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Viewpoints: SRO’s value has been underestimated

A school resource officer is a police officer working in the schools with one main goal: to maintain as safe a learning environment for our students as possible. The person in this position is not an armed guard, but someone who plays an essential role in the overall safety of our schools by continuously monitoring what’s happening in all our schools, our local community and nationwide to ensure the policies and procedures we have in place are adequate for the challenges we face today and that may impact us in the future.

Officer Chris Anderson has been the SRO in our district for the past three years and has proven the position is valuable. He has been in the schools interacting with students and acting as a positive role model for many. He has been a teacher in our classrooms showing students the physics principles they are learning can be applied to his work. He has played a big role in reviewing and updating our safety policies and procedures. He strengthened the communication between our schools and the local police departments, which allows a mutual awareness of potential issues and better resolution of issues that surface. He is available to teachers to voice questions or concerns about particular students or issues. He has tried to be a resource for any student that enters his office whether they simply need to talk, need assistance in resolving an issue in school or at home, or want to coordinate a mock DUI drill for students. He conducts regular drills in the schools and has educated students and faculty about appropriate steps to take in the event an issue arises. He has also provided many community education opportunities on topics such as Internet safety and drug abuse. Chris has been very dedicated to our children, teachers and our community in his role as SRO.

The approximate cost of salary and benefits for the SRO is $77,000. That sounds like a lot but when put in perspective by calculating the cost to the estimated 5,000 voters in Jaffrey and Rindge, it equates to approximately $15.50 per taxpayer per year. To me, that’s a small price to pay to make even one student more comfortable in attending school, to possibly divert even one student from a life of drugs or crime, and to simply be as prepared as possible for anything that happens in our schools. I know teachers and administrators take the safety of our students seriously, too, however when balancing all their responsibilities, I don’t feel they can focus on the safety and well-being of our students in the same manner as the SRO. At a time when youth/community programs and services are being cut from budgets, I think there is a greater need to fund a school resource officer in our schools.

In December, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, Superintendent O’Neill relayed a message to parents: “We want you to know we are taking and will continue to take every precaution to provide a safe environment for your child.” This message is important for parents to hear and believe, and that is why I was so shocked when I attended the budget hearing a few weeks later in January and discovered the School Board would be discontinuing the SRO program, eliminating a principal position in the Middle School and would not be presenting a warrant article for voters to decide if they wanted to fund the SRO program in the coming school year. How can we be taking every precaution by making such significant changes? We’ve had such success with the SRO program and it’s disappointing to me that it was dismissed so easily.

I sincerely thank Officer Anderson for all his hard work and dedication. I hope the work he’s initiated is carried on by others in the school until we can reinstate the SRO position, and that it will serve as a positive example for others considering a resource officer in their schools.

Alison Bergeron is a Jaffrey resident and the parent of two children in the Jaffrey-Rindge School District.

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