SWANZEY CENTER — The Monadnock Regional School District could have both a police officer and a security officer in the schools next year.
The months-long debate over whether the district should have a school resource officer — who is a police officer — versus a school security officer ended Tuesday night as officials decided to plan for one of each in the 2016-17 year.
School board members first backed a motion on Oct. 6, in a weighed vote of 8.718 to 4.282, to add funding for a school resource officer to the 2016-17 school year's proposed budget.
Then Tuesday night, they voted unanimously to continue paying for a school security officer position in the budget. The district has had a security officer since August 2013.
Board member Nicholas A. Mosher of Roxbury made the motion Tuesday to keep the school security officer, saying the vote earlier this month wasn't clear whether the police officer would replace the security officer in the budget.
He said there are some parts of school operations that could be better handled by a security officer instead of a police officer.
For example, a security officer is responsible for upholding school policy, while a resource officer is a law enforcement officer who answers to the local police department and not necessarily Monadnock's superintendent, he said.
In addition, from what he and other board members have been told, he said, a school resource officer would be an employee of the Swanzey Police Department and could only cover the schools in that town, whereas a security officer could be stationed at schools in Monadnock's other member towns.
Monadnock covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.
Everyone on the board supported keeping the security officer. But adding the police officer was not favored across the board. Some members were concerned about adding the job to the budget before they know how much it will cost, and before they know how the officer will be shared with the Swanzey Police Department.
In the past, the cost of the school resource officer has been split between the Monadnock district and the town of Swanzey since the officer is a member of the town police department and returns to patrol duties when school is on break.
"There doesn't seem to be any homework behind this SSO or SRO," board member Phyllis T. Peterson of Fitzwilliam said. "I don't see any factual information."
The board's decision to hire both types of school officers comes about a month after it hired Frank J. DeTurris of Swanzey for a year as the district's school security officer. DeTurris replaced Gary Germain, who resigned from the position in April.
It also comes approximately five months after Linda Kalloger, principal of Monadnock Regional Middle/High School, told board members she and assistant principal Ryan W. Schafer were overwhelmed by the amount of discipline problems they were dealing with at a school of about 900 students.
Germain was hired to the district-wide security officer position in August 2013.
Earlier that year, voters approved a petition warrant article at the school district’s annual meeting to raise $56,787 toward hiring a school resource officer for the 2013-14 school year. The board later decided to hire a school security officer instead of a resource officer because a security officer cost less.
At the time, school board officials said a security officer was nearly the same as a resource officer, except a security officer can’t make arrests. Members later learned the security officer also cannot carry a gun while on duty.
Monadnock had been without a school resource officer for the 2012-13 school year after school district residents voted down a warrant article in March 2012 to fund the position. Before that, the officer, who was also a member of the Swanzey Police Department, was stationed at the middle/high school for 11 years.
In 2014, voters passed a warrant article appropriating $60,000 to continue paying for a school security officer, and to include funding for the position in the school district’s operating budget going forward each year.
School board member Scott Peters of Troy said at the Oct. 6 meeting that there seemed to be a lot of support for a school resource officer, and he believed there was enough support at the board level that it would endorse the job.
"The sense I get from the community members I talk to is that we're spending too much time reinventing this wheel," he said.
School board member Patricia Bauries of Swanzey said at that meeting she didn't agree or disagree about a school security officer versus a resource officer, "but it's a passionate discussion, and I would like to bring it down to a rational discussion."
That includes finding out the exact cost of the school resource officer position, the job description, how many days the officer will be in the building, if the officer is obligated to leave school when needed by the Swanzey Police Department, and whether the officer can cover all towns in the district.
Board member James I. Carnie of Richmond agreed with Bauries, adding that if the school board is going to move forward with reinstating the school resource officer position, it needs to get Swanzey Police Chief Thomas R. DeAngelis involved.
He also said DeTurris hasn't been given a chance to prove himself.
DeAngelis said Tuesday he's been out of town but received a message from Monadnock Superintendent Lisa A. Witte saying she wanted to meet with him about reinstating the school resource officer. He planned to follow up with her, he said.
Swanzey Town Administrator Michael T. Branley said Monadnock officials have yet to approach town selectmen about the matter. There is time before selectmen begin reviewing department budgets, including the police department's, in November, but school officials would have to act quickly, he said. Budget hearings for the town and school district are held in January prior to annual and town meetings in March.
Monadnock's budget committee also weighed in, with members at its September meeting voting unanimously to tell the school board the committee will support a school resource officer in the budget "provided all expectations are put in place."
The stance is the oppose of the committee's position three years ago not to support the resource officer. That year, a warrant article to fund the police officer failed at the school district's annual meeting.
Budget committee Chairman Wayne S. Lechlider of Swanzey said Tuesday that some committee members had been hearing concerns from residents that the school security officer wasn't cutting it, and saw value in returning to a resource officer.
"We tried, and it doesn't appear to be working," he said of the security officer position. "Maybe it's time to step back. There is nothing wrong with changing course."