HUDSON — Columbia County will keep deputy sheriffs stationed at each of the county’s six school districts.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted to continue placing sheriff’s deputies as school resource officers at its virtual meeting Wednesday night.
The move comes after the board’s Health and Human Services committee agreed to press pause on in-person mental health counseling for students at satellite locations at the county’s six school districts at its June 16 meeting.
All supervisors present voted in favor of continuing school resource officers program except for Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann, who opposed the measure.
The county contributed about $189,000 to the school resource deputy program last year and the school districts contributed $240,000 cumulatively.
The county pays the salaries of the school resource deputies, which in 2019 amounted to $428,966, according to public records, and the six school districts--Taconic Hills, Ichabod Crane, Germantown, Chatham, Hudson and New Lebanon--each compensate the county $40,000 for the presence of the deputies,
The money has been accounted for in the 2020 budget, according to the resolution.
Hudson 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael Chameides voted in favor of the measure but expressed his ambivalence about the program during the board’s discussion period.
The work of Deputy Zach Sohotra, who serves in Hudson schools, is a positive example of relationship-building, Chameides said.
But some constituents expressed doubt about the use of school resource officers as the best way to support students and their families, Chameides said.
“A lot of people share with me concerns around focusing too much on policing and they would rather see a conflict resolution specialist who is outside of the sheriff’s office in the school district,” Chameides said.
New Lebanon Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling voted in favor of continuing the program, but during discussion said she agreed with Chameides that the board needs to revisit the issue in the future.
“We should look at how we are allocating our funds and how we are providing both safety and emotional and mental health support in our schools,” said Houghtling, adding that “now is not the time” to move away from the program.
Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett spoke in favor of the program at the meeting of the board’s Public Safety committee on June 16.
Sheriff’s deputies who serve as school resource officers become part of the school community and are “more than just cops,” the sheriff said.
“The kids actually flock to the deputies and go to them for help and mentorship,” Bartlett said during the public safety meeting.
Houghtling asked Bartlett whether the school districts have adequate funding to renew the program, given projected budget shortfalls due to falling state revenues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Funding is not an issue, Bartlett replied, noting that the officers are there to protect, not police, the school community.
“You can’t really put a price on safety,” he said. “We have seen the different incidents that have happened throughout the country.”
The school-based sheriff’s deputies are highly trained to protect the school community, Bartlett added.
“It would be such a shame that if it did get cut from the budget and something did happen in the school, that would be quite a tragedy,” the sheriff said.
Bartlett chooses deputies with the right personalities to serve in the schools, he said.
Houghtling, whose three children attend New Lebanon schools, commended the work of New Lebanon school officer Patrick McMahon, who she said is known for greeting students with high-fives.
The deputies continue to connect with students during periods when school is not in session, which includes visiting playgrounds and summer camps and providing mentorship, Bartlett said.