LAKE GEORGE — Warren County Sheriff Bud York said spending $30,000 per school building is not a high cost to protect student lives.
Many retired police officers who have 20 to 30 years of experience are looking for part-time work and would be interested in being school security officers, according to York. He cited the $30,000 figure because that is the maximum they can earn while collecting a pension.
York pointed out that hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent to protect judges throughout the state.
“You’re telling me our kids aren’t that important. That’s hogwash. They are,” he said to about 40 superintendents, principals and emergency responders from Warren County on Wednesday at Lake George high school.
The meeting was organized in the wake of last month’s deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and injured others. York has called for armed officers in the school. The Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES helped coordinate the event.
The discussion was particularly timely as it came just a day after two people were shot and injured in Great Mills High School in Maryland, before the gunman was shot and killed by the school resource officer.
“I feel it is imperative that we have someone trained here that can at least stop the confrontation and save lives,” York said.
Bolton Superintendent Michael Graney said he believes many school districts in the district would favor having an armed officer.
“What hoops do you have to jump through to make this happen?” he asked.
York said he would conduct the appropriate background checks on retired officers and they would become sworn part-time officers of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and accountable to all the department’s rules and procedures. The school districts would pay the sheriff’s office as part of a contract. The in-school officers would wear uniforms, according to York
York said this makes more sense than schools hiring employees directly, because then the district would be on the hook for about $100,000 in salary and benefits.
York estimated the hourly rate would come to about $20 per hour. But he said he believes it is better to put the officers on a salary with the stipulation that they would be required to work some hours outside of the school day, such as a basketball game.
York added that that schools could hire more than one person. Not everybody wants to work five days a week, so a district could hire someone to work three days and another person for the other two. It also would be good to have a backup to cover for vacation and other time off.
“God forbid that one day that nobody’s there, something happens,” he said.
York told the school officials not to count on any state funding or support because of how the Democratically controlled Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo feel about the issue: “Guns are voodoo. We don’t need more guns in the school.”
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It’s a safety issue, not a political issue, he said. He does not like hearing elected officials saying that limiting access to guns should be the goal, he said.
“To me, that’s just a political statement that these politicians make to get elected. That sounds good, but that doesn’t take care of the problem,” he said.
Officers at the Capitol have guns, he said.
Some districts already have dedicated school resource officers. North Warren Superintendent Michele French said the district has had a retired police officer, John Mahon, in the position for three years, and it has worked well.
Mahon said parents have asked him if he is armed, and he answers that he cannot tell them. Their response is “I hope you are,” Mahon said.
Warrensburg Superintendent John Goralski said he liked the idea of using retired law enforcement officers because they are trained in how to deal with crisis situations and how to carry weapons.
The district had a school resource officer through the State Police until that program got cut several years ago, he said. Those officers had a relationship with students to deal with situations before they rose to the level of a crisis, he said.
Having a police presence is advantageous in other ways, York said. There have been instances where child abuse cases have come to light because a child told a teacher and that teacher passed it on to law enforcement.
State Police Zone 2 Commander Walt Teppo said having an officer at the school helps reduce the confusion and communications breakdown that can happen during a shooting. People would be calling the dispatchers with third- and fourth-hand information, he said, which makes it confusing for officers trying to assess the situation.
“When you have somebody at that scene, that takes a lot of the confusion out,” he said.
Tara Sullivan, a public relations specialist for BOCES, pointed out that there has been some type of threat every day in one of the 31 BOCES school districts since the Florida shooting.
She said people who have responded to school social media posts want more security and police officers in schools.
Lake George Superintendent Lynne Rutnik said she has had teachers ask if they could carry guns. She said the district is not there yet.
York said he is not opposed to the idea, but the teachers would have to have grown up with guns and be really familiar with them.
“It’s not about the guns for me. It’s about protecting our kids. We’ve got to figure it out,” York said.