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School officials eye security pay changes to help hire retired officers

School officials eye security pay changes to help hire retired officers

Group also calls for additional aid for school districts statewide
School officials eye security pay changes to help hire retired officers
Saratoga High School students present petitions asking to keep grounds monitors armed while on school property.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

An organization representing New York state school business officials wants to lift a $30,000 limit on salaries for retired police officers in order to ease the transition of retired officers to school-based security jobs.

The proposal would enable school districts to employ retired law enforcement professionals as school resource officers without getting a waiver of the salary cap, which limits how much state pensioners can make while working a public job after they retire.

School districts have expanded school security over the past year using a variety of approaches, from adding active-duty police to schools as resource officers to arming former officers who work directly as school district employees. The Washington County Sheriff’s Department hired a handful of retired officers to serve as school resource officers, limiting their hours and pay to keep them from hitting the $30,000 limit.

“There are different ways to provide enhanced security. This is just one method, where a retired police officers goes to work for school districts,” said Michael Borges, executive director of the state Association of School Business Officials.

The proposal, part of a broader state aid request from the business officials group, also includes the creation of a new "student safety and well being" expense category that would qualify schools that spend money on mental health support and ongoing safety efforts for reimbursement of that spending.

Like other expense categories, including BOCES programs, student transportation and school construction, districts would see certain expenses reimbursed by the state at a rate based on each district's financial needs. But all districts would benefit from at least some state reimbursement for spending under the new aid category.

“It should be applicable to all school districts, because violence and mental health need is not just a concern of high-need districts. It’s a concern of all school districts,” Borges said of the proposed aid category.

The business officials’ broader aid proposal calls for an increase in state education funding of more than $2.1 billion, a similar amount to requests by the Board of Regents and a coalition of education groups.

The Schenectady City School District, in particular, would benefit from a recommendation by the business officials group to revise rules that apply to small city school districts. When it comes to calculating how much debt those districts can take on for capital projects, small city districts must count the overall cost of a capital project, while other district’s only count the share of the project the local community will pay for after receiving state reimbursement for the project. The proposal calls for adjusting the debt calculation for small city districts to align with all districts.

The proposal also includes a measures to tweak and update the foundation aid formula, which was created to allocate funds based on the needs of each districts' students. The proposal calls for replacing poverty data from the 2000 Census with updated counts, as well as eliminating ceilings and floors for how much of a community's wealth and poverty factors into the equation.

Any discussion about updating the foundation aid formula, however, will run up against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent efforts to downplay the role the formula plays in education funding. Last month, the governor called foundation aid and a much-cited school funding lawsuit  “ghosts of the past,” and he has argued the formula does not calculate a figure “owed” to districts.

But education advocates, lobbyists and some incoming lawmakers have pushed back, saying they are committed to seeing more than $4 billion more in foundation aid funding distributed to school districts over the next three or four years – beginning with a boost of around $1.3 billion for the next school year.

“We are not pulling a number out of a hat,” Borges said of the political squabbling over foundation aid. “It was a formula that was put in place in 2007, and we should follow the law.”

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