NORFOLK - Norwood-Norfolk school officials are going to review a proposal to place a proposition on the ballot in May that would raise tax dollars to fund having police officers at the building on school days.
But first they want to look at other funding sources before making any commitment.
Norfolk Town Councilman Robert J. Harvey told his fellow town board members earlier this week the Norwood-Norfolk Central School Board of Education will consider at its March 19 meeting whether they want to move forward with a proposition that would increase school taxes in order to hire retired police officers to be present at the school whenever classes are in session. The school would rotate several retired officers for that position as a way to avoid the costs of pension or other benefits.
The position is estimated to cost the school between $22,000 and $24,000 per year.
Norfolk is proposing to organize a police presence in our school building, meaning their dispatcher would make sure either an officer from the Norwood or Norfolk police departments would have some degree of presence here, School Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said.
Their long-range plan, however, is to bring in a retired police officer to ensure there is a police presence at Norwood-Norfolk. That would require providing appropriate training for that person, Mrs. Kirnie said, noting that the person would not be considered a school resource officer, but would provide a presence and safety, as well as develop relationships with students and staff.
Mr. Harvey feels a police officers presence at the school is critical to respond to and prevent security threats.
It would provide the deterrent of having a police car parked outside the school, a deterrent to any fights at the school. Weve been sitting for a while without any type of policing at the school, Mr. Harvey said. If anyplace should be safe, it should be the school.
If the board of education chooses to move ahead on the proposal, there would be a separate proposition on the ballot in May when district residents are voting on the proposed 2013-14 school budget and school board candidates.
But Mrs. Kirnie said she doesnt anticipate having a law enforcement presence soon.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions – where to find that person and also how to pay for them, she said. Im looking right now at the possibility of a grant from the Department of Criminal Justice to cover it all or in part, and there are still some unexplored resources through our legislators.
Mrs. Kirnie said that, while theyve discussed putting funding for a police officer up for public vote, nothing is cast in concrete yet. She said the $22,000 to $24,000 figure was the working number at this point and included training for the individual.
At the point that we decided we needed more funding, we were entertaining the idea of putting the officer up as a separate proposition at budget time. It is an active consideration. However, at this point without knowing where we are in terms of educational programs, we would not want the funding of an officer to negatively impact our ability to provide a sound basic education, she said.
Because the school serves five municipalities, Mrs. Kirnie said there was also the possibility of spreading the cost out.
We have more questions than we have answers, she said.
Mr. Harvey pointed to an incident in late January as the impetus for his proposal.
State police charged Steven R. Wells, 60, with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, first-degree harassment and fourth-degree stalking Jan. 25 following an early morning incident at the school. He was wearing a shoulder holster with a black Desert Eagle BB pistol, which is considered an imitation pistol, beneath his jacket, troopers said. Wells arrived at the school at 7:20 a.m. seeking to deliver a package to a teacher he had spent time with in the days before the incident. The teacher told police Wells had been stalking her in the days prior to the incident. Wells was taken into custody without incident at the school that morning.
We made out lucky with that. We were better off than other communities (that experienced intruders in their schools), Mr. Harvey said.
He acknowledged local taxpayers are already burdene, and the school is in a difficult budget situation, but he suggested this too important a measure to be ignored because of cost.
We all know school taxes are high, property taxes are high, but what do we want to do? For $24,000, Id like to make sure that never happens here, he said.
I think this is a good step to see what the people in the community would like to do (to address school security concerns), Mr. Harvey added.
Mrs. Kirnie said the district was happy to be working with local government on the initiative.
Im delighted because the idea came from the Norfolk Town Board, she said. Any time that the school and the community can cooperate in efforts like this, were all winners.