Troopers to end school role in 15 districts
Paterson budget plan tied to 2010-11 move
Published: February 08, 2010, 6:47 am
State troopers will no longer walk the halls of schools in 15 area districts after this school year.
The State Police has decided to end the program that provides school resource officers. The decision was in response to Gov. David A. Paterson's budget proposal, which eliminates an academy class for new troopers in 2010-11.
By reassigning the school resource officers to other duties, the State Police will come close to accounting for the 125 to 150 troopers it expects to lose through attrition this year — positions that typically would be filled by new troopers coming out of the academy, a spokesman said.
"Given the fiscal adjustments the state has had to make, the reductions that had to be made in the budget, that kind of forced our hand on that," said Sgt. Kern Swoboda. "We love the [school resource officer] program. We really hate to see it go. It's a tough decision for the superintendent to make."
Ninety troopers across the state work in 115 school districts, with some serving more than one district.
In Erie County, the decision will affect the Holland, Iroquois, North Collins, Akron and Grand Island school districts. Barker is the only Niagara County district with a state trooper assigned to it.
Other districts that will lose a school resource officer include: Scio, Genesee Valley, Whitesville and Canaseraga in Allegany County; Ellicottville and Portville in Cattaraugus County; Pine Valley in Chautauqua County; and Alexander and Pembroke in Genesee County.
Barker School Superintendent Roger Klatt said the program has benefited his district in many ways since it began about six years ago.
He said Trooper Jill Pezzino works with students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, helping integrate her expertise into the curriculum — from talking about how to reconstruct a crime scene to what the Fourth Amendment means — and offering to listen when students need to talk. She also works with local police and fire departments to ensure building safety.
"We'd certainly miss a very instrumental person in our school who goes beyond the typical role of what one might expect of a State Police officer stationed in the school," Klatt said.
Grand Island Superintendent Robert W. Christmann offered a number of examples of situations where the trooper assigned to his district has protected children in the schools.
In one situation this fall, a group of teenagers broke into homes and stole rifles.
"An elementary school teacher looks out the window and sees a group of kids outside carrying rifles. The first call went to the school resource officer," Christmann said. "He tackled one of them, and they [others assisting him] chased the rest of them. Our officer actually made the arrest."
Swoboda declined to speculate about what might happen to the school resource officer program in 2010-11 if the State Legislature restores funding to the State Police.
However, he said that even if the program is suspended next year, that does not mean it will be gone forever.
"We have no indication at this point that this would be a permanent decision on our part," he said. "If our budget is restored to a higher level down the road, we would be open to the possibility of reinstating the school resource program."
Christmann, president-elect of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said schools across the state are alarmed by the plan to end the program.
"We're going to do everything we can collectively to have legislators understand the value of the program," he said. "We're fighting like crazy for it."