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The Town of New Castle and Chappaqua School District recently approved the two-year pilot agreement for two new school resource officers (SROs) in district buildings, but disagreements remain on how to keep the expense financially palatable.
On Sept. 13, the Chappaqua Board of Education formally accepted the agreement, followed six days later by the Town Board. Under the terms of the agreement, the district will pay the town $753.38 for each officer every eight-hour day that they serve in the schools for the current school year and $944.44 for each day for each officer for 2024-25.
Last spring, the school board approved adding two SROs, one to be shared among the elementary schools and the other between the district’s two middle schools after public outcry to increase security throughout the district. Horace Greeley High School already had an SRO last year, part of a three-year agreement with the town that also expires at the end of 2024-25.
At last week’s joint meeting between the two boards, there was discussion on what can be done to make the expense more affordable after Town Administrator Jill Shapiro inquired of school officials whether they expected to consider additional SROs.
Board of Education President Hilary Grasso said it was too early for school officials to know how the district will address the potential for additional officers after this year.
The town is currently reviewing its municipal budget for 2024. Its fiscal year coincides with the calendar year while the school district’s fiscal year begins July 1.
“There are different thoughts on how to make SROs more affordable to school districts,” Grasso said. “Some are hopeful that some of that will come to fruition, but we are not in a position at this point to say what we may or may not want to be able to do financially past this year.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman said the district is pushing for state legislation that will exempt expenses for security personnel from the tax cap. Without that exemption, many districts, including Chappaqua, are hard-pressed to provide the security officials and/or the community may feel is necessary while still adhering to the tax cap.
Ackerman decried how some districts don’t pay anything for SROs while in other communities the cost is shared evenly with the municipality.
“So my position is just give us the exemption and allow us to budget for it so I don’t have to pull from the contractual side of the budget, which impacts the classes,” Ackerman said.
If the district were to place an SRO in each of its six school buildings it would cost roughly $1.8 million a year, she said.
She asked for the town’s support in lobbying state representatives to support a bill to make the exemption.
Councilwoman Victoria Tipp, a longtime former school board member and board president, said a large-scale advocacy campaign is needed to reach out to districts across the region and state as communities try to find ways to pay for school security needs.
Town officials said regardless of where the money comes from, taxpayers will feel the pinch.
“It’s the same taxes, so whether it’s coming out of the school budget or it’s coming out of the town budget, the problem remains the same,” Shapiro said.
Supervisor Lisa Katz added that the town also has to watch its tax cap.
Grasso said it’s more complicated than just which budget pays the expense. There are many other communities where the expense is shared or falls on the municipality, she said.
Some districts use retired police officers, saving the cost of benefits, Grasso added.
In Westchester, Ossining and Harrison are the only municipalities that pay the entire cost of SROs, according to town Police Chief James Carroll. Typically, it averages a 70-30 split, he said.
Also, municipalities in Westchester are bound by an agreement that prohibits the use of retired officers for SROs, Carroll mentioned.
Town and school officials pledged to continue talking in future meetings on how to pay for SROs.
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/