WESTFIELD, NJ -- Heated public comment on the reinstatement of an armed school resource officer (SRO) based at Westfield High School dominated a four-hour school board meeting June 24.
"Rarely do we have an audience," remarked board member Ann Cary, noting to a lively audience that the board frequently meets with very light attendance.
The position of school resource officer, which will pay a salary of $100,000 annually, generated extended public comment. Much of the discussion centered on recent national school shooting tragedies.
"I think we're just kidding ourselves that one officer in 10 schools can do anything to prevent another Columbine," said Anthony Cook, who was not in favor of the position.
Others in support of the measure also noted that school shooting tragedies were very much in the foreground.
"I almost wish it had been never tied to the school shootings," said Steven Gorelick, who said he otherwise supported the value of an SRO position. Gorelick mentioned that he was a Hunter College Professor with a PhD in Sociology and Criminology.
Other members of the public called into question the clarity of the job description of an SRO.
"The board is asking us to have blind faith that this person is just peachy keen," said resident Karen Egert, who went on to indicate that the position description did not seem to have been made clear.
Confusion over the job description of an SRO was echoed by many other Westfield residents, with many confused as to whether an SRO was an armed guard or a member of the Westfield Police department.
(As stated in previous articles, the SRO's salary would be shared by the school district and the Westfield Police Department, with the PD to have authority over the officer.)
"Some parents were confused by recent articles," said Westfield High School Principal Peter Renwick, who together with Assistant Principal James DeSarno and Westfield High School Nurse Margaret Teitelbaum made presentations in support of the return of the SRO officer.
Board discussions were further complicated when board member Mitchell Slater argued that the SRO position was not what the high school needed.
"What we really need is a school assistance counselor," said Slater, who mentioned that his research among the high school counselors indicated that some had preferred that position to the SRO.
Slater's suggestion coupled together with a failed motion to table the vote on the SRO position spurred a round of heated and unscripted exchanges between board members.
"I'm very appalled," said Lucy Biegler, who expressed concern that informal polling had been conducted of the high school counseling staff.
Board members also argued over whether the SRO position had been discussed adequately prior to the public vote.
"I would have liked more time," said Slater, who argued for further discussion before a vote was taken.
The measure to fund the SRO position, which was voted on separately from the rest of the budget, was approved with only two board members, Mitchell Slater and Ann Cary, voting against it. To watch additional video from the meeting, click here.
Other school board agenda items went forward without incident. An early appearance by the Westfield varsity baseball team gave the board a rare moment in the evening to celebrate. The team was honored with certificates for earning the sectional championship and becoming runners-up in the state finals.
"These guys darn near took it all of the way," said head baseball coach Bob Brewster.