Photo: Sophie Vaughan / Hearst Connecticut Media
WESTPORT — For the second time in a month, the Board of Finance has rejected a proposal to hire two police officers for Westport’s middle schools.
“The issue here is whether this incremental spending is giving an incremental safety, and I’m just not convinced of that,” Board of Finance (BOF) Chair Brian Stern, a Democrat, said of his vote against an appropriation of $260,000 to hire two school resource officers placed at Westport’s middle schools.
Democrat Lee Caney and Republican Jim Westphal also voted against the proposal while Republicans Andrea Moore and Michael Rea voted in favor of the appropriation. Democrat Sheri Gordon was absent and newly appointed Democrat Nancie Dupier abstained.
The board’s rejection comes after two members of the Representative Town Meeting — Nicole Klein and Andrew Colabella petitioned to overturn the finance board’s original denial on July 11 to fund the two additional school resource officers (SRO).
The RTM will still vote on whether to overturn the BOF’s decision not to fund the SRO’s at the Aug. 7 RTM meeting.
A full-time officer will be present at Staples High School for the start of the coming school year after the board voted to reappropriate funding for the D.A.R.E. program to hire an SRO for the high school.
“It’s an awful lot cheaper if our objective is to deal with mental health issues and troubled children, to do it with trained people who are paid an awful lot less than 170 thousand dollars a year,” Westphal said.
RTM members Peter Gold and Kristan Hamlin both spoke in favor of rejecting the appropriation, saying if the goal of an SRO is to perform emotional intervention on students who may execute a shooting at the school, then a mental health professional would be a more effective and less costly hire.
“The therapist meets with them in an office, possibly sedated, possibly restrained. Our officers are dealing with them at their worst. I’d put an officer in a crisis situation over any trained counselor,” Police Chief Foti Koskinas said.
Together with Superintendent Colleen Palmer and First Selectman Jim Marpe, Koskinas has been a strong proponent of hiring SRO’s for Westport’s schools ever since Palmer first recommended the idea to the Board of Education (BOE) last fall.
“Bottom line, for me, is if we have the police in the buildings, response time is minimized and god forbid, in a shooting situation, that’s going to save lives, “ BOE member Candice Savin said, voicing an argument in favor of the response time officers in the schools could provide that was reiterated by several other RTM members and residents in favor of the appropriation.
“I’d hate to see Westport in the news as the town that made the decision to forgo this and have something happen that we didn’t necessarily expect, but could have anticipated,” RTM member Ellen Lautenberg, said.
The RTM will meet on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.
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