Wiscasset Police Chief Larry Hesseltine told Wiscasset Newspaper Friday, he is excited the school department has grant funding for two years of a school resource officer. He hopes to get an SRO back in the schools as soon as possible, and residents come to see its value so they support funding it when the grant money runs out.
The job has had close calls with voters. Last June, they rejected it 202-198. And Jan. 11, Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood told the school committee in the Wiscasset Middle High School library, on Zoom and in her written report, an American Rescue Plan Act grant got approved. “And we have budgeted a school resource officer for the next two years. I am working with the town manager and police chief to see how we can contract services through the town and when this position will start,” Wood wrote.
She told the committee she really does not want to wait until July 1. Besides the grant, the department still has $10,000 to put toward the job from the 2021-22 budget. She would like to have the SRO both at Wiscasset Elementary School, where she said students enjoyed spending time with him in the cafeteria; and WMHS, once more doing activities and meeting with students.
Wood, Hesseltine and, in a report to selectmen ahead of their Jan. 18 meeting, Town Manager Dennis Simmons, said the school department’s ARPA grant would cover 35 weeks a year for two years; the other 17, when the officer would be out of the schools, would be up to the town; Simmons told the board he is not sure if the SRO question in June lost due to the cost or if voters felt an SRO was not needed.
“Hiring someone ... under these circumstances could be problematic,” Simmons wrote selectmen. “Do we move forward, when and how?”
Responding to followup questions via email, Wood explained she sought to remove funding as an issue by getting the grant. “I went ahead and immediately began working on the grant to ensure funding would not impact this decision but we will see what happens.”
She told the committee Jan. 11, she had to submit the ARPA grant request three times before it got approved over Christmas break. Plus she noted this year’s school budget still has the $10,000 that was planned to help with the SRO, before the SRO question lost on the town ballot.
She told the committee she will keep it posted.
Also Jan. 11, Wood announced she feels “very comfortable” saying local taxpayers will not see an increase on the school side for 2022-23. She has been working with heads of services in the department ahead of a budget draft. She expects to have information on state aid in February. And Wood said both schools have been struggling with staff absences and so far avoided going remote due to them, because in-school is best, but other districts have had to and “there does come that fine line,” she said.
The committee passed its first reading of a proposed medication policy nurse Marilyn Sprague said would allow training for and use of Narcan if needed in a drug-related emergency at school. Public comment included renewed statements for and against having children wear masks. Officials stood by the department’s universal masking; without it, learning would be remote, Wood said. And meeting-goers applauded bus driver-lead driver Laurie Berry’s 32 years of service. Wood announced Berry plans to retire at the end of the school year. Officials praised Berry as dedicated.