Newfane High School senior Ron Malone made a good argument to keep Joe Flagler as school resource officer for 2009 during the school board meeting Tuesday

The school board listened but squawked at the price tag, $75,000. An SRO is needed for the district, most agreed, but the job that has been done by sheriff’s deputy Joe Flagler should be done at a lower cost and be better defined, they said.

The contract was approved by a split vote, but the issue will be revisited March 17. The board has a 30-day escape clause, and members plan to use the next two months to find less expensive ways to get a cop in the school halls and for evening events.

Board member Donna Pieszala was angry because the contract issue was not resolved earlier. “It’s the most irresponsible thing we haven’t done all year,” the former board president said.

“We should have started looking at this six months ago, at this whole thing,” board President Patrick Kilcullen said.

Unresolved issues include flex time, vacation time, the SRO duties and daily wages, which cost taxpayers about $41.25 per hour.

Brian Hellner of Newfane CARES called the 23 percent increase “just huge” and estimated the cost at $400 a day. “Look at the other districts. We can’t pay this kind of money in this economic climate.”

“That’s a very pricey person,” a resident said. “What are the other options? What can be done cheaper?”

The SRO is assigned by the sheriff’s department, and there were two complaints that the board was being bullied by the department.

“I don’t view it as being bullied,” said Kilcullen. “We need to do more work on the contract. It’s an arrangement we’re not entirely comfortable with. The sheriff has been open to changes in the contract.”

Flagler is assigned by the sheriffs department and has apparently be been supported by students.

“Officer Flagler already knows us and we know him,” Malone told the board. “He is very friendly with us, but he can crack down. Keep Officer Flagler for student safety.”

Malone wants to keep the SRO position. “Drug use is a problem at our school, and he helps keep that down,” the senior said. “He can respond quickly to situations at the school and provides a sense of security for the students.”

Ron Malone’s dad was glad his son spoke and represented his classmates in his position. “As the board has said,” the father said, “They have to do a little more work on that contract and see what they work out with the sheriff’s department.”

Gretchen DeWitt questioned why the SRO is paid in the summer months and during the 27 vacation days. Flagler is paid for 41.25 hours per week, but it’s not clear what happens during vacations.

Cindy Culverwell, a former deputy sheriff in the narcotics department, said there are options, including upgrading the school’s extensive security system.

“It should be interfaced on all of the systems,” she said. “You could have somebody keeping control of all of the schools all of the time. It’s not a substitute for an individual, but you can dial 911 and have deputy assigned to town probably faster than the deputy that is here. You need some overseeing, but not to pay a full-time deputy a salary to walk the house. It’s not an efficient use of money.”

Superintendent Gary Pogorzelski said the board will maintain the contract while looking at other options. According to Pieszala, Newfane is waiting to get on the State Police waiting list. That cost is picked up by the state. She has also contacted the Lockport police.

Culverwell said, “If they want somebody full time, they should make it a staff position, employed by school district and accountable to school district.”

Contact reporter Bill Wolcott at 439-9222, ext. 6246.

Recommended for you