RJ parent pickets to get cop on school grounds

Billie Owens

Steve Almond is frustrated that more isn’t being done to address what he claims is drug activity in and around Red Jacket Central School.

“We see a lot of stuff going on,” said Almond, a parent who lives across from the school grounds.

He claims he often sees small groups of teenagers smoking pot amid tall stacks of railroad ties in an unfenced supply yard not far from Red Jacket. Other illegal activities involving Red Jacket students probably take place, too, he says, just like they do at other schools.

The difference is that Red Jacket is the only public school district in Ontario County without a campus cop, called a “school resource officer.”

Almond thinks it would be a good idea to have one here. He spent Tuesday afternoon picketing in front of his house in the rain. His sign asked passers-by if they knew Red Jacket was the lone public school district without a resource officer. He said a lot of people honked and waved and gave him the thumbs-up.

The presence of law enforcement on school grounds is all-around positive, said Brenda Keith, superintendent of Naples Central School District.

It is touted as a means of reducing crime and helping students learn more about health and safety issues as well as what local-government services are available for them. Law enforcement officials say perhaps the most important function of a resource officer is to serve as a liaison, a networker, a receiver of information that can be used to deter illicit activities and solve problems.

“It’s a great program,” said Bob Leiby, superintendent of the Manchester-Shortsville Central School District. “The (school) board has looked at it for several years, and a number of presentations have been made. We’re always looking for extra help for students’ health and safety.”

But “need” is in the “eye of the beholder,” Leiby said, and Red Jacket spends money on instruction first and foremost.

The district’s academic strength is consistently demonstrated in SAT scores. Scores posted earlier this year for reading, writing and math were the highest in Ontario County. Red Jacket has the highest school taxes, at $25.98 per $1,000 in assessed property value, but also spends roughly $100 more per student on education than other local districts.

Leiby said state grants have been available to fund resource-officer positions, but typically at some point, the district is required to shoulder the expense. That expense runs between $50,000 and $60,000 a year for a full-time position, most of it salary and benefits.

Contact Billie Owens at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at bowens@mpnewspapers.com.