Massena Central budget raises tax levy just under 1%, no funding included for in-school police officer
Monday, April 16, 2018 - 10:08 pm

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA -- The Board of Education on Monday night approved a $54,442,331 budget that will raise $14,835,434 in taxes, .99 percent more than last year. The spending blueprint does not include funding for an in-school police officer, but the position has not been ruled out.

Superintendent Pat Brady said the board had been waiting to hear if the state would fund police officers in schools, which are often referred to as "school resource officers." That didn't happen, despite an overall increase in state aid over both the governor's proposal and last year's total.

"There isn't anything in the budget for a school resource officer. It's still a question as we look at school safety. We've had discussions with our local police department, so we may have more discussions and research and bring it to the Board of Education at some point," Brady said. "The first step was to see if there's funding in the state budget ... now that there isn't, we need to look whether we have the resources or the interest from the board to look at this issue."

Many districts in the North Country and across the United States have been talking about having a law enforcement presence in school, in many cases armed and with the power to arrest. Those discussions gained traction largely after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla. shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 students and staff were murdered.

Massena Central has had a police officer in school in the past. Then-officer Patrick Serguson, who has since retired and is now a local justice, patrolled the school from 2002 to 2007, Brady said. The officer spent most of his time at the high school and J.W. Leary Junior High, where Brady at the time worked as a school administrator.

Serguson was armed when working at the Massena district. Brady said he believes most, if not all, police working as a school resource officer in New York state do carry firearms on the job.

Serguson's position at Massena Central was funded through a school-village cost-sharing agreement.

Although the budget isn't funding in-school law enforcement, it will add some positions and pay for more school supplies. At the high school, it will fund an English language arts teacher for the Freshman Academy. The program is to help ninth-graders transition to high school and includes lessons in writing, reading, study and digital citizenship skills. The budget will also pay a stipend to a teacher who also will take on the Freshman Academy advisor role. There will be a new special education teacher at the junior high and a literacy intern per elementary building, if the voters next month approve the budget.

Other items included in the budget include: More bus hours for high school college and career visits; more supplies for junior high and elementary teachers; a speech pathologist for students age 4 and under; a part-time school psychologist from BOCES; an IT support specialist, a seven-passenger van; and a contractual and supplies budget. All of the positions and items total $453,600, according to a presentation from Brady.

The budget would also create a $300,000 capital reserve account to save money for future projects.

"It will allow us to have a minimal local share after state aid for any project we do in the future ... any money we put aside will help offset any liability for the taxpayers," Brady said.

He said he thinks the board has done well with their 2018-19 spending plan.

"It was, in my opinion, a good budget," he said.

"I'd like to thank the finance committee, (district business manager) Nick (Brouilette)'s group, administrators for all the hard work drawing that up," Board President Pat Bronchetti said.

The budget passed 7-0. Trustees Jason Premo and Lorie MacKenzie were not at the meeting. MacKenzie has resigned from the board.

The public will get to make comments at a budget hearing on May 3 at 7 p.m. in the high school's room 314. The budget will go to the voters on May 15. People will be able to cast ballots from noon to 8 p.m. at the Massena Community Center, 61 Beach St.