Norwich — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to use the $150,000 in surplus school budget money from the 2012-13 fiscal year to pay for two school resource police officers in the two middle schools, fulfilling a "trust" the Board of Education put in the council last week on the controversial issue.
Several people in the nearly full Council Chambers greeted the unanimous vote with light applause.
Several residents and city officials spoke strongly in favor of the ordinance that restored the two resource officers after the school board initially balked at spending the $191,149 on police officers rather than on teachers or librarians.
But by a 5-4 vote last week, the school board agreed to turn over its surplus from the previous fiscal year to the city rather than place it into a health insurance reserve account for potential medical costs. The council in turn proposed to place the money into the nondepartmental account in the budget and dedicate the money for SROs.
Police Chief Louis Fusaro also agreed to fund the $41,149 for the two officers' benefits in the current police department.
"This is one of the most outstanding programs I've ever seen," Fusaro said during the public hearing. "And the way it came together to benefit both the schools and our police officers, the Board of Education did the right thing in coming up with the $150,000, and I know you will do the right thing."
Board of Education member Dennis Slopak reflected on the close vote by the school board and said there has been a feeling that the City Council was angry with the school board over budget issues. School board members who voted against the proposal last week said they feared the council would balk at approving the $150,000 for resource officers.
Slopak told the council the proposal could go far to "cure this rift," and asked the council to support the measure.
Some residents who favored the ordinance and two who opposed it did comment on the unorthodox way it came to the table. Resident Kathleen Murphy said the money for resource officers should have been included in the budget from the start and not added two months after the budget was adopted.
Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Deberey Hinchey applauded the group effort that resolved the funding issue, crediting the police department, school officials and the council for "putting something in the schools that is so vital."
Alderman and mayoral candidate Charles Jaskiewicz two weeks ago had proposed considering additional social workers in the school system rather than SROs. On Tuesday, Jaskiewicz asked that the resource officers and school and city social workers collaborate and cross-train to be able to identify children's needs before they reach critical points.
Mayor Peter Nystrom called the resource officers an extension of the community policing model the city adopted five years ago to increase police presence in neighborhoods and now in city schools.