COLCHESTER — The Board of Education approved a budget Tuesday evening that would eliminate the school resource officer position from local schools. If approved by the town, the position would be shifted to the police department.
Jeffrey Burt, superintendent of Colchester Public Schools, said the district had discontinued programs that the officer previously provided, including the DARE program, opting instead to teach the same information during health classes.
“We’re not seeing the full benefits of the position,” said Burt.
He said that the schools had received grants to increase building security and that district’s four schools were located within a half-mile of both the Colchester Police Department and the headquarters for State Police Troop K.
The Board of Education has been considering the removal of the school resource officer for “a couple of years,” said Burt. The decision was not related to the nationwide debate on whether school resource officers should remain in schools, he said.
Colchester First Selectman Mary Bylone said she was not involved with the Board of Education’s decision. She said she met with officials in the police department to plan how they would continue to fund the officer’s $89,000 salary package. She added that officers would continue responding to calls in the schools.
According to Officer Craig Scheel, president of the local police union, the salary for the current resource officer will be shifted from the Board of Education budget to the town budget. Scheel said there was no reason the department could not continue assigning an officer to the schools if the school district was in agreement.
A broader debate
The benefit of an officer in the schools reaches beyond programming, said Resident Trooper Sergeant Michael Rondinone.
It’s about developing relationships within the community, and those relationships start with the children, Rondinone said
“I don’t agree with the Board of Education’s decision to eliminate the SRO position,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake.”
Both Rondinone and Scheel said that cultivating trust between the police and the community has gained importance in light of the current national conversation about police.
Rondinone said he was not aware that the board was considering the elimination of the school officer position nor had he received any correspondence citing concerns about the position.
He said that although the school district officials have indicated they were planning to increase school security, he did not believe additional security measures were an adequate substitute for the presence of a police officer on school grounds.
“Let’s not forget Newtown, Sandy Hook,” he said. “It could happen. I think there’s a false sense of security … [as a police officer], you’re the first line of defense in the schools.”
The Town of Colchester will hold a public hearing to present the Board of Education budget and the municipal budget on April 6 at 6:30 p.m.