Oneida County Students Return to Safer Schools

Picente Announces 28 Special Patrol Officers Now Covering Six School Districts

With the new school year now underway, returning students and their parents can rest assured that several districts across Oneida County are now safer places to learn and flourish.

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. announced today that since the county made $500,000 available for school districts to hire Special Patrol Officers (SPOs) to secure their facilities, five new districts have signed on to take advantage of the opportunity.

“When I first announced that I wanted to make this funding available in April, I did so because I wanted action,” Picente said. “As I watched the seemingly never-ending news stream of school shootings and violence inflicting pain, loss and fear on our nation’s children, parents and educators, I knew we had to act where others were not. With these highly-trained and armed retired law enforcement members securing our schools and protecting our community’s most precious resource, our classrooms can hopefully refocus on the important task of shaping and molding young minds.”

Currently, there are 28 SPOs dispersed throughout six school districts in Oneida County. The part-time officers are assigned and paid through the Sheriff’s Office. It costs roughly $19,000 to fund each part-time SPO. Per Picente’s initiative, the county matches half of that cost with each participating school district and picks up the additional $4,000 start-up cost for officer uniforms and equipment. The Oneida County Board of Legislators fully backed the measure, approving the $500,000 allocation and the creation of the new positions.

The breakdown of the current school district SPOs are as follows:

• Whitesboro Central School District: 14
• Camden Central School District: 4
• Westmoreland Central School District: 4
• New York Mills Union Free School District: 2
• Waterville Central School District: 2
• Sauquoit Valley Central School District: 2

More school districts are expected to sign on through the Sheriff’s Office as the school year progresses. The Utica, Rome, New Hartford and Oriskany school districts have arrangements worked out with their respective police departments to provide security and/or School Resource Officers.

“I am glad to see that more school districts have chosen to hire SPOs through my office since the county made this funding available,” said Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol. “I applaud the County Executive for his commitment to attack school violence head-on and place the safety of our children above mere words. I am proud to be a part of these efforts and to play a role in protecting the future of this community.”

Monday’s press conference took place at Whitesboro Middle School, which is part of the first school district to hire SPOs in 2016, and served as the model for the rest of the county.

“The safety and security of our school community has always been, and remains a top priority for the Whitesboro Central School District,” said Dr. Brian K. Bellair, Whitesboro Central School District Superintendent. ”The Oneida County Sheriff’s Special Patrol Officer program has been an integral part of our overall safety and security plan. Working with the Sheriff, we have been able to place highly-trained and qualified individuals at each of our schools for the last several years. The funding made available via Oneida County Executive Picente’s Office is extremely helpful in maintaining our ability to participate in the program.”

The Sheriff’s Office also has 20 SPOs assigned at non-school posts to provide security to other county locations including the County Office Building and Union Station in Utica, the Centralized Arraignment Court in Whitestown and the Department of Social Services and Family Court facilities in Rome.

It also provides six total School Resource Officers for educational and counseling purposes to the Holland Patent and Westmoreland Central School Districts and Oneida-Herkimer-Madison and Madison-Oneida BOCES.

“The safety of our students and staff continues to be our first priority,” said Camden Central School District Superintendent Ravo Root. “I would like to thank the residents of the Camden Central School District who voiced concerns over the past several months. The Camden Board of Education and I have listened, and responded, to these concerns by hiring two Special Patrol Officers to increase safety and security in our schools along with an ongoing review of the mental health services we provide. I am pleased that the District has been given the opportunity to further enhance the security of our school buildings in such a cost effective manner, and would like to thank Oneida Sheriff, Robert Maciol and County Executive, Anthony Picente Jr. for their support.”

“The safety and security of our students and staff is, and always will be, of paramount importance, to the New York Mills community,” said New York Mills Union Free School District Superintendent Joanne Shelmidine. “The County Executive has recognized that school safety remains a top priority and has found a way to support school districts with an option that is viable and forward-thinking. The New York Mills Union Free School District is grateful for the leadership of County Executive Picente and the Oneida County Legislators who have made the safety of our children a top priority.”

“Sauquoit Valley is extremely grateful of the county for supporting the SPO program through the Sheriff's Office,” said Sauquoit Valley Central School District Superintendent Ronald Wheelock. “We are constantly reviewing our school security protocols and procedures to keep students and staff safe at school, and the addition of an SPO officer is a welcomed addition to our existing safety measures. We look forward to a long-term partnership with this program and cannot thank the county enough for their financial support and making the SPO program available to us.”

"The Waterville Central School community is very appreciative of the County Executive's foresight in funding this initiative,” said Waterville Central School District Superintendent Charles G. Chafee. “While our school district, like so many others, takes steps on a daily basis to keep our students and staff safe, this program is one more layer of protection. Thanks again to County Executive Picente and the Oneida County Legislators for putting kids first."

“The Westmoreland Central School District has been fortunate to have worked with the Oneida County Sheriff's Department for almost 20 years,” said Westmoreland Central School District Superintendent Rocco Migliori. “We hired our first SRO in 1999-2000 and have had the full-time presence of a Sheriff's Deputy in our District ever since. The SRO has had district-wide responsibilities and has been expected to travel between three buildings. The $500,000 pledged by County Executive Picente will now allow us to have a security presence in each of our buildings at the same time. We certainly thank the County Executive and Sheriff Maciol for their support and partnership in making this possible. Maintaining safe school campuses is a community-wide responsibility and we commend County Executive Picente and Sheriff Maciol for recognizing this and creating a plan to help.”