Village of Massena, school district sign off on school resource officer agreement

Posted 2/20/24

MASSENA -- The Massena Central School District will again join the list of schools in St. Lawrence County with a school resource officer (SRO) after village trustees approved the agreement during the …

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Village of Massena, school district sign off on school resource officer agreement


MASSENA -- The Massena Central School District will again join the list of schools in St. Lawrence County with a school resource officer (SRO) after village trustees approved the agreement during the Feb. 13 meeting.

School officials approved the deal at a previous board meeting and ratified a second agreement during the Feb. 15 board meeting for a prorated contract for the remainder of the 2023/24 school year.

“That would take care of the rest of the year,” Superintendent Ron Burke said.

“The reality is that since January, we’ve had an officer here every day, de facto,” he continued.

Juvenile Officer Mike Flynn will assume the role given his involvement in the school already, as well as with the youth in the community, officials say.

“It has to be the right fit at the right time. The position requires skills and training that not just any officer may have at the time. So we are going to be very deliberate in our choice,” Massena Police Chief Jason Olson said last year when the board first approved of the deal.

School officials also pointed toward Flynn as the likely candidate for the role last month, citing his work within the district and the connections he's made with students.

High school principal Alan Oliver, who serves as the chairman of the District Safety Team, said the team unanimously approved Flynn for the role.

“We want to express our appreciation to the board of education for your consideration of the re-creation of the SRO position tonight. We as a team and myself personally have worked over the last couple of years with a couple of different superintendents now to work to get this position reinstated in the district,” Oliver said.

Oliver said the entire team felt the position will serve students and the school community “by enhancing the relationship we already have with the Massena Village Police Department.”

In his address to the school board, Oliver was complimentary of Flynn, saying he has offered “invaluable support for our students in our schools.”

“He has been responsive to our needs 24/7 and has helped us immensely. In fact, he’s very much been filling an SRO-like job for the last year, and he has worked to build relationships with our students and our staff which are invaluable to our district,” Oliver said.

Oliver said that codifying the position will ensure better communication about students and issues in the school and community.

Trustees approved two resolutions for the position, the first for a contract that would run from Feb. 2024 through June 2024 and the second being a one-year contract to run from July 2024 through June 2024.

Mayor Greg Paquin said the first contract is simply to finish out the existing school year so the officer can get to work immediately.

"It's taken a while but I'm just glad we finally have come to an agreement," Paquin said.

School Board Member Patricia Murphy raised concerns over the language of the contract prior to the school board signing off.

“That would take care of the rest of the year,” Burke said. “The reality is that since January, we’ve had an officer here every day, de facto. I do have that log that I can certainly share with the board. It will be redacted because in that log our officer keeps very good detailed notes. But, it certainly has been busy," she said.

But Paquin told village trustees during the Feb. 13 meeting that the language was hammered out and clarified regarding legacy costs falling to the village after 10 years of work as an SRO.

"There was a bit of confusion with some of the language and this happens when you've got two different versions of the contract going. One of the things that we had said that we had wanted was if we had someone that was a school resource officer for 10 years, we would get legacy costs from the school district. That was the intention of the language but the language didn't read like that," Paquin said.

In the event an SRO leaves after eight years of service, the replacement would start at year one, Paquin said.

Despite concerns about the language, Burke said the school board will be able to vote to amend the language in March, something he will also ask the village board to do as well.

In a corresponding move, village trustees approved canvassing for a new patrol officer on Feb. 13.

Trustee Ken McGowan questioned what would happen in the event that the school district opted out of the SRO deal with the village and decided to go with the Sheriff's Office.

"Here's my only concern and I'm pro law enforcement. My only concern is, what if next year Massena (school) says, 'Well, we're gonna go with the sheriff's office, they gave us a better deal.' So now we have one extra police officer, what do we do with that position," McGowan asked.

Paquin said the newest hire would likely be cut and the SRO would revert back to a patrol position.

"I'm all for it, I would love to hire 10 more police officers, you know, 10 more firefighters, DPW, all administration people, I would love to. I just don't know where we're going to be in a year. (Treasurer) Kevin (Felt) sent us some information the other day on what it costs to actually hire somebody and then you add in insurance, even if you're paying someone 60 grand it's still costing the village 110 to 120 (thousand dollars). I'm all for hiring police or whoever but what happens if they're like 'Oh, we're gonna go with the troopers, the governor has this great plan and you've hired thousands of more troopers.' I just don't want to put us or that poor individual in that place and be like, well, sorry," McGowan said.

McGowan also asked how often the SRO would be in the schools or in the community and what would happen during vacations and summer break.

According to Olson, the SRO would conduct other work on an as needed basis.

He's dealing with the community's youth in every location that is needed. I'm not going to authorize him to take any cases that's going to pull him away from the school," Olson said.

Olson said Flynn, who is likely to be the SRO for the district, has been serving the community as a juvenile officer for a number of years and "can be anywhere at any time where he's needed.

"It's hard to say since it's based on the needs of the community," Olson said.

McGowan went on further, citing concerns about the financial picture down the road and what it could mean for the village if the district were to end the contract prematurely.

"I'm all for hiring another police officer, I really am. I'm looking down the road and I don't want to see some poor individual be like 'hey, sorry,’” he said.

In regard to current staffing, Olson said he had one future officer in the academy currently but with the SRO being added he would need an additional officer to fill that spot.

Trustees were also complimentary of Flynn's work and involvement in the community, saying it will play a crucial role in establishing connections with youth in the district moving forward.

"I believe that you can't ask for a better sales pitch than having a local officer like Mike two seconds away. He works in this community. He has that connection. I saw him at the hockey game Saturday. So that's an important factor," McGowan said.