Board members say they’re considering adding the question of a school resource officer (SRO) to the annual school district meeting warning for a public discussion and vote. At a meeting several weeks ago the board discussed the role of an SRO with Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark. An SRO would be a certified police officer who would be permanently assigned to the school during the school year. Although security would be part of the job description, Clark said an SRO is much more than a security guard. The officer would perform a number of duties, from counseling to instruction. Clark also suggested that there may be grants to help pay for the officer.
The board and, during consolidation discussions, members of the public have expressed concern that Twin Valley High School would be moving from a town with a full-time police force (Wilmington) to a town with limited police presence (Whitingham).
Board member John Doty noted that Whitingham once had an active part-time constable, but over the years the constable’s budget, hours, and duties have been eliminated and the town has entered into agreements with other agencies to provide part-time coverage. Doty said it is time for Whitingham to discuss the issue again. “We have nothing – we have me waving my arms at the end of my road, yelling ‘Slow down!’” he said. “Now we’re in an entirely different situation, and the municipality of Whitingham has to own up to its responsibility here.”
But Doty said transparency is another reason to put the issue on the warning. “I’m also sensitive to putting it in the budget. That kind of buries it in a way, and it’s a large amount of money.
Board members asked principals how often police were at the schools. Twin Valley High School Principal Bob Morse said the school calls in police about six times per year for various reasons. But he said officers are also at the school at other times. “They come for different events, they check in once in a while, and I don’t know how many times I’ve seen them in the parking lot.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate the power of a presence,” said Twin Valley Elementary School Principal Rebecca Fillion. “The fact that they’re there on a regular basis may deter the need to call them on a regular basis.”
Doty said that, during the time he was principal of Whitingham’s K-12 school, he called on the town constable to show up at sports and other events. “He was always here when we had an event where we expected a lot of people.”
In other consolidation matters, board member Phil Taylor reported that construction on the middle/high school is running about four weeks behind. He said the delay has been caused by one subcontractor, but that after a meeting with the subcontractor in which steep penalties were put in place if the work wasn’t completed by Tuesday, January 21, they expressed confidence their work would be finished by the new deadline. Taylor said clerk of the works Gordon Bristol reviewed the schedule and “He feels like we can make up the time and we’ll be fine.” Taylor said the steel skeleton of the administrative building should start going up this week.
“Budget-wise, it’s still looking really tight,” Taylor said. “We’re constantly looking at ways of sharpening up the budget, but the contingency fund hasn’t been impinged upon. We’re pretty far through the unknowns, but there could be last-minute life-safety or electrical things.”
Keeping the budget in mind, Taylor said there were some things that may be sacrificed to stay in budget. “Things like smart boards and furniture,” he said. “We haven’t gotten a clear indication of which teachers really want to use smart boards, so we’re not going to provide them where they’re not going to be used. We’ll get all the rooms wired so the IT backbone will be in there, but right now smart boards and new furniture would have to come out of the contingency.”
“It feels like we’re in the same position we were at this point in the elementary construction,” said TVSB Chair Seth Boyd. “It’s a bigger project, but the rooms are starting to take shape.”
Middle school principal Keith Lyman said middle school teachers recently toured the construction site. “There was a lot of positive feedback,” he said.
In supervisory union news, Boyd said that the supervisory union board has sent a letter to the department of education asking them to give Windham Southwest Supervisory Union the go-ahead to hire a permanent superintendent. The supervisory union was under orders to hire an interim superintendent when they entered into a process with Windham Central Supervisory Union to explore collaborative models ranging from some limited sharing of resources to a full merger. The process ended with recommendations for collaboration and sharing, but not for a merger. “Dr. McClements came here as an interim for one year, and he himself says he’s not the person to be here long term,” Boyd said.
But the board may have a difficult time finding candidates thanks to nearby competition - as many as 12 Vermont supervisory unions may be looking for superintendents next year. “Hopefully we can differentiate ourselves in some way.”
Boyd said the supervisory union board has also requested a department study of office management structure at the supervisory union. “We’re looking for efficiencies,” Boyd said. “We didn’t realize that service is available (from the department of education) but it is, and we’ve asked for it.”