Saratoga County

Saratoga County sheriff to cut DARE classes

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department will end its anti-drug DARE program in local schools with t

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department will end its anti-drug DARE program in local schools with the start of the new school year.

Sheriff James D. Bowen said he’s eliminating the program, in which uniformed deputies provided in-school anti-drug education at the elementary school level, because of the need to cut budgets and competing demands on deputies’ time.

Leaders at two elementary schools in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District have petitioned the county Board of Supervisors to fund the program, but no other schools have followed their lead.

“I’m treating everyone as fair as I can, but we can’t afford all these programs,” Bowen told the county’s Public Safety Committee at a meeting Tuesday in Ballston Spa.

Committee member Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, said he was concerned about loss of the program. “It’s a highly valued program down in our area,” he said.

Budget casualty

DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a national program that became popular in the 1980s, with police officers teaching it in schools in thousands of communities, generally targeting fifth graders. Since then, some researchers have questioned its effectiveness in preventing student drug abuse once participants reach adolescence.

In the last few years, many police departments locally and around the country have eliminated their DARE programs because of municipal budget cuts. Schenectady and Saratoga Springs are among the school districts that once had the program but have pulled it from their schools.

Bowen said he had two full-time DARE officers, one assigned to the Shenendehowa Central School District and one who split time among the county’s rural districts. Both deputies are veteran officers within a few years of retirement who will return to active patrol duty, he said.

Bowen said his department has to devote much of its time to transporting prisoners to court or for medical treatment, and it has a new program training deputies for “active shooter” situations in schools.

Because of budget pressures, Bowen eliminated a commercial vehicle inspection program last year, and he said DARE must go this year.

“It was my decision,” Bowen said.

In a June letter to schools, the sheriff suggested they consider using the “Too Good for Drugs” program offered by the Saratoga County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council. Officials at the Prevention Council said they’re going to try to meet the new demand for drug abuse prevention education, but it won’t be easy.

“It’s a matter of stepping up, but we’re in the same situation, if we don’t get funding we may not be able to do it to the same level,” said Heather Kisselback, executive director of the council. “We’re going to rearrange some staff schedules and try really hard.”

Timothy Sinnenberg and Ralph Rothacker, two principals in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, said the program had been valuable over the years.

“The DARE program has proven itself to be a highly effective means of teaching our students not only about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but also about the importance of making good decisions in life,” Sinnenberg and Rothacker wrote to county supervisors.

Supervisors, while they control funding for the sheriff’s department, leave its management to Bowen and haven’t asked him to reconsider.

Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said the program was effective, and school officials are trying to find other ways to incorporate anti-drug lessons into the school curriculum.

“We’re to figure out how to incorporate some of the lessons into other parts of the curriculum, into other parts of the school program,” he said Tuesday.

Robinson said he understands the budget constraints the sheriff’s department is under, but he believes the DARE program was valuable.

“As a school, we struggle still with the fact that students continue to make bad decisions, and anything we can do to ameliorate that is beneficial,” he said.

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