Most school administrators agree that a school resource officer can be a precious commodity for any district. Unfortunately, for many area schools, resource officers are a luxury that they cannot afford.
"We don't have one, but we do have a village police force that we collaborate with," said Jon Peterson, superintendent of Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School District. "We did get one village policeman to come into our schools for one day a week last year, and we're hoping to have that arrangement again. Everybody gets a sense of safety and security when they see a policeman in their midst, and it's just another adult that brings a positive relationship to kids in the building."
Bert Lictus, shared superintendent of Panama and Clymer school districts, said he would be willing to participate in the school resource officer program, but has been unable to do so due to budget constraints.
Melody Peach, Jamestown Public Schools resource officer, talks with students outside of the high school Friday.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
"Panama has not had one in the past, and I believe that Clymer had one years ago," Lictus said. "We've always had a good relationship with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department and the state police, and it's one thing that's been presented to us, but there are budget constraints. With all the mandates coming down from the state Education Department that we're spending money on, adding a resource officer is just not feasible for us. If we were to hire a police officer for the district, we would have to do that with one less teaching position."
"So, if I have to pick between the two, I would have to choose the teacher," Lictus concluded.
For the districts that do employ resource officers, however, the benefits provided through the position are numerous. According to Stephen Penhollow, Falconer Central School superintendent, Falconer annually budgets for a full-time position that is currently filled by two resource officers, who alternate days.
Penhollow said this arrangement has proven to be extremely beneficial for Falconer students who may be dealing with a variety of issues.
"The school resource officer position provides a connection between local law enforcement and our school students," he said. "I think (the officers) provide an important role in having our students realize and make a connection between law enforcement and life outside of school. They play many different roles in our middle/high school building, including a huge part of the educational piece."
Penhollow said some of the services the resource officers provide in the educational realm include driver's education instruction, the district's bike safety program and assisting in government classes by talking about state laws. They also fulfill a much-needed role in the area of public safety by attending school dances and sporting events, and assisting with supervision during student drop-off and pickup times.
"They have a very active role, but no two days are ever the same," Penhollow said. "I look at it from the standpoint that it's an extremely valuable position to our district and community, and we continue to look at it during a time where fiscal responsibility is a top priority. Our board of education believes it's valuable for the safety and education of our students so, from our view of things, it is worth it."
Although the resource officer position at Falconer is currently compensated at a rate of $28 per hour, the board recently approved a resolution to reduce that amount to $24 per hour. This new rate will go into effect in September, and will remain as such through the end of the 2015-16 school year.
The Jamestown Public Schools district also employs a full-time resource officer at its high school building, where Principal Mike McElrath said the value of the position is evident in the officer's interactions with JHS students.
"The school resource officer position is extremely valuable to us," McElrath said. "While having a police presence has its obvious benefits, of equal importance is the connection she has with many of our students. There are very few situations at Jamestown High School that lead to arrests, and a big part of that is the relationships that have been established with students and the manner in which situations are handled.
"I think it's a positive thing for our school and for our community when kids see that a police officer can be a good listener, and can help you solve concerns before they become problems," he continued. "In many circumstances, students arrive with situations that have happened in their homes or neighborhoods, and the resource officer can take statements, explain legal perspectives and initiate additional actions, if warranted."