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Norwich - On the eve of a visit to the city by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to discuss urban violence and community policing, school board members gave strong opinions to school administrators that they would rather hire librarians and teachers than retain the two school resource police officers.
The Board of Education held a special meeting Tuesday to discuss several budget priorities, including whether to retain the two school resource officers, in the wake of receiving a virtually flat $70.5 million budget.
Currently, the school budget pays 10 months of the salary and benefits for the two resource officers, totaling $191,148. Superintendent Abby Dolliver told the school board that she held recent discussions with Police Chief Louis Fusaro to see if the police budget could cover more of the cost. The chief offered to pay benefits for one officer, totaling about $42,000.
But while the board did not vote Tuesday, members objected strongly to spending the money on school resource officers rather than filling teaching and librarian positions that have been cut in recent years. The board will vote on the final budget adjustments at its next regular meeting.
Malloy will meet with city and school officials at 10 a.m. today at City Hall to discuss urban police issues. The meeting is open to the public but will not include a public comment session.
Citing a survey of 16 other Connecticut school districts, all of which pay lower percentages of the police officers' salaries and benefits, board members said they felt it was the city's obligation to provide safety to the schools. The Board of Education, they said, is responsible for educating students.
"I would say the chief in Norwich is a little out of step," board member John LeVangie said.
The survey, conducted through an association of school business administrators, showed that of the 16 districts responding, six city police budgets paid 100 percent of the officers' salaries and benefits, five split the costs 50-50 between the school and city budgets, and five others had the school budget paying 10 months of the police salary but not the health benefits.
"I would like to have them here," board member Jesshua Ballaro said. "My daughter comes here (to Kelly Middle School), but I want her to come here to learn. I'd rather she be in a Spanish class."
The board eliminated world languages in budget cuts several years ago.
Board member Cora Lee Boulware said the school resource officers should be in the same category as school crossing guards, which are 100 percent funded through the police department budget.