Fiscal constraints causing worries
By Michael Turton
Trustees and administrators at the Haldane Board of Education are weighing the merits of hiring a peace officer to be stationed on campus. The program, carried out in conjunction with the Putnam County sheriff, differs from the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, which Haldane used in the past, mainly in terms of cost.
As part of her report at the board’s Nov. 4 (Tuesday) meeting, Superintendent of Schools Diana Bowers said that peace officers, or “Special Patrol Officers” (SPO) as referred to by the sheriff’s office, are retired police officers who are armed and deputized when placed at a school. The annual cost of an SRO, an active sheriff’s deputy, is $110,000 while an SPO costs considerably less at $30,000 per year. Apart from the basic wage difference, Bowers said an SPO is less costly because retired officers already receive pension benefits.
SRO costs are split equally between the school district and the sheriff, each paying $55,000. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office said that final details would have to be determined but that the norm would be for Haldane to pay 100 percent of the SPO cost. Haldane participated in the SRO program several years ago when federal funding paid half of the cost with the county funding the remainder but withdrew from the program when federal funding ended.
An article in The New York Times in April 2013 pointed out that since the 1990s, thousands of school districts across the country have paid for having armed police officers on campus. It also noted that in the wake of 26 shooting deaths, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, the National Rifle Association recommended that police or armed guards be placed at all schools in the U.S. Trustees took no action; however the matter is under consideration.
Board members also received, for first reading, the district’s policy regarding “searches and interrogations” as part of an ongoing review of the district’s entire policy manual, a project that will take up to three years to complete. Bowers said that the search policy deals with “the interface between education law and penal law.”
Trustee Peter Henderson said he feels the current policy is “clearly inadequate” but that it is an area where the board “has to step carefully” in considering approaches. He suggested that the district lawyer also review the policy. As an example of what the current policy includes, Bowers said that the use of strip searches is prohibited on campus.
Cap on independent evaluations deferred
Action was deferred on a change in board policy that would cap the cost of obtaining independent evaluations of students with disabilities. School staff such as a psychologist or special education teacher normally conduct initial evaluations. Parents are entitled to an independent evaluation if they disagree with the first assessment.
Kory Riesterer, parent of a Haldane student and a member of the PTA’s Learning Differences Committee, attended the meeting along with two other committee members and helped convince the board to seek additional information. “Sometimes super-specialists are needed,” Riesterer said, adding that she is concerned about capping the cost of outside evaluations, especially for families who don’t have the means to pay for them.
BOCES also conducts evaluations and the revised policy would cap the cost at the BOCES rate. Riesterer told The Paper that she questions BOCES’ ability to provide completely independent evaluations since Haldane contracts numerous services from the Yorktown Heights-based institution. The board will provide trustees with detailed cost information at a future meeting, comparing BOCES rates with those of private practitioners.
Tight budget woes
A recent audit recommends that asbestos found in the auditorium behind the basketball courts be removed as soon as possible at a cost of approximately $22,000, including monitoring. “That would completely wipe us out in maintenance and operations, “ Business Manager Anne Dinio said. “And that worries me.” The report also recommends that asbestos be removed from the Mabel Merritt Building, although that situation is considered less serious. The cost of removing all asbestos identified in the audit is estimated at $43,000.
Sixty students have expressed interest in winter track, a level of participation that would require hiring an assistant coach at a cost of $2,500 — creating yet another budget squeeze. Dinio said the district is operating at close to 97 percent of budget, leaving little room for additional spending. Henderson agreed with her concern.
“I want to support [hiring the coach] but I’m getting nervous about the number of unanticipated expenditures,” he said. “We had a tough time talking about coaches last spring” during budget deliberations, he added. Board President Joe Curto said he supports finding the money for the extra coach.