GILSUM — The Monadnock Regional School District’s proposed operating budget for next school year will include funding for an armed school resource officer.
The Monadnock school board voted Tuesday night, on a weighted tally of 5.361 to 3.358, to include funds for the position in the 2020-21 budget. Elizabeth “Betty” Tatro of Swanzey, Eric Stanley of Swanzey and Winston Wright of Fitzwilliam voted against the motion, while Nicholas Mosher of Roxbury and Kristen Noonan of Fitzwilliam abstained. Kristie Wilder of Swanzey, Cornelius “Neil” Moriarty of Richmond and Karen Wheeler of Gilsum were absent from the meeting at the Gilsum STEAM Academy.
The district has employed a school security officer, who cannot carry a gun on duty or make arrests, since 2013, according to a previous report in The Sentinel. It previously had a school resource officer — who has that authority — until voters rejected a warrant article to fund the position for the 2013-14 school year. That officer was stationed at the middle/high school in Swanzey Center for 11 years.
This armed officer would be an addition to the district’s security officer, Frank J. DeTurris of Swanzey, who was hired in 2015 and is a retired New York City Police Department detective.
Tuesday’s vote came after discussion of whether the position should be built into the budget request or proposed to the public through a warrant article in March. Those who voted against putting it in the budget emphasized that they are in favor of hiring a school resource officer, but thought the question should go before district voters for approval.
The board did not approve a specific amount of money for the position, or specify whether it would be part-time or full-time, because administration is still working out details with the Swanzey Police Department, according to Superintendent Lisa A. Witte. Witte said she is scheduled to meet with DeTurris and Swanzey police next week to further discuss potential arrangements.
That proved to be a sticking point for a few board members, who said they would like more information about the financials before giving the go ahead.
“In order to make that decision, I want to know how much money we’re talking about,” Noonan said. “I’m not sure which way to go, because I do think it’s needed, so it should be in the budget, but if it’s quite a large amount then the taxpayers may want to vote on it separately.”
Mosher, of Roxbury, proposed an amendment to the motion to specify the position would be part-time, but no one seconded his proposal. Board Vice Chairman Scott Peters of Troy, who made the original motion, said he didn’t make it more specific because he trusts the administration to determine what is feasible within the budget.
“... If we present it as a warrant article and it is voted down by the public, many of whom don’t attend these meetings and hear these conversations, we won’t have an option to plug it in through existing operating dollars that year. We will be without the SRO for the year,” Peters said. “I would rather have the option, and even if the proposed budget doesn’t pass, if we still feel passionate about redirecting funds to this, we would have that opportunity.”
But Tatro raised concerns about the public’s reaction to the board putting the position into the budget rather than putting it up for a vote.
“I clearly agree with getting an SRO, but I think with this district, it’s really important to be transparent,” Tatro said. “The SRO topic has been one that’s been a real hot-button item when we’ve voted, and so if we just go ahead and slide it in, any trust we may have built may be gone.”
Robert Colbert of Swanzey responded that while he understands Tatro’s concern, he has heard little feedback from the public on the issue.
“This has been on the agenda for five meetings,” he said. “Not one taxpayer has come to a board meeting and addressed this and said no or yes.”
Wright, of Fitzwilliam, agreed with Tatro, saying he thought the public would see putting the position into the operating budget as “hiding something.”
“I very emphatically believe that this should go to the public. They fought over this for years, and the reason it didn’t pass basically was the cost,” Wright said. “It’s going to be a lot more expensive, and I think that the public should vote yes or no on this.”
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15 at Monadnock Regional/Middle High School.