NEW MILFORD -- School leaders have refused to leave the safety of 870 students and staff members at Schaghticoke Middle School to chance, particularly in an ever-changing world where adolescents are vulnerable to everything from cyber-bullying to substance abuse.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Education unanimously voted to allocate almost $55,000 in salary and benefits for a full-time police officer to be on duty at the school from Nov. 1 through July 1.

The annual cost for the officer would be about $82,000.

In mid-August, Police Chief Colin McCormack informed Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote that the request for a federal grant to cover the cost of the resource officers who'd worked at Schaghticoke and Sarah Noble Intermediate School was not approved.

Budget priorities in the police department required that the officers, Pete DeLouis and Kevin O'Neill, be returned to patrol duty. A third officer, New Milford High School resource officer Donald Woods, was retained.

Paddyfote said she and Schaghticoke Principal Dana Ford considered having no resource officer a significant loss and asked the school board to reallocate funds from the transportation account to cover the cost.

Paddyfote was informed the soonest the position could be restored was November because the department must post the position and then select a candidate.

Board member David Lawson said he finds it "distasteful'' that the police department, whose job it is to protect the citizens, including students, was not given money to cover the position.

"We know there are dangers, and we have to protect (students),'' Lawson said. "I don't think we have any choice in the matter.''

Mayor Patricia Murphy said she is glad the board made this decision. She sees it as an effective town and school partnership, with the Police Department covering the cost of the high school officer and the school district covering the Schaghticoke position.

Taxpayers fund both budgets, she noted.

Board members Julie Turk and William Wellman questioned some of the functions assigned to the officer, including the administration's suggestion that he serve as a student counselor.

Ford was able to convince them the officer is a legal authority who can give students help and guidance available nowhere else.

In disciplinary matters, Ford said, the resource officer can help students learn from a mistake in a school environment, rather than have it lead to an arrest that could affect their future.

She said the officer is also someone students often feel comfortable telling about problems they would not share with a staff member for fear it would be reported to their parents or school authorities.

The resource officer also reinforces lessons on the U.S. Constitution and laws taught to eighth-graders, and gives parents, students and faculty information about Internet safety and social networking sites, Ford said.

Police officers can also find Internet violations that school staff might be unable to detect, she said.

"I think it is more important to have (the officer) at the middle school than the high school,'' said board member Thomas McSherry. "This is a difficult time for some of these kids. They are exposed to so much. As a parent, I know they were the worst years of my life. The (police) presence is essential.''