JAY — Selectmen voted 3-2 Monday to put a question on the June ballot to raise money for a police office for RSU 73 schools.
An estimated $27,148.63 is the town’s cost of employing the officer during the school year. That figure does not include the 71 percent or so of the estimated $55,896.31 Jay would pay for the school resource officer position as part of the school budget for Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls.
The school district and Police Department are also looking at applying for grants that could offset the cost of the position.
Selectmen Justin Merrill and Tim DeMillo opposed the question.
Selectman Tom Goding said that he voted to put the issue before the voters, but it doesn’t mean he agrees with it.
Chairman Steve McCourt and Pearl Cook also voted in favor of putting the issue before voters.
Goding made it clear he wants an asterisk put next to the article on the ballot with an explanation that Jay would not only be paying for the officer to work for the town for 85 days, but would also pay a majority share of the position in the school budget for 175 days the officer would be in the schools. The total cost for the officer for a 260-day work year is projected to be $83,044.94, including all benefits and training. It breaks down to $319.41 per day.
The decision came after discussion and an emotional plea from a parent to put the issue on the ballot.
Merrill pointed out that to add the officer to the payroll would cost Jay about $66,000.
RSU 73 Superintendent Robert Wall said this was a preliminary discussion and the school board has neither debated the position nor agreed the district needs a resource officer, and to put in the budget for 2013-14.
The cost of the position was refigured and the estimated to be less than the $30,000 initially estimated to come from the Jay Police Department, Chief Larry White Sr. said.
“I know we are looking at tough times,” White said, but the officer would help with more than safety. He or she could help with bullying and drug education at the school. The officer could also help offset any overtime that police officers get during the summer when someone is on vacation.
A Jay officer currently spends some time at the high and middle schools.
They were not asking selectmen to approve the position, White said. They were asking them to put it on ballot and let the public decide.
They are the people who have children in the schools, White said.
He also noted that an officer in the schools is not a 100 percent guarantee that there would be any violence in the schools, but it would be a deterrent, he said.
Wall said a resource officer is an important addition to the schools. He thinks that students are seeing police in a positive light and they lessen students' exposure to drugs and alcohol.
If the school board approves, the position would be considered under contracted services.
Parent Marie Jones, who has four children in school, read from a statement. She said that a school resource officer is a hot-button topic because of events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Her reasons extend beyond the need for security, she said, and include the need for children to know that police are good and can be counted on to help them.
“Our children are indeed the most precious resource we have, and teachers and students are and should be focused on learning, not watching for suspicious activity in and around the building. We have stripped the schools of nonessential staff for years now, which leads to every staff member we still have being stretched to their limits with their assigned tasks and none of them are assigned to safety.
"We have a locked building but the door is opened for everyone who enters that is not obviously wielding a weapon, as it should be, and many if not all of us know when there is only one adult between the doors and rooms full of children," she wrote.
Jones said she suspects a teacher "would step before a gunman and any of the children but would not and should not need to be an effective barrier for their safety.”
She said police officers and firefighters handle extremely stressful situations in calm tones, Jones said, referring to scanner traffic.
“You can’t expect a response like that without years of training, and life experience that comes with putting your life on the line for your community every day,” she said.