WATERFORD — Everyone seems to want some sort of dedicated police or security officer to be stationed at Waterford Union High School, but the invested parties can’t seem to agree on who should pay for it.
The Village of Waterford, Town of Waterford and the high school district, 110 Field Drive, have been in talks now for more than a year, going back and forth on who should pay, how much and what sort of officer should be in the school.
Waterford Town Chairman Tom Hincz, along with Town Board member Teri Jendusa-Nicolai, brought up the issue to the school district last spring.
“We were both pretty disgusted that there has not been an SRO (school resource officer) in the school for many years,” Jendusa-Nicolai said. “It’s unacceptable.”
From near the start of conversations about getting an officer in the school, the district agreed to pay 50% of the costs. The municipalities within the district would then divide the other half of the costs. The cost of placing a school resource officer, who would be an employee of Waterford Police Department, at Waterford High is estimated at about $100,000.
Both Hincz and Jendusa-Nicolai opined that’s it’s unfair for the town and village to fund half the cost of an officer when other municipalities are also sending their kids to Waterford High did not agree to contribute.
The district includes all of the town and village of Waterford, as well as parts of Dover, Rochester, Raymond and Norway.
Don Engler, Waterford High School board president, said he understands why those municipalities chose not to contribute since many families in those communities live in other school districts. For example, large parts of Rochester and Dover are in the Burlington Area School District and much of Raymond is in the Union Grove High School District.
Alternative option explored
Last winter, the municipalities suggested to the WHS district that it hire a school security officer that was on the district’s payroll in place of a school resource officer employed by Waterford Police. This would significantly cut costs, but an SSO cannot access student records or issue citations, Engler said.
“We couldn’t go with a security guard, because there’s too many limitations on a security guard,” he said.
Earlier this year, the town had voted to supply $8,000 to fund a part-time school security officer. But on June 10, the Town Board decided to reverse its decision and not to contribute toward an officer.
Jendusa-Nicolai said the town received a letter from the village before June 10, informing town officials that the village was lowering the amount that it agreed to pay. "So we revoked our offer and decided to go back to the drawing board," Jendusa-Nicolai said, adding it was not an arbitrary decision.
The Village Board had initially voted to put $11,000 toward funding an officer.
Officials from both the town and the village believe that the best solution is for the school district to fund a school resource officer through its tax levy.
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“In my opinion the only fair way is to tax through the school district,” said Waterford Village President Don Houston.
Jendusa-Nicolai agrees, because otherwise funding would fall apart if one entity backs out.
“We need to fix the problem,” she said. “We need something that’s going to be sustainable.”
Jendusa-Nicolai said she agrees with Hincz that while some components of the spring referendum Waterford High voters approved allowing the district to go $10 million over its revenue limit were important, like a roof replacement and heating and cooling needs, others were not as as essential.
Some of that money, Jendusa-Nicolai, noted was used to spruce up an exercise room and she contends that school security should be more important than that component of the referendum. Jendusa-Nicolai also noted that the high school district twice went to referendum in recent years seeking millions for a new field house, which a majority of voters both times rejected.
Houston suggested that the district put another referendum to the voters in the coming spring, asking only for funding for a school resource officer. Houston said he can’t imagine that anyone would vote against such a measure.
Jendusa-Nicolai said she understands that the school district doesn’t want to fund the officer entirely on its own, but said the same taxpayers will be providing the dollars either way.
“Does it really matter if we pay for it out of the school taxes, out of the village taxes, out of the town taxes?” she asked. “What it all boils down to is my neighbor and I are going to end up paying for it.”
At this point, the village pays when an officer is needed at the school, as it contracts with the town for police services within the village.
Houston said in his view, the ball is now in the school district’s court to decide what to do next.
“I’m disappointed in the town because it seems like all the sudden when the costs come they are not interested in school safety,” Engler said. “That’s a tough thing to say right there but they told the same thing on us a while back. If they’re interested, pony up the other 50%.”
The high school has not had a dedicated school officer in around 10 years. Waterford schools got a police liaison officer in the 2000 school year that was initially covered by a grant. After that, the cost of the officer was shared by the village, high school district and Waterford Graded School District.
The village and elementary school later dropped their funding and the high school did the same in 2009, due to budget constraints.
This story has been edited since publications to clarify statements by Terri Jendusa-Nicolai.