Schools could lose police officers

New Milford school leaders are worried that town budget cuts may require the Police Department to redeploy two police officers assigned to the middle and intermediate schools.

One is a resource officer and the other provides drug abuse prevention education.

"It would be a shame to lose them,'' said school board Operations Committee Chairman Wendy Faulenbach . "We need those resources now more than ever.''

The committee was informed last week that these positions -- the cost is $120,000 -- were in jeopardy due to tight budget constraints that might require the Police Department to rethink its staffing needs.

Several board members stated the police presence in the schools for the last several years has proved invaluable for school security, as well as providing positive role models to students.

Even though there is some national debate on the long-term residual benefits of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, school officials argued that the program here has worked well by helping students recognize the need to resist negative influences in their lives.

Mrs. Faulenbach said both of the officers in the schools -- Kevin O'Neill at Sarah Noble and Peter DeLouis at Schaghticoke Middle -- have served as strong role models for the students.

New Milford High School also has a school resource officer, Donald Woods , but school leaders said that position was not mentioned as a potential loss.

Police Chief Colin McCormack said this week that no final decisions have been made on any of these positions as the budget is not yet finalized.

If the officers were to be reassigned, Chief McCormack said it would be to bolster the patrol ranks and reduce overtime costs.

At this time, though, he said, it is premature to state what will happen. Every program in the department, including these positions, is under review to determine how the department can best serve the community.

"Everything is on the table,'' Chief McCormack said.

The proposed police budget eliminates one administrative position, leaves open two patrol vacancies and seeks to reduce overtime costs. The department has 49 sworn officers.

School board chairman Lisa Diamond said she hopes the positions can be saved because the district could not afford to replace them.

Clearly, Dr. Diamond said, the budget situation is fluid "and everything is up in the air.''

The Board of Finance still has to review the combined $90 million town and school budget just approved by the Town Council to determine what will be sent to voters in May.

Dr. Diamond echoed Mrs. Faulenbach's sentiments that these officers provide a vital service to the district and its students "and I would be sorry to lose them.''