BEDFORD — Despite support from the town’s police chief, school administrators are not currently prepared to seek a third school resource officer for the school district.
Currently, there are two school resource officers — William Donahue and Danielle Nightingale; Nightingale was added in 2017 following a similar request from Police Chief John Bryfonski.
“I have had multiple meetings with Chief Bryfonski. He has encouraged us to consider a third SRO at the high school,” interim Superintendent Mike Fournier told the school board this week.
Although Fournier said the existing two SRO positions are incredibly valuable, he said the administration team believes that a third SRO would be a desire rather than a need. Given the other priorities within the district, he has decided not to include a third SRO in his proposed budget.
School officials said they were supportive of Fournier’s decision, but would like to revisit the issue a year from now since a grant is available to pay for a portion of the position.
“If we pay for a police officer, then we give up something else,” said school board member Bill Kassler. “Our first priority should be education.”
Instead of providing funds for a third police officer, Kassler said he would rather use that money for educational staff, textbooks or other necessities.
“I am enthusiastically in support of taking a pass on this,” he said, stressing that grant money isn’t always free, specifically if the school district has to pay a matching contribution or the full cost after a certain number of years.
Fournier said there is about $62,000 in grant money that could be used to offset the cost of a third SRO, which is why he sought advice from the school board on the matter.
“I think that all of us find that the SROs are a wonderful part of our community,” maintained Fournier.
Still, he stressed that there are only so many dollars in the budget to spend. If at any point administrators feel the need for another police officer at the schools, Fournier said he will bring that issue before the school board once again.
Meanwhile, Fournier said the chief may have some research data to share with school officials.
“They are definitely busy,” he said of the existing two police officers, who are utilized mostly at Bedford High School and Lurgio Middle School, and occasionally at McKelvie Intermediate School and the three elementary schools.
But for the upcoming school year and the ongoing budget preparations, Fournier said the district needs to prioritize its teachers, core subjects and the district’s mission.
In 2015, Bedford was awarded a Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grant, which was a three-year funding stream for a total of $125,000 for an SRO. A second SRO was hired two years later.
Kassler said it still isn’t clear whether the town’s police department or the school district will be paying for the fourth-year of the second SRO that was hired.
The annual cost to hire a new SRO is about $90,000, which includes salary, medicare, retirement, workers’ compensation, health insurance, dental insurance, clothing allowance, etc.
School board chairman Jay Nash said that unless a specific need is identified and warranted for a third SRO, he does not believe the infrastructure for that position should currently be created.
School officials have just started reviewing the proposed $76 million budget, which includes requests from building administrators to hire about 18 new positions.
Those positions include a school nurse, two elementary teachers, two reading support paraprofessionals, coaches for lacrosse and crew, a special education teacher, program paraprofessional, preschool coordinator, financial clerk and two computer science teachers.