Safety and security of our students, faculty and other employees in our elementary buildings is of the utmost importance to our school district.

Visibility of patrol officers is a deterrent to crime. A special patrol officer serves as a model to our young people.

The school board decided to explore the options to meet this purpose and objective. Initially we met with Utica Police Chief Mark Williams who was supportive of our plan and suggested that we meet with the Utica police union. The union leadership stated that there was not enough manpower and that there were problems with the city administration over labor issues. The cost of each officer was over $64 per hour and could have cost our district over a million dollars. It was not cost effective or bearable to our budget.

The union did not seem too enthused and failed to offer alternatives. We wanted to have Utica police officers as role models, but we had to consider other options, so we met with the Oneida County executive and sheriff to further investigate if they would be interested in protecting our young people and staff.

Years ago the Sheriff’s Department would never come into the city. But times, conditions and leadership have changed. Those barriers no longer exist. The Sheriff’s Department and the “Special Patrol Officer” plan seems to be what the district wants to accomplish at a cost reasonable, bearable and cost-effective. The cost with the assistance of county government is 75 percent less to our taxpayers and we are taking advantage of a plan that is shared between county government, school district and Sheriff’s department.

The Sheriff's special patrol officer will help maintain security of the school grounds, providing protection to all staff and students. They will prevent an immediate threat upon our school grounds. The patrol officer will add to our school security. The patrol officer will be present for a school day. They will be in uniform and will have access to safety equipment.

All patrol officers will be trained and provide active shooter response and de-escalation techniques. This is a plus for our district. We have removed the safety barriers between city, county, and the school district.

We as city residents are receiving assistance from county government and the Sheriff’s Department that was unheard of years ago. We are removing the barriers and thinking that that county police agencies should not enter the city boundary. It is a new era and a necessary one to ensure our parents that we in the school district are deeply concerned about their children and their safety.

On behalf of the school board and superintendent, we appreciate the efforts of the county executive, sheriff and others that allowed this unprecedented action to become a reality.

Lou LaPolla is president of the Utica school board.