From left: Stephen Hampe, Karen Fontana.

School board approves SSOs over objections

Published May 17, 2018 at 12:00pm

A agreement with the city of Rome through the Police Department for school security officers (SSOs) at elementary schools was approved in a 5-2 Board of Education vote, after two members unsuccessfully sought to table it for more information.

The board’s approval vote Wednesday night followed a separate 5-2 vote that defeated a motion to table the resolution.

Board members Stephen Hampe and Karen Fontana, who voted in favor of tabling it, subsequently voted against approving the resolution.

The votes were accompanied by an extended discussion among board members and school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake about the SSO agreement. The Police Department plans to hire four retired officers to cover the district’s seven elementary schools, Police Chief Kevin C. Beach said last week. The department separately has school resource officers (SROs), who are uniformed police officers on duty, including two at Rome Free Academy and one at Strough Middle School.

Hampe said he had “multiple

“multiple questions” about the new SSO agreement, and remarked he did “not believe we’ve had full opportunity to get questions answered about the contract.” Fontana said her opposition was based on a “procedural thing,” adding that the school district has gotten into a “habit of...information sent to us” in meeting packets “without any full discussion.”

As the discussion ensued after Hampe said the agreement should be tabled, Blake commented it needed to be approved or the district would not have the SSOs by fall; Blake said after the meeting that time is needed for the Police Department’s hiring and training of SSOs, adding that waiting another three weeks for the board’s next regular meeting would create “more challenges” for the process.

Blake also said in response to Hampe that the SSO agreement involved “the same language” as for SROs, and that it had been reviewed by the school district’s legal counsel. He said he would “find it odd” for the board to “go against the advice of legal counsel” on the matter, adding the agreement is “no different” than the SRO agreement with the city.

But Hampe countered, “actually it is.” He mentioned responsibilities of SSOs versus SROs. Among differences mentioned at the meeting were that SSOs would not be able to make arrests, while SROs can.

Hampe also questioned the agreement calling for SSOs to be both “under the chief of police and the superintendent” of schools. Blake said it would be similar to the existing arrangement in which he has the ability to direct SROs to another school assignment as needed, “as does the chief.”

Regarding plans to rotate the four SSOs among seven elementary schools, Hampe questioned the extent to which that would improve school security. But Blake said of those officers, “you have zero right now.”

Board member John Leonard observed that SSOs would be a short distance away from other elementary schools if needed there, with quick response times.

Regarding Fontana’s concerns about a lack of board discussion of the topic before the meeting, board President Paul Fitzpatrick countered “you’d have to call a special meeting to have full board discussion.” He said the regular meeting packets with information are provided to members on the Friday before board meetings, and “questions should have been asked of the superintendent before the meeting” to get responses.

Hampe then said the matter was “not processed” through the board’s sub-committee structure. Among other points raised, he asked where is a school district budget “line item” for the SSO agreement. Blake replied that the funding was through a community schools program allotment from the state.

The agreement is for two years, at an annual cost of $113,400, according to the board resolution. There would be an additional fee for mutually agreed-upon school special events, based on hourly rates, the resolution said.

The Rome Common Council last week approved the SSO agreement with the school district.

Under the agreement, the SSOs who are hired will have up-to-date active shooter training along with other training to retain police certification, Rome police officials have said. They would be on duty 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. each school day, with three marked police vehicles for their use provided through the city.