School Committee Recommends Resource Officer to Town Meeting Voters
By a 5-1-1 vote last week, the Westford School Committee recommended a measure that would transfer and appropriate money for a new police officer posted to Westford Academy
Drugs in Westford’s schools remain as a hot issue, and last week the School Committee approved recommending to Fall Town Meeting appropriations that would bring Westford Academy its first School Resource Officer since 2006.
The topic of a School Resource Officer, or SRO, was brought forth in a meeting at August where Westford Public School superintendent Bill Olsen told the board he had been hearing numerous concerns from community members at events such as the talk earlier this year at Nab Lake Country Club.
Now those concerns will go to voters in October, with the School Committee asking them to approve a transfer of $20,000 into the Police Department budget from the School Department budget along with an additional amount expected around $20,000 for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Westford Police chief Thomas McEnaney told the board that it would likely cost somewhere between $51,000 and $75,000 per year to keep an SRO before the initial few months, with the amount depending on the applicant’s educational background and other benefits.
According to McEnaney and Olsen, the SRO could be in place within the next four to five months if the measure is approved in October depending on whether an officer could be attracted from another department that fits into what the department is looking for.
The measure was approved almost unanimously, excluding Margaret Murray, who was absent, and opposition from Erica Kohl.
Although Kohl’s opposition was not as pronounced as it was at the first hearing on this topic, she continued to voice concerns over whether enough had been done to find alternatives to the town hiring a new employee given recent budgetary concerns.
“I don’t feel comfortable telling someone we can lay them off in a year or two, and at this point, I don’t think we’ve looked at our educational priorities to see where we can get the most bang for our buck,” she said. “When you look at drug use, I can certainly see that as a high priority, but I haven’t felt convinced that we’ve looked at all the options.”
Those in support on the board felt comfortable with taking another look at the position and cutting it in a few years if needed while also noting the opinion that an SRO is a need that the town is looking for Westford’s schools to fill.
“I talked to a couple of students personally to ask if (an SRO) would make them feel safer, and the answer was ‘yes,” for me, that’s enough reason to support it,” said School Committee member Arthur Benoit. “If it’s a year from now we find out that it’s not helping, we can try something different, but doing nothing isn’t something I’m willing to do.”
According to testimony from McEnaney, the SRO would work during months when school is in session as well as in the summer providing supervision over activities on school property during that time of the year. However, whoever would enter the new position if filled would be under the supervision of the Police Department and would likely be intended as a liaison between students police and school officials to help prevent problems before they arise if possible while also maintaining a safe atmosphere in the schools.