VCSD still mulls placing police officer in school

VOORHEESVILLE — The school year in Voorheesville will begin without a sheriff’s deputy in the schools after the board of education took no action on the matter at its Aug. 16 meeting. The board chose instead to review 450 responses, received earlier on Aug. 16, to a survey it had sent out at the beginning of the month.

Trustee Diana Straut said that deciding whether or not to hire a school resource officer “is probably one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made as a board member.”

“I mean,” Straut said, “I don’t think I’ve ever made a decision in my six years that I feel affected every single student, every single teacher, every single administrator, had the budget impact, and the long-term impact on the climate that this particular decision has.”

It’s important that the board take its time with the decision, she said, stating that delay is preferable to error.

Were the board to move forward and hire an officer, school board President Doreen Saia said, from her perspective, “I would only want to see it implemented on a pilot-program basis.”

The district hosted a forum on June 26 so that community members could ask questions and voice concerns. Then, the school board, at its July monthly meeting, tabled a vote on hiring a school resource officer for the upcoming school year, citing more input from the community would be needed to make a decision.

On Tuesday, July 31, another forum was held where school staff were unanimous in their praise of the program.

Supervisor Brian Hunt said that there were 220 written comments among the 450 responses. “Some of them quite lengthy,” he said. “Since we just got them today, needless to say, the board members have not have had a chance to review them yet, but it’s going to provide, I think, some very good feedback for the board as you deliberate on the SRO proposal.”

Trustee Jeannie McDonnell noted that 36 percent of elementary school parents and about 19 percent of both middle and high school parents responded to the survey.

There was an effort, according to Saia, to influence the survey’s results.

“I want us to be careful because I wasn’t going to say this but it’s come to my attention that an email was sent — and I won’t say by whom — advising people that they should really vote on the survey in favor of the SRO,” Saia said, because the district, according to the email, has the money to pay for a full-time school resource officer, which would cost about $57,000.

“That really bothered me because we really tried to have a survey that was objectively issued and wasn’t swayed in any way — and I’m not saying that the results are not valid, I think they still are,” she said. “But what was more troubling to me was the concept of: ‘They have the money, pay the money.’”

The district would be able to pay for an officer in the school because two staff retirements near the end of the school year freed up the funds to do so. But, beyond this upcoming school year, the board is trying find the money to pay for an officer without having to make cuts elsewhere.

As part of the larger conversation around school safety, the board asked Hunt to document security enhancements that have been, or are in the processing of being, implemented.

Hunt noted:

— An increase in the number of security cameras on both campuses. The elementary school went from no working cameras to 10; at the secondary school, the number of cameras increased from 17 to 54;

— A direct link from security-camera feeds to the Albany County
Sheriff’s Dispatch Center and patrol vehicles;

— The installation of intruder hardware locks in all classroom and office doors in the district, which allows the doors to be locked from the inside in an emergency;

— The installation of emergency radios in all schools and buses;

— A change in the protocol for after-school access to Kids’ Club at the elementary school, which ensures that the door is not left unlocked;

— A change in the protocol at the secondary school to ensure that the backdoor of the athletic wing is not left open when physical-education classes are outside;

— Annual training for administrators and DASA (Dignity for All Students Act);

— Each school building has a team of teachers, administrators, and staff that addresses any concerns for individual students;

— The district has a safety committee to review protocols and discuss school-safety improvements;

— The district employs school counselors in each building to assist students, a school psychologist on each campus, and a social worker on the
secondary campus; and

— A plan, a part of the capital project, for the construction of secure vestibule entrances in all schools.

New grading policy

The board approved a change in the district’s grading policy for classes that have a state Regents exam at the end of the year.

Under the old policy, 40 percent of a student’s grade was determined in the final 10 weeks of school. The Regents exam accounted 20 percent; and the fourth marking period accounted 20 percent as well.

Under the new policy, for any class that ends with a Regents exam, teachers may choose from one of three grading options. Teachers will then have to announce to students the option they have chosen at the beginning of the year.

The first option is that a student’s final grade is determined by the four marking periods; no final exam and no use of Regents scores are used in calculating the final grade.

Option two is a portfolio assessment, where multiple measures and multiple grades, one of which can be the Regents exam, are used to determine a student’s final grade. Under this option, the Regents exam cannot exceed 8 percent of the total final average.

The third option is that the Regents exam acts as a final exam that accounts for no more than 4 percent of the final course average.

Other business

In other business, the board:

– Authorized a $25,670 expenditure from the repair-reserve fund for the maintenance and repair of lights in the elementary, middle, and high schools.


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