ELLSWORTH — The issue of school resource officers for school districts in the eastern and western parts of Hancock County remains murky.
There’s quite a bit of history to the issue, which began when superintendents for Union 93, Union 76 and Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) approached Sheriff Scott Kane last spring about providing school resource officers if the districts funded the salaries.
Two of three Hancock County commissioners have opposed adding the program. Commission Chairman Antonio Blasi said he’s gotten letters from constituents who don’t support an officer in the schools.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown said the best school resource officer is the classroom teacher.
The Hancock County Budget Advisory Committee, which reviews the county’s proposed budget every fall and makes recommendations to the county commissioners, took up the school resource officer issue on Oct. 17.
Sheriff Kane updated the committee.
Since last spring, Union 93 officials have “rededicated their funds” for the school resource officer “somewhere else,” Kane said. That leaves Union 76 out because that union was going to share an officer with Union 93.
The Budget Advisory Committee discussed whether it had any authority on the school resource officer issue.
“This is a budget advisory committee, it’s not a policy committee,” said member and Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz. “We really have not, until this day, discussed a budget that has a new feature in it.
“That makes us driving policy. We’ve never done that before and I’m not sure that’s our province.”
Kathleen Billings, chairwoman of the committee and Stonington town manager, concurred.
“I’m not sure we are the body that decides ‘does this program get instituted here,’” Billings said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with whether I support or don’t support SROs. The statute clearly says that commissioners set policy.”
Kane clarified the services of an officer in the schools.
“They don’t dole out punishments and they don’t enforce” school rules, Kane said. “They’re there to assist with the classroom. They’re a resource.”
The officer would help schools think about security and hazard assessment as well.
The advisory committee was to take up its budget review again last night, Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, Kane is scheduled to meet with both school unions in the western half of the county separately on Thursday, Nov. 15, to discuss the school resource officer position.