BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township and the Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education have again entered into a police services agreement for school resource officers (SROs), in the form of a resolution that was originally passed by the council at its Oct. 5 meeting.
The resolution extends a previous agreement for the services of SROs, as requested by the school board, and will be in effect for the 2020-2021 school year.
The township provides two SROs to the school district, which consists of 11 schools in all. The officers are assigned by Bridgewater Township Police Chief Paul Payne, and assigned with the consent of the school board, with a full-time police sergeant required to oversee the officers who are employed in the district.
“It’s the continuation of a practice,” said township administrator Michael Pappas of the agreement.
He added that the agreement is about improving the structure and accessibility of SROs and Class Three officers, who are retired officers working 10 months out of the year, only when schools are in session. He thanked Payne for his efforts, and said this is an enhancement of the agreement from previous years.
Council president Howard Norgalis said that the continued agreement is a tribute to the relationship between the council and the board, to keep the children, teachers and everyone else in the schools safe.
In previous years, the school district paid the salary of the highest paid of the two SRO officers, while the township took care of the second salary.
Deputy township administrator Wells Winegar said the two entities did some negotiating this year because the district was looking to hire more Class III officers for the district, but the police department was having trouble finding any.
“What we saw was there has not been a lot of interest in the Class III positions,” he said.
According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the option for these officers was made available as of June 1, 2019, by state law that creates a type of law enforcement personnel that is trained specifically to provide security in and around schools. They are called Class III Special Law Enforcement Officers, and they are hired only to provide security at schools when they are in session.
Winegar said the district was interested in having six Class III officers and only one SRO.
“But we were also concerned with the supervision capacity with one person managing six,” he said.
The district and the township came to a revised agreement, where the district is now paying 80 percent of the salary of the lowest paid SRO officer, or $87,155.66, as well as 30 percent of the salary of the sergeant supervising the two SROs in the schools, or $33,657.41.
“The township is paying a bit more,” he said. “But it didn’t make sense for the district to pay 100 percent of a salary when the SRO officer is not in the school the whole year. We feel we came to an equitable arrangement that will provide the same level of security.”
Currently, there are the two SRO officers and two Class III officers in the district, after one resigned recently, and they are actively recruiting for the third, but it takes time to complete all the application and background check requirements, Winegar said.
The district pays for the Class III officers entirely, he said, because their only assignment is to be in the schools.
School board member Steven Singer remarked at a board of education meeting that the council had approved the SRO measure. The board then approved its own resolution for the School Resource Officer agreement for the 2020-2021 school year with the township.