BENNINGTON — The regional elementary school board will consider eliminating school resource officer positions in favor of campus safety officers, who are not armed and aren’t employed by a law enforcement agency.
Asked to give a presentation Monday on school security alternatives, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Safety Coordinator Victor Milani said such a format is already in place in Mount Anthony Union High School and will be this year at MAU Middle School.
A campus safety officer, he told the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District Board, works with a school-based team – also including clinical staff personnel and an assistant principal acting as director.
The high school has three campus safety officers and the middle school will have two in the coming school year.
“We have had them for years at the high school, and they have become an integral part of the campus safety team,” Milani said.
The safety officers are “well-trained, experienced individuals,” who have worked in law enforcement or for security firms, he said, and they work under an administrator, providing input but not making the call on a discipline situation or when to contact police.
They also are certified in areas of training the school district decides to require.
Milani said the officers would not be certified police officers, although that could be part of their background, but they would have to have training certifications in such areas as conflict management, threat assessment, restraint procedures, active shooter protocols and questioning.
They also “work very closely” with the Bennington Police Department the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department and Vermont State Police, including in training and participating in drills with the law enforcement agencies, he said.
Milani said job postings would seek someone with a bachelor’s degree and at least five years in security or policing positions.
Board Chairman Christopher Murphy said that when the regional elementary district was formed in 2018 from four separate town school districts, all but one school had a school resource officer, but today only Shaftsbury Elementary has an officer, provided by the sheriff’s department.
Another factor now driving the consideration of alternatives, he said, was a sharp increase in the cost to continue with a Bennington County Sheriff’s Department officer in that position for the coming school year.
Murphy said the cost would rise to $65 per hour, which he said projects to $95,000 a year, while the budget line item only contains $45,000.
He questioned whether bringing a police officer back would be “the best use of our resources,” because of rising costs and because a different format appears to be available.
Murphy added that national data on school security has not indicated a reliable connection “between armed guards at the school and decreased severity of school violence.”
SVSU Superintendent James Culkeen and Milani also noted that local law enforcement agencies have said in recent years that they do not have enough staff to increase the number of school resource officers.
Murphy then proposed not funding the officer position in Shaftsbury for 2023-24, which was approved on a 4 to 1 vote with Scott McEnaney opposed.
McEnaney, who represents Shaftsbury, said he would like to have a system in place or “a pathway” on how to ensure an officer for each district school before cutting off funding for the existing position.
Parents from the Shaftsbury school also had praised the work of the current SRO during a recent board meeting.
No vote was possible on the campus safety officer format, Culkeen said, as the issue was listed for discussion only on the board’s agenda. However, the board is expected to consider a districtwide change at its next meeting in September.
Culkeen said he expects to have additional costs figures in time for that meeting.
He said the proposal originally was to have five campus safety officers positions working with teams in the elementary schools, with Monument Elementary and Woodford Elementary sharing an officer.
But current funding available in the budget would only cover three full-time positions with benefits and a part-time officer, he said.
The idea would be to rotate the security officers among the six elementary schools, Culkeen he said, unless more officers could be hired over time.
He also noted that the original proposal did not include Arlington, which is now a member of the SVSU.
“Our challenge is to find funding for two more,” he said, adding that changing the format would require a multi-year commitment from the district.
Reached on Tuesday, Randi Lowe, superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, said there are no school resource officers in the six union schools, which do not include a high school.