News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 12, 2018
School board considers police officer for schools

by Tevlin Schuetz

Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington briefed the CSD Board on the possibility of hiring a school resource officer during the board’s regular meeting on April 3.

The officer would be shared by School Unions 76 and 93 and would be responsible for security oversight at all nine school buildings in both unions, Elkington said. Technically an employee of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, the resource officer would be based ideally somewhere central on the Peninsula, and the unions would pay the sheriff’s office for the service on a cost-sharing basis.

“The superintendent of Union 93, Mark Hurvitt, liked the idea, and we have since met with Sheriff [Scott] Kane,” Elkington said.

Elkington explained the SRO’s duties, which include: overseeing improvements to each school’s safety plan; assisting staff and student safety training and practice drills; helping to identify potential building and grounds safety improvements (such as making entryways more secure, Elkington said); being the point person in case of an emergency and having knowledge of each building, keys, and awareness of security protocols; being the first safety officer on the scene in an emergency; and stopping a perpetrator planning or in progress of doing harm.

Elkington met this week with law enforcement officials in Ellsworth as well as the Hancock County Commissioners, he said, and the arrangement is still being worked out. The idea currently is for the school unions to cover the SRO’s salary and benefits, which would be approximately $79,000, and the county would pick up the rest of the tab, Elkington said.

“The county commissioners were interested in the idea,” Elkington said. They have to weigh the costs like any other governing body, however, and are looking for a three-year commitment from the school systems, he said.

“One of things… that would be advantageous for [the county] is if they hire a full time officer, then they have someone to help them reduce their overtime costs in the summer,” Eklington said.

The overall cost is around $125,000, Elkington said, which includes salary, benefits, a police car and uniforms.

Elkington has included the CSD’s estimated share, $22,000, in the 2018-19 budget, he said.

“Obviously we’d be looking for some grant funds,” Elkington said. There was recently a measure taken by the state which put $20 million into a fund for school security, he said, although how schools can spend that money hasn’t yet been made clear. There are federal funds in the works as well, he said.

“One of the questions we discussed was ‘Would you really be spreading that person too thin?’ The things we could see he or she doing, they could really support the nine schools,” Elkington explained. “I can’t think of a better resource than someone who would know the inside of the buildings like the back of his or her hand,” Elkington said, adding that in cases of emergency, building principals or maintenance personnel must be relied upon, and they lack the expertise of law enforcement in dealing with real-time situations.

Board member Skip Greenlaw said he was enthusiastic about the idea, but he worried that the expectations of the SRO position may be unrealistic in the event of a crisis situation.

“I’m concerned about… the expectation that having a resource officer is going to solve all our problems, when in fact it’s not,” he said.

Elkington cited SROs at Bucksport and Ellsworth, where the schools are located within short distances of each other, versus the proposed use of an officer to cover much greater territory on the Peninsula and Island.

“Yes, the distance is troubling,” Elkington acknowledged.

“The best way… would be to rotate from one school to the next,” Elkington said, referring to the SRO’s presence in the coverage area, and Greenlaw added that it should not be predictable or made public.

Next meetings

A community meeting addressing strategic planning was scheduled for Wednesday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m., in the high school library.

The board will hold a budget workshop meeting on Thursday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m., at the Reach auditorium in the elementary school.