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Saratoga Springs superintendent discusses plan to hire additional school resource officers

Saratoga Springs City School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Patton
Lucas Willard
Saratoga Springs City School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Patton

The Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education voted this week to hire two additional school resource officers.

The 5 to 4 vote, bringing the total number of district SRO’s to four, comes after some community division over the role of police in schools.

In addition to being a part of the district’s emergency response, Superintendent Dr. Michael Patton says the district’s two existing SRO’s have been great mentors to students.

In an interview with WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard, Patton said the recommendation to hire the officers came after a district-wide safety assessment in 2022:

In the summertime, we had a presentation of the Board of Education, just kind of overall review of our safety plans. And so the board had asked if we could have NYSIR, which is the New York State Insurance Reciprocal come back. They were here a few years ago to do just an assessment safety assessment of the district overall. And so they spent three days with us in October, visiting all of our schools, providing some recommendations and support. And one of the things that the community was interested in and the board had asked for some feedback on, in addition to any recommendations that were incorporated in the report from safety and security, you know, perspectives was also just the role of the school resource officer and you know, based on the size of our district, you know, should that be expanded? And so they did make the recommendation to expand to four SROs, one additional school resource officer that would support our four elementary schools within the city, and then the second additional SRO to support both Greenfield and Dorothy Nolan elementary schools. So, a conversation I think a lot of school districts have been having over the years. And we truly have seen the benefit of having that partnership in place. So I think with the NYSIR recommendation, and getting the feedback that we have from all of our stakeholders here within the district, with the board's approval, we're looking forward to expanding that role of an SRO in our schools.

There's been an SRO program that's been in place for a few years. I just want to know why. If you have any personal feelings, why you think it's a benefit? I know that there's been recommendations from the assessment, and that there's been some strong opinions on either side of the issue, but do you have any personal feelings as to why additional SROs are necessary?

And again, we've had a long-standing, outstanding relationship with both the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the County Sheriff's Department. And that collaboration is important, I think, in our partnership, as we look to continue to improve our school safety plans, as well as you know, continue to maintain a safe and welcoming environment, you know, for all of our students and our staff and our visitors. And so SROs are, they're critical members of our district emergency response team our building response team. Like I said, they help play in our safety drills, they help with facilities management, our emergency response preparedness, but what I really enjoy watching and seeing the work that both Glen and Mike do is the relationship that they establish with our students and staff. So they are active duty, uniformed police officers that work in collaboration with our district staff. But they are especially trained to work with school aged kids and in the school setting. They act as great mentors and role models for our students. But they're also here to help educate our staff in the community, you know, as it relates to law-related topics, or when I was a building administrator, and if I knew there was an issue in the community, I could always touch base with my SRO. They can help facilitate gathering information and things that are going on. And also they're there to help refer our students and families to community agencies, you know, outside of the school that can offer their support. So they really play, you know, a variety of roles in a school and our experiences here in Saratoga Springs have been, you know, nothing but very helpful in looking to maintain that relationship.

In some communities SROs can be controversial. In the city of Schenectady in the public school system, a similar discussion was happening last year and one student that I reported on, explained that there was existing community trauma and a lack of relationship between city residents and city police.  Have you heard any of those concerns in Saratoga Springs?

We haven't heard that directly from our students. I think there are some community concern about that. And I think that's where it's essential for school districts and the local law enforcement agencies to have very clear and concise written expectations that's included in our memorandum of understanding that defines the role and the responsibility of an SRO working in a school district, is much different than a police officer that's on patrol, you know, in our community. So, you know, we've been very clear whether SROs that school discipline situations, they're the responsibility of the school administrators, and not the SRO. So we don't ever want to, you know, go over those lines of who's responsible in situations. So, you know, although there's mixed feelings out there, I'm sure in a lot of communities, we've been fortunate, again with the SROs that we have in our school, that they truly are advocates for our students. They understand what their kind of role and responsibilities are vin the school and we regularly review that you know, those situations as they come up. But I've not had any parents call with concern about, hey, this is a you know, what responsibility an SRO has in school and where those kind of lines have been blurred between police officer and then responsibility of an educator in a school district,

Let's talk about cost, if you don't mind, I know that the price of adding an additional school resource officer, well, in this case two, they run about 75,000 bucks each and this is through the city and the county. And I know that the district has also had conversations with those entities about picking up some of those costs. So moving forward, you know, what's it going to look like from the district standpoint, and the district's pocketbook for ensuring that all of the SROs are adequately funded moving forward?

So yeah, the county establishes the rate for school resource officers for all Saratoga County school districts. So there isn’t a different rate depending on which school district they're contracting with, and almost all of them have SROs now. And then the city's rate, like you said, is very, very close to what the county rate is. So, early on, in our in our conversations, as we're reviewing our comprehensive safety plan, both city officials and town officials had approached school district offer their support, which is we're very gracious of that. But we feel it's important that it's sustainable over time, it just can't be a one year and done…

Meaning covering the costs? Ok. So the district is choosing to go a route where it's making sure that it's paying for services?

Yeah. So we want to make sure it's budgeted for within our within our school budget. And so with the board's approval, we're looking to implement the two additional SROs mid-year and so that would be prorated for the remainder of this year, and then moving forward, we'd have to have that built into our budget. Now, if the city and the Town of Wilton was to follow through, you know, they had come and felt strongly that this is something that financially they could do to help support the school district…and it's something as an educator and superintendent I've been advocating for is that, you know, there really is a, it’s a community resource for our school district. And it shouldn't necessarily just be the responsibility of the school district to be footing the bill, if all of our kids are benefiting and our communities benefiting from it, that if there was an opportunity to kind of share that financial responsibility between cities and towns and the school district, ultimately, that's how it's going to make these positions more sustainable, you know, over time. So we'll be following back up, both for with the town and the city, to see where they're at, in be able to provide some financial support. If they can, that would be wonderful, if they can follow through on some of the support that had been previously offered. That would just help obviously offset the financial impact it's going to have on us as we move into the budgetary process and have to prioritize things moving forward, both from an academic side, social-emotional side as well as you know some of our comprehensive safety and security concerns.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.