Funds for an extra school resource officer went through a series of twists and turns on Monday evening before they were finally approved by the Finance Committee. It was the only additional money given to the budget for the , which is largely flat-funded for the 2012 fiscal year.
The committee ultimately voted 3-2 to add $91,000 to the Board of Education budget to hire a second SRO. Mayor Martin Olsen and Councilors Michael Buscetto III and Wade Hyslop were in favor, while Chairman Rob Pero and Councilor Adam Sprecace were opposed.
The school district requested $40,741,333, but the recommended funding at the previous year’s level of $38,817,405. Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of the district, made a presentation to the committee saying the schools’ needs include additional custodians, teachers, and counselors; alternative programs for the ; and replacement of the curtains at the .
Fischer said flat funding results in an actual loss of about $1.5 million due to $600,000 in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which were appropriated last year and will not be included this year. He said the consumer price index increases about three percent each year, and that funding below this level has led to an approximately $2.8 million loss since the 2007 fiscal year. Fischer said increasing the school budget one percent adds another nickel per day for each taxpayer.
“We don’t think that’s too much to ask,” he said.
Pero said he was concerned with the efficiency of some positions, such as middle school guidance counselors, and suggested that they may be switched for staff such as psychologists and social workers. Fischer said the district has also looked at regionalized services for students with severe psychological issues.
Buscetto said he thought an SRO should be added to the budget, saying it was a recommendation that had been “brought up over and over again” at the . Fischer said that ideally two additional SROs would cover the high school, middle school, and Adult Education. He said the primary function of an SRO is building trust with the students so they will work with the officer to help prevent or solve problems. With Rose, he estimated that an SRO is an annual cost of $91,000. Buscetto motioned to add $91,000 to the school budget for the position.
“I think if you talk to the parents and even the administrators of those schools, they’re crying for help,” he said.
Pero said he hoped the district would be able to find “savings from within,” and questioned whether a social worker was a higher priority. Sprecace said that funding the position might put the city in a difficult position since the committee has already . Olsen said he believes SROs are effective, but was concerned about whether the money would actually be spent on the position since the council has no discretion over line items in the school budget.
“I think we would come up with a majority vote to make sure this money is put in the proper place, and that is for a school resource officer,” said Alvin Kinsall, president of the Board of Education.
After Kinsall suggested that the funds be taken from the city budget to ensure that they would be spent on an SRO, Buscetto withdrew his motion and made another one asking for the money to come from the police budget. Pero asked to table it until another committee meeting on April 25 to discuss it with other issues, and that passed 3-2 with Pero, Hyslop, and Sprecace in favor and Olsen and Buscetto opposed. Soon after, Sprecace moved to fund the school budget $38,817,405, saying he felt there was concern that the budget increases in New London were out of proportion with those in similar communities.
“I think people in the city are concerned with the amount of money we spend on city government,” he said.
Buscetto said voting on the motion would be addressing the budget before matters were resolved on the 25th, and Pero replied that the SRO proposal involved the police budget and would not affect the school budget. Buscetto said he saw the SRO as a “preventative measure” and wanted it addressed that evening. Olsen amended the motion to recommend Sprecace’s figure with an additional $91,000 for the officer.
“We’re not going to solve these efforts piecemeal, so lets get a little bit of team effort here,” said Olsen.
Sprecace said the amendment was bringing back an item which the council had already voted on, and questioned whether the board had identified an SRO as one of their main priorities. Hyslop said the members attending the meeting had done so during the evening’s discussions.
“Now that we’re back here again, I think we should vote up or down and move on,” he said.
Susan Connolly, vice-president of the Board of Education, commented after the vote, “If we’re not going to support education, we might as well pay for more cops. We’re going to need them.”