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The Chappaqua Board of Education approved last Wednesday sending a nearly $138.3 million budget to the voters later this spring but several parents called on district officials to invest in additional school resource officers (SRO).
Last week’s meeting, where the board finished its work on next year’s spending plan in advance of the May 16 budget vote, came two days after the latest school shooting in Nashville. Some district parents questioned why the district wasn’t including an officer at Chappaqua’s three elementary schools and two middle schools. A school resource officer was added to Horace Greeley High School within the past year.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman outlined the recent enhancements throughout the district following security audits conducted by a consultant in 2018 and last year. Improvements have included interior and exterior camera coverage in all buildings, a part-time security supervisor and person traps at the elementary and middle schools. There has also been extensive social emotional learning and diversity work to help students’ sense of belonging, risk assessments and training for social workers and psychologists and working closely with the New Castle Police Department to assess risks.
Electronic door locks have been added at Greeley and soon the doors inside the buildings housing grades K-8 will be equipped with them as well.
However, Ackerman said the district’s two safety audits did not recommend that officers should be in every school building.
“I know that for some community members they don’t feel like this is enough and I completely understand that position, and there have been many e-mails requesting that we place police officers in our five other buildings, and I understand that,” Ackerman said. “I understand that request and that has not been the direction we’ve taken as a district.”
It was also noted that results from an independent survey released last November reveled that less than 20 percent of responding students, staff and the community members supported having armed personnel in the schools.
Board of Education President Jane Shepardson said if officers had been recommended, the board would have found a way to pay for it.
“I think that it’s just important for the community to hear that if any of this information from any expert, any study, any conference, any literature, if any of that had revealed that having SROs in every single one of our buildings was the best way to keep children safe at our school, all of us would be making sure that it is in the budget,” Shepardson said.
But several speakers disagreed with the district’s decision. Abbie Smith, the parent of two children in the district, said it has also been demonstrated that having a deterrent, such as a school resource officer, can be effective. Authorities in Nashville reported that last week’s shooter may have first assessed another school but decided against it because of too much security.
Smith urged the board to reconsider its decision to place a school resource officer in each school, not armed personnel.
“So the fact that you’re relying on this outdated information to justify these actions, to justify your budget is just unacceptable to the community,” Smith said. “We understand that you’re open to having this conversation. Nobody wants to have this conversation after our children are dead.”
Another parent, Debbie Grishman, said she would like to see the district have a more equitable distribution of its resource officer. Other districts use their officer at multiple schools.
“We’re living in a scary world. Our kids are coming home and learning how to run, hide and fight in school,” Grishman said. “Nine-year-olds, seven-year-olds are being taught how to protect themselves against shooters and they’re so scared, they’re scared children, and it’s common sense. Read the data about having an SRO, (it’s) an additional layer of security. It will help deter.”
The community will decide on a budget that has a $4.3 million spending increase over the current year. The district also had to use every dollar of its allowable tax cap space of more than $2.4 million.
There is an estimated tax rate increase of 2.08 percent in New Castle, which represents just over 90 percent of the district while the remaining portion of the district in Mount Pleasant would see a 4.49 percent reduction in taxes next year.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/