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Town, school district finalize cost of school resource officer

11/21/2018 6:00 AM |

In the wake of concerns about a contract with Riverhead Town, Riverhead Central School District finalized the cost of hiring a school resource officer Friday.

During last Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, member Greg Meyer asked that the board consider rescinding its contract with the town.

The district’s 2018-19 budget allocated funds for the first time to hire a school resource officer from the Riverhead Police Department. The Board of Education unanimously approved a contract with Riverhead Town Aug. 28, appointing Riverhead Police Officer Byron Perez to the position effective in September. The district had expected to pay approximately $60,000 for a school resource officer.

Contractually, the town had until Sept. 30 to specify what his salary and benefits would cost the district. According to an attorney for the district, either party has the ability to rescind the agreement within 90 days. 

“We never actually found out how much they were going to charge us,” Mr. Meyer said. “My concern is that every time we need something from [the town,] we pay dearly and when they need something from us, for the most part, we don’t charge them anything.”

During last Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said she and deputy superintendent Sam Schneider would look into the matter.

“We talked about an approximate figure … we’re not looking at anything outrageous,” Dr. Henriquez said, noting that she would work on getting a “more exact” number for the board.

Through a spokesperson, district officials confirmed Friday that Riverhead Town sent the district an invoice for $69,500 for Mr. Perez’s services.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said a recently settled Police Benevolent Association contract was to blame for the delay.

“We had tentatively agreed to the cost, but then we settled the contract with the PBA. So we needed to settle the cost based on the new contract agreement,” Ms. Jens-Smith said Friday afternoon.

The school district and town will each pay $69,500 towards Mr. Perez’s salary, the supervisor said.

“That includes everything,” she said, of medical and other benefits. “[The PBA] was out of contract for almost three years, so they got a 2 percent, 2 percent and a 2 percent increase. There was a 6 percent jump just to make up for the [retroactive pay.]”

Board of Education officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. 

Before receiving the town’s invoice, Mr. Meyer said his main concern was the district being legally obligated to pay without knowing the cost.

Board member Laurie Downs said safety trumps cost in this situation. “These parents have been advocating for [an SRO] for years,” she said. “We finally got it and you want to just pull it out from under them.”

“I just don’t want this to disappear and then next thing you know they’re like OK, guess what? You owe us $500,000 and now we’re stuck,” Mr. Meyer said.

Board of Education president Susan Koukounas and vice president Christopher Dorr stood by Mr. Meyer. 

“We don’t want to go over the budget that we had allowable. We don’t want it to start eating into our programs either,” Ms. Koukounas said.

Mr. Dorr noted that if the price becomes “exorbitant,” the district could have better allocated those funds. “We could have hired multiple security guards — even armed guards — for what the town could be charging us. We need to know what that dollar amount is,” he said.

Former school board member Amelia Lantz spoke up at last Tuesday’s meeting. “Throughout my time on the BOE, I continually voiced my concern and opinion for an SRO and was told we didn’t need it,” she said. “Now we have an SRO and you want to get rid of him?

“[Byron Perez] didn’t jump on board with your agenda, so now he’s in your crosshairs,” she said, addressing Mr. Meyer, Ms. Koukounas and Mr. Dorr directly.

Ms. Lantz also took issue with overall safety in the district. “Throughout my latter years on the BOE, I frequently segued into the discussion of metal detectors and again was told ‘We’re not Brentwood. We don’t need it.’ You owe it to this community to be proactive and not reactive due to, God forbid, a gun-related catastrophe, regardless of whether it is a toy or otherwise,” she said, referencing a recent event in which an airsoft gun was found in a middle schooler’s backpack.

“Here we are again. Do not let years pass before we address this situation,” Ms. Lantz said.

In August 2017, Mr. Perez was appointed to fill one of two vacancies on the school board following the resignations of Ms. Lantz and Ann Cotten-DeGrasse.

He did not seek election to a full term in 2018.

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