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Saratoga parent group calls for SRO in every school, rearming monitors

Saratoga parent group calls for SRO in every school, rearming monitors

Slate of three school board candidates planned
Saratoga parent group calls for SRO in every school, rearming monitors
A group that supports arming district grounds monitors rally before the Saratoga City School District Board meeting on Oct. 23
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

The Saratoga Springs parent group that has pushed the school board to rearm district grounds monitors also wants a school resource officer in every building and other safety-focused renovations.

The group, which calls itself Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools, released a policy outline on Saturday that will serve as platform for a slate of three school board candidates -- yet to be named -- whom the group will support in the board election in May.

The group wants to reform the grounds monitors into a new position called school security officers. They would be armed former police officers. The plan also calls for adding a school resource officer, an active-duty police officer, at every building, resulting in six new resource officers districtwide.

While Saratoga Springs city officials have indicated they would share in the cost to expand the presence of school resource officers in the district, each new officer comes with a price tag of around $90,000 per year.

Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools wants at least one school resource officer and one school safety officer at every building, while also further securing school perimeters and entrances. The group's plan also calls for a "school safety volunteer network" of parents who would be trained to work with district security staff to watch for signs of troubling behavior at school events.

"While the current [district safety] plan meets New York state requirements, it does not meet our standards of providing the level of protection our children need and deserve," the group stated in the plan. 

Kara Rosettie, who formed the parent group in the fall, said she thinks there is enough money in the school district budget to make make safety improvements as part of a capital project now in the works. She also thinks there is funding for an expansion of the resource officer staff in the general fund.

She acknowledged the plan could not be implemented overnight, even if the group's candidates capture board seats in the spring. The broad outlines of the safety plan were borrowed from Americans for CLASS, a group formed by the parent of a victim of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year.

“We don’t expect this all to be done in one year, which is exactly why we need our grounds monitors rearmed,” Rosettie said on Tuesday.

The district already has in place some of the proposed security measures, including an extensive surveillance camera network and school-level safety teams. At its Jan. 24 meeting, the school board approved a contract with the Saratoga County Sheriff's Office to add a school resource officer to Maple Avenue Middle School. It has also tightened its visitor systems and adopted new security measures this year.

District officials and school board members have also emphasized so-called "soft" safety measures, like focusing on students' well-being and mental health supports aimed at preventing student outbursts.

For years, retired officers working as grounds monitors for the district carried concealed firearms without explicit school board authorization. That practice ended in the spring, after it was revealed that armed grounds monitors needed to be authorized by the school board. In October, the board narrowly voted against rearming the monitors, spurring a backlash from parents and community members who argued armed monitors were essential to school safety.

The Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools group has been publicizing a $40-a-ticket fundraiser and meet-and-greet in late-February for the trio of candidates the group plans to endorse. The board race has already started to take shape and promises to hinge on school safety -- and armed monitors.

Given the narrow 5-4 vote against authorizing monitors to carry guns, just one new board member could change how the board decides the issue. Board President Brad Thomas, a Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake social studies teacher who cast the decisive vote to not rearm the monitors, has said he doesn’t intend to run again. Board member Jim Wendell, who voted in favor of rearming the monitors, has said he plans to seek another term on the board.

Board member Heather Reynolds, who also voted against arming the monitors, said in December that, while it’s possible things will change between now and the spring, she plans to run again, citing the importance of an experienced board and her years working in the education field.

She said she hopes to avoid heated debate over guns during the election but defended her vote. She said she hasn’t seen data that suggests schools are safer with armed school personnel and that the best safety measures are those that improve how schools meet the mental health and social needs of students. She said the district should focus its resources on things like social workers and counselors who help improve the overall school community and mental health of students.

“My vote was based on recommendations from experts who have been doing this for years and my own experience in multiple, multiple schools in this area and around the country, in terms of what works,” Reynolds said during a December interview. “I base things on data. I ask for data. If there is no data to support a program, I will not vote for it.”

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