WILTON — The Saratoga Springs City School District is using its insurance carrier to conduct an audit of school safety procedures in order to see if any improvements could be made, including whether or not additional school resource officers are needed.
Superintendent Michael Patton said Friday that New York State Insurance Reciprocal, the district’s insurance carrier, offers the audit to districts as part of being a client. The district last did the audit in 2018 and anticipates a similar process as the process gets underway this month.
“It’s just another opportunity for outside perspective to kind of evaluate, overall, how we’re doing as a system,” Patton said.
The prior audit found the district should add an additional SRO.
The audit was one reason some members of the school board voted Thursday night not to move forward with creating any agreement with the town of Wilton to fully fund a school resource officer for Dorothy Nolan Elementary School, which is located within the town’s boundaries.
“There’s nobody here that said they don’t want to talk about SROs,” said board member Anjeanette Emeka in response to board member Dean Kolligan Jr. asking why SROs weren’t being discussed by the board. “Many of us have said that we want to wait until we get evaluated.”
During the board’s meeting Thursday evening, Wilton Town Board Member Ray O’Conor suggested the idea to the board during its public comment period.
“The SRO can help provide a safe learning environment to the more than 700 students that go to school here,” O’Conor said at the meeting.
He said Friday that the position would cost around $75,000 annually and that the town would have $11.6 million in projected reserves by year’s end. However, no decision has been made yet about setting aside such funds.
“The board has not taken formal action on this, but would do so if the school district is willing to move ahead,” O’Conor said Friday.
Discussions regarding SROs have been a hot topic in the district lately, but it’s not a new one.
The district currently has two SROs — one at the high school and one at the middle school, Patton said.
He said the district is currently in discussions with both the city and Wilton regarding SROs. Conversations with Wilton first began back in 2019, according to Patton.
“Obviously COVID hit so everything kind of got put on pause,” he said.
He said the town then reached back out in the spring.
The idea of adding an SRO to Dorothy Nolan has supporters and opponents — many addressing the board again at its Thursday night meeting.
Of the speakers opposing the idea, many said mental health woes need to be addressed and money should go toward funding those avenues, not SROs.
Such was the case with Julie Lewis, who described herself as a professional in the mental health field. She said more should be put toward supporting mental health services.
“Data shows that the presence of school-based mental health providers not only improves the outcome for students but also improves overall school safety,” Lewis said. “By contrast, there is no evidence that increased police presence in schools improves school safety. Indeed, in many cases, it causes harm.”
Charlie Samuels of Saratoga Springs said there were challenges to the district going about preventing mass shootings in the proposed way.
“The hardest thing we can do in this situation is to adopt a pragmatic approach to the perceived problem,” he said. “I say perceived because the odds that an American child will die in a mass shooting in a school are nearly 10 million to one, about the odds of being killed by lightning or dying in an earthquake.”
He continued on to say that SROs are the least effective way to prevent a mass shooting. Others were against the idea because the town wasn’t suggesting paying for SROs in all of the schools that students in the town attend.
“Whatever the intention behind this proposal, we can’t just dangle our hard-saved funds to override the decision of the duly-elected school board, especially when only a portion of the students of this town will see the effect of this massive expense,” said Lauren Cohen. “School board decisions are not bought on a personal basis. This is not how a district works. This is not how community works.”
Those in favor of an SRO said it creates a safer environment and allows for meaningful interactions between students and officers.
While Mark Crockett agreed the chances of a mass shooting in a school were small, he said the consequences should one occur are great.
“I would hate [for you] to vote against it and God forbid something happen here,” he said.
Carmela Frias said many of her clients are law enforcement. She did not specify her job.
“We must start looking at our officers as allies rather than enemies,” she said.
She said resource officers are an added layer of protection in schools and the officers build trust with students.
“Before I wrote my comments tonight I asked my daughter if she would feel safer if something bad happened at school [and] an SRO was there — she said yes,” Frias said.
Patton said he will discuss the timeline for the audit once the company has come in to begin the work. Once the report is finished, he said the information will be shared with the board and the public.