three (SROs) to fail because we haven’t come up with the right way to share the funding,” Gordon said.
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