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Gill-Montague Regional Schools

Gill-Montague School District weighs cop grant

TURNERS FALLS — The Franklin County Technical School has set aside money to hire a school resource officer, prompting discussion of doing the same in the Gill-Montague Regional School District at last month’s Montague annual town meeting, a discussion that resumed last week at the district level.

Montague Chief of Police Charles “Chip” Dodge III brought information on a federal grant program to the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee.

“A lot of people were saying ‘Why not Gill-Montague, Turners Falls High School?’ and the issue is money,” Dodge said.

Dodge said he is a proponent of police in schools, alluding to the recent spate of school shootings in America, but saying the purpose of a school officer is not to wait for problems but to build connections with students.

Committee Chairwoman Joyce Phillips agreed with that goal.

“Sometimes they don’t have anybody else,” Phillips said. “Some of their situations, unfortunately, are too close to go home and talk about.”

If won, the Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS grant through the U.S. Department of Justice would pay 75 percent of the cost of a school officer for three years with somebody else responsible for 25 percent and the full cost when the grant ends, Dodge said.

“That somebody else can’t be the town of Montague,” Dodge said.

District curriculum director Martin Espinola said the pot of federal money behind the grant has shrunk since the district won the grant eight years ago, and it will likely be very competitive. The district had a school resource officer for a time in the last decade, paid for largely through the grant and cut after the funding ended.

School Committee members worried about re-opening the budget, already voted.

Dodge said he brought the grant information to let the district know it is an option and that there is a deadline if they are interested, but was also not asking the district to cut any positions to make room in the budget for a position that could cost about $20,000 for three years and $75,000 to $80,000 thereafter, about half the price tag in benefits and other costs beyond the maybe $42,000 salary.

“We are just down the street ... that’s why I’m not pleading to replace somebody else,” Dodge said.

The committee discussed inviting the former school resource officers and the administrators who worked with them to talk about the program further at a later meeting.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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