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Town Meeting 2024 – A debate over how to fund a School Resource Officer looms as potential obstacle for town’s decision makers

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By Mark E. Vogler


Having a well-trained School Resource Officer (SRO) working inside the Saugus Middle-High School “can only help make the school safer” and “can deter an act of violence,” Saugus Police Chief Michael Ricciardelli said this week.

“We haven’t had one yet in Saugus, but there’s a lot of parental support for it,” Chief Ricciardelli told The Saugus Advocate.

“It’s good community relations and opens up a dialogue with kids. It can build a rapport with them,” the chief said.

“I’ve been talking to school committee members and the school superintendents for the last few years. What they need to consider, obviously, is that there’s a cost to it,” he said.

Ricciardelli offered his reaction to last Thursday night’s (Feb. 15) School Committee meeting when several Town Meeting members, parents of schoolchildren and others called on the School Committee to take action. The chief did not attend the meeting, but was aware of the strong public sentiment supporting the addition of an SRO.

“We applied for a grant for an SRO but didn’t get it. It’s a no-brainer if you get a grant,” the chief said.

“Salary and benefits for one office are about $100,000. Right now, we’re waiting to see what we can do. The biggest obstacle is the money,” he said. “I think it can only help, having an officer in school that kids can talk to everyday. Community policing in general is great if you can do it. If the money gets appropriated, we will work with the School Department.”

School officials did not include funding for an SRO in their proposed budget for the 2025 Fiscal Year that begins July 1. But the School Committee has drafted an article for the May Annual Town Meeting requesting the position be funded by a Supplemental Student Support Reserve Fund created by Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree and approved by Town Meeting two years ago.

At last week’s meeting, first-year Town Meeting Members Matthew Parlante (Precinct 2) and Frank V. Federico (Precinct 7) sharply questioned how the School Committee could be committed to making the SRO a priority when it wasn’t funded within the proposed operating budget. “We fail to acknowledge that we have inner city issues,” said Parlante, a Revere firefighter who noted that the city he works in has three SROs.

“We have out-of-control fights as recent as last Thursday (Feb. 8) in our schools,” Parlante said.

“We have drugs in our schools, which we all know by now, that it’s not just the students,” he said, referring to the arrest of Roxanne Plaskon, a seventh grade Science teacher, who allegedly brought fentanyl into a faculty bathroom and into her classroom at the Middle School.

“You guys have been talking for two years. Talking. We need action,” Parlante declared as a heated argument ensued between him and School Committee Vice-Chair Tom Whittredge.

“You know damn well that I’m not against an SRO,” a visibly irate Whittredge responded to Parlante’s comments.


A warrant article vs. a budget line item

School Committee Member John Hatch took umbrage with Parlante’s characterization of the School Committee not being committed to getting an SRO in the Saugus Middle-High School.  Hatch noted that the School Department was involved in applying for a grant and has been working with the police chief on ways to get an SRO. “I don’t think it’s right for anyone to interpret our actions as against an SRO,” Hatch said.

Whittredge and other School Committee members tried to explain their fiscal logistics to Parlante – that the SRO had a better chance of getting funded through the warrant article than the School Department budget. “If we put it on the warrant, it’s got a better chance of getting passed,” Whittredge said.

“We can all guarantee that if it’s in the budget, it gets cut,” he said.

Parlante called on the School Committee to “make SROs a priority now” by adding it to the budget.

School Committee Member Ryan Fisher said passage of the School Committee article would enable school officials to draw from the school stabilization fund money that is earmarked for an SRO. “We have a real chance of doing it this time,” Fisher said.

School Committee Chair Vincent Serino also took umbrage to Parlante’s contention that the School Committee doesn’t consider an SRO a priority. “At the end of the day, we all give a crap about this town immensely,” Serino said.

“We want the SRO,” he said.


“Some serious issues within our schools”

Former School Committee Member Elizabeth Marchese called on people in the audience who want to see an SRO to lobby Town Meeting members to support the School Committee article. “We have some serious issues within our schools with regard to discipline and safety. Some of the things I’ve seen this year – I know why we can’t attract teachers,” Marchese said.

“I don’t want to sit in a class and have a pencil thrown in my face or be called b****…an f-ing b****,” she said.

Marchese said that finally getting an SRO could only succeed through a community effort. “This has to be all of us working together for a common cause. Right now, we all know it is a priority,” she said.

First term School Committee Member Stephanie Mastrocola declared, “We need an SRO more than anything.” But Mastrocola also noted that other problems exist that need to be addressed – like parents seeking more communication with teachers and school officials.

“We need to start holding people who run these buildings accountable,” Mastrocola said.

In an interview later, Fisher echoed Mastrocola’s comments about accountability. “Listen to the parents who spoke at the meeting,” Fisher said.

“They’re asking for better communication, more teachers and more support staff. We have a lot of balls in the air and we need to be creative and collaborative to get this done,” he said.

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