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Frustrated Vestal residents, in favor of school resource officers, protest town board meeting

Sarah Wiggins, Vestal resident and principal of Vestal Middle School, speaks during Wednesday's tense town board meeting.
Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
Sarah Wiggins, Vestal resident and principal of Vestal Middle School, speaks during Wednesday's tense town board meeting.

Nearly 100 frustrated residents in the town of Vestal showed up at a town board meeting Wednesday night, to protest and express concerns over the future of the town’s school resource officer (SRO) program.

Currently, the town has four school resource officers across the school district. There were plans to expand the program to six officers. But Town Supervisor Maria Sexton, who took office in January, said she worries about the town’s ability to pay for two more officers. Currently, the town shares the cost of the SRO program with the school district.

During the meeting, Sexton told residents the board has no intention of cutting the program. But she added that there is a $4 million gap in the town’s budget.

“I can guarantee that those four officers are staying in place, and we can discuss funding two more additional full-duty officers,” Sexton said. “But we’ve got to find the money, because it's not just one year, it has to be every year going forward. If we're going to do this, we need to know that we can pay for it and keep going with that payment. It's irresponsible to do anything else.”

All five board members committed to keeping the SRO program in place. But tensions ran high during the town meeting.

Sarah Wiggins, a Vestal resident and principal of Vestal Middle School, said the school resource officers ensure students are safe.

“They protect everyone in that building every single day. And I would hope that this board would work together to make sure that our kids, who can’t come here to speak, who are the most vulnerable population, that their safety is a priority just because they can’t vote,” Wiggins said.

Stephanie Mitsakos, a Vestal resident who also works for the school district, said she understands the town must balance its budget. But as a parent of three, she said worries about the safety of her children at school.

“The fact that you’re looking at this as a place to save some money,” Mitsakos said. “You said, ‘God forbid we have a snow storm that we don’t want to have to pay for.’ Well god forbid, Ms. Sexton, that you have something far more dangerous on your hands.”

Two additional police officers have been hired by the town. But during the meeting, town officials said they are still in training, and only meant to backfill positions so that officers with more experience could be freed up to work in schools. It is unclear whether those hires will result in an expansion of the SRO program.

The school district has also floated the idea of contracting with the county or hiring retired officers as SROS.