During the meeting parents and other concerned residents asked questions about the cost associated with hiring these officers, and whether other options for helping students, including mental health workers and social workers, could be used as an alternative.
The city had planned to have Oneida City Police Chief John Little, acting on behalf of the city, sign an agreement with the Oneida City School District to hire a School Resource Officer. The term of the hire would last from Sept. 1, 2022, until June 30, 2023.
The district intends to pay 78% of the officer’s salary and benefits.” As the agreement has not been approved as of yet by the City Council, we cannot offer the exact cost of this program as it will depend upon the salary and benefits of the specific officer chosen for this duty,” Oneida City Schools Superintendent Matthew Carpenter said.
First Ward Councilman Thomas Simchik suggested the council table their decision during the June 7 meeting. Only half the council was present. The council will reconvene this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 109 N. Main St.
Former Manlius police officer Matt Ware had worked as an SRO at East Syracuse-Minoa High School before accepting the same role at Oneida High School in 2011. He will retire June 30. During the meeting, several people, including Little, praised Ware for his commitment and competency.
“I will be sad to see Matt retire. We’ve worked well together,” Oneida High School Principal Brian Gallagher said. “It will be like Starsky losing Hutch.”
Ware explained his position and responsibilities to the audience. He emphasized how he was responsible for school surveillance and running lockdown drills to prepare students for an emergency. The ultimate goal, Ware said, was to provide a sense of security at the school.
“If a student does not feel safe he’s not going to learn,” Ware said.
Ware also worked to engage students and provide someone they could talk to.
“We want to be proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “If it were up to me, we’d have school resource officers in every one of our schools.”
When audience members asked if that could happen, Carpenter said it was a possibility.
“The Board of Education and the district have a commitment to student safety. We have added two SPOs within the past year. We are certainly open to discussing and planning for additional officers in the future,” Carpenter said.
The Oneida school district has one SRO and two special patrol officers. The Madison County Sheriff’s Department employs the SPOs. One works at Otto Shortell Middle School in Wampsville. The second SPO is an Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputy who works at Durhamville Elementary School. The school is in the Oneida school district but is located in Oneida County. The Oneida school district pays $19,000 for each deputy.
Some audience members suggested mental health workers as an alternative to officers in schools. Carpenter said that had already been done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a district, we are dedicated to supporting our students’ mental health needs,” Carpenter said. “Last summer, the district added an Elementary Social Worker in anticipation of increased mental health needs of our students as we returned to full-time, in-person schooling coming out of the pandemic.
“For the coming school year, we have added an additional Elementary Counselor and Elementary Social Worker. The district does not see this an either SRO/SPO OR mental health worker situation. Rather, we provide mental health services for our students and school security services for our District.”
The SRO program was started in 2019 as an initiative by the Madison County Board of Supervisors in conjunction with Madison County Sheriff Todd M. Hood. The county funds half of the total cost of the SRO from host community benefits with the Oneida Indian Nation. The other half is paid for by the school district. In the case of Chittenango Schools, the Town of Sullivan also funds a portion of the salary.
The county has agreed to pay $18,000 a year toward having an SRO in every school building within the county. The total cost of an SRO per year is $37,000. The school districts will be responsible for the additional $19,000.
The City of Oneida School District became interested in the program in 2019. They began participation in Sept 2021. The county currently employs 10 SROs.