Two weeks after a gunman killed 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the Hermon School Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to hire a full-time school resource officer.
“We need to feel a sense of security knowing that our kids are safe at school,” Chair Jesse Keith said in making the motion. “We need to make room in the budget for this.”
In the days since the tragic events in Uvalde, Keith said he’s had concerns for his children’s safety when he’s dropped them off at school or seen the bus door close after they’ve gotten on.
Superintendent Micah Grant said that he was certain the estimated $100,000 or so needed to hire and equip a school resource officer could be found within the budget. The school department has been talking about hiring a school resource officer for a decade, he said, but the idea has been repeatedly put on the backburner.
“Because we live in this wonderful community of Hermon, we think it can’t happen here,” Grant said. “That’s what they thought in Uvalde.”
The school resource officer is a police officer trained in school-based law enforcement and crisis response, assigned by a police department to work in a local school, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. Nationwide, nearly all are armed.
There are about 70 school resource officers working full and part time in Maine.
The number of school resource officers nationwide grew quickly during the 1990s and following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, though a handful of school districts eliminated their resource officers following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. One of those school departments was Portland, which eliminated its two school resource officers.
There’s limited research on their effectiveness, but some studies have shown that while the officers’ presence reduces some types of violence, it also increases numbers of suspensions, expulsions and arrests.
A 2019 University of Southern Maine study found that there’s no statewide oversight of school resource officers or statewide training requirement.
Hermon does not have its own police department but contracts with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services. Grant said he would work with Sheriff Troy Morton to find the right person to work in Hermon’s three schools.
Morton said Wednesday that his office currently has no school resource officers.
“Part of our mission includes regular engagements with our schools,” he said. “This is enhanced through our communities that have supplemental law enforcement contracts.”
Brewer has school resource officers full time in each of its two schools, according to Superintendent Gregg Palmer. The police officers make students feel safer, which is more conducive to learning, he said.
“I think having an SRO follows the community policing model, where the officer walks the hallways, participates in various classes, and is so embedded in the school that students feel comfortable asking questions and sharing concerns,” Palmer said. “Having officers who enjoy that kind of interaction and work is important. Being an SRO is a different kind of role and a wonderful one for folks who prefer that kind of work.”
The Maine School Safety Center within the state Department of Education provides some training for school resource officers and is working with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to create a voluntary school safety certification program, Jonathan Shapiro, the center’s director, said Wednesday.
Hermon School Committee members on Tuesday said they are hopeful voters at the annual town meeting will support the budget it has proposed and reject cuts the Hermon Town Council has made.
Last month, the council cut the $17.64 million school budget by $100,000 in a 4-2 vote, suggesting that $90,000 come out of the school department’s IT budget and $10,000 from its legal budget. The council also is suggesting the school department use nearly $500,000 of its $2.8 million unspent fund balance to cover operating expenses for the 2022-23 school year.
The budget as proposed by the school committee is an increase of 9.65 percent over last year’s budget and would raise taxes if approved. It would add teaching positions at the high school as the populations of Hermon, Levant and Carmel have increased, leading to increased enrollment. Levant and Carmel pay tuition to send their students to Hermon High School.