Pioneer, Northfield Selectboard mull school resource officer amid early budget talks

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2022 4:22:25 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 4:22:15 PM

NORTHFIELD — Considering mixed opinions, discussions are ongoing about the possibility of bringing a school resource officer back to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District for fiscal year 2024.

While Northfield Selectboard members largely feel it’s important to reinstate a school resource officer, the School Committee considers the position one that could be cut as budgets squeeze.

Billy Kimball, who most recently served as a part-time school resource officer for Pioneer and spent three days a week there, left the position at the end of the school year to focus instead on his full-time job. While officials had chosen an applicant to fill the position in March, the individual ultimately decided not to accept the job. Since the announcement of Kimball’s departure, the town and the School Committee have debated whether the position is necessary, as well as whether it should be full-time or part-time.

Under the memorandum of understanding the school district signed with Northfield, which covers services through June 30, 2023, the district pays half of the school resource officer’s hourly rate while he is in the school and the town picks up the other half. The agreement states the district will pay up to $29,530 per year.

Those involved with the position spoke to the variety of tasks the SRO performs.

“The SRO is there for security reasons because of all the things that happen in our nation,” Northfield Police Chief Jonathan Hall said.

He went on to say the officer serves a greater purpose than just enforcing security.

“The SRO is also utilized every day to help out staff,” he said, noting the school resource officer helps deal with bullying and helps recognize potential problems in students’ home lives.

“The specific functions of an SRO can vary depending on the individual person’s skills and interests,” commented School Committee Chair Reina Dastous. “Those things can be accomplished by existing staff, but it is valuable to have someone with expertise in law enforcement performing those duties.”

Northfield’s newest full-time police officer, Chad Sumner, who formerly worked in Greenfield, has undergone training to become a school resource officer, Hall said, and would likely fill that role, should the School Committee decide to move forward with hiring someone.

“We will facilitate an SRO however the school wants,” said Hall, saying the School Committee will need to make a decision before the Police Department moves forward.

When teachers were asked what they think about having a school resource officer, however, some felt finances should be funneled elsewhere.

According to Tracy Derrig, a Pioneer teacher who is negotiations team co-chair for the Pioneer Valley Regional Education Association teacher’s union, the school resource officer role has historically been unpopular among teachers.

“I can’t say how teachers feel about the proposed SRO this year,” she wrote in an email, “but in the past, it has been viewed as an unnecessary budget expense.”

Similarly, Pioneer teacher Marc Solomon wrote in an email that the position is “chopping block material.”

Being conscientious of finances as well, Northfield Selectboard Chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque pointed out that since Warwick is creating its own school district, the remaining three Pioneer member towns will be left to pay higher costs, so it may not be a good time to add the expense of a school resource officer.

With recent turnover on the School Committee following the November election, Dastous said it is difficult to predict how new members might feel about employing a school resource officer.

“I can’t predict what the other members will have to say when we do have a chance to discuss the SRO position,” said Dastous, a Northfield representative. “I can say that the last time it came up, members had many questions, and unanimously voted to support the position.”

Other alternatives the school district could pursue include hiring security guards, Hall noted. He said hiring a security guard would not be comparable to having an officer in the school, but it is a real alternative to consider.

Dastous also mentioned investing in security infrastructure like surveillance cameras and key fobs, instead of having a school resource officer.

Discussions on having a school resource officer will continue as the fiscal year 2024 budget is considered in more detail in the coming months. Another meeting of the Northfield Selectboard and Pioneer School Committee to discuss the budget is planned for late January.

Bella Levavi can be reached at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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