WARRENSBURG — A proposal to hire two school resource officers at Warrensburg Central School failed Monday in a 3-3 tie vote, with a member who has attended only two school board meetings in the last year and a half once again absent and not able to break the deadlock.
Ash Anand has missed 31 out of 33 meetings held since July 1, 2017, which was the start of his second four-year term, according to a review of the Warrensburg Board of Education meeting minutes.
The school resource officer has been a contentious issue and attracted 50 people to a forum last month. Over 200 names have been submitted to an online petition in support of adding armed officers.
The district has included $70,000 for safety personnel in the nearly $20.55 million 2019-2020 budget the board adopted at its meeting. How the $70,000 will be used will be determined at a later point.
Board member Diane Angell introduced the motion to contract with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for two school resource officers — one at the elementary school and one at the junior-senior high school. Board member Robert Frasier seconded it.
“I was on the fence and seeing 50 people show up to a meeting when we generally have nobody, that kind of said something,” he said.
He suggested having a straw poll to get a sense of the community’s feelings.
Board President Doug West said he would like more research done about armed school resource officers versus unarmed security monitors before he makes a decision.
“There is no evidence that a school resource officer has had any impact on the trend of shootings going back to Columbine,” West said. “It’s an opinion-based decision.”
He said he has had a couple of teachers express their concerns about armed officers.
“Do we truly believe that there would be an incident in this district where we would need an armed response within three minutes?” he said.
“I think a lot of damage can be done in three minutes,” Angell said.
Board member Nicole Winchell said having an officer still might not make a difference.
“If you have an SRO officer on one side of the school and the incident is happening on the other, that could be too late,” she said.
Board member Elaine Cowin said that SROs would not be making arrests. About 90 percent of their time would be spent developing relationships with students and offering counseling, but the district has other professionals in the building who provide those services, she said.
Angell, Frasier and board member Jonathan Boston voted in favor of hiring two SROs, and West, Cowin and Winchell voted in opposition.
West said afterward that Anand, the absent board member, travels a lot for business. He owns the Lotus Group of Companies, which is made up of eight businesses including the Grist Mill, Ashe’s Pub, Ocho Cinco Cantina, Lotus Auto Parts, Lotus Auto XPerts, Lotus Nutraceuticals and the Small Tales early learning center. Anand started in 2009 with the Lotus Analytics business consulting firm.
However, West said that Anand stays in touch.
“He does maintain frequent contact and participates in committee meetings,” he said.
Anand’s term is up in 2021. He did not return a message left for comment at his workplace on Tuesday.
Community members spoke during the public comment period about the deadlock.
“There is a seven-member board for a reason and I think when it comes to a point where no progress can be made, the board needs to take some sort of action on that so there can be forward progress,” said resident Carla Sherman.
Resident Mark McGrath called on the board to ask for Anand’s resignation.
“He might be a great businessman but he has no business being on this board,” he said.
McGrath said he has called state education officials about the issue.
Members are rarely removed from school boards. School board positions are unpaid.
Cowin’s four-year seat is up. She said she is running for re-election. Petitions are due by April 22 in the district clerk’s office.
Budget up 5.2 percent
There was very little discussion about the proposed budget. The district’s spending plan is an increase of $581,000, or 5.2 percent, from this year’s budget.
Superintendent John Goralski said the district had a large influx of special education students in the current year. That added about $600,000 to the budget. The district is also spending more for students to attend the career and technical education programs through the regional BOCES. The district is also anticipating taking on some debt for its capital project and purchasing two vans.
One unknown is that the teachers contract is still in negotiation. The district did set aside some money in the budget to cover an eventual settlement. Turcotte said the budget was roughly flat for a few years.
The district is getting about $11.865 million in state aid, which is a 4 percent increase from the current.
The tax levy would increase by 1.75 percent up to $7.776 million, which is below the district’s cap of 3.61 percent, according to Business Administrator Cynthia Turcotte.
School officials are also tapping about $300,000 from fund balance and $131,000 from a reserve fund to pay off debt.