District to apply for school officer grant

HOLLIS – The Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School Board voted 6-1 Wednesday night to apply for a $125,000 federal grant to fund a school resource officer for the district’s two schools.

The grant would pay $125,000 over three years for the officer’s salary and benefits. Hollis would pay for the fourth year and the officer would work in the Hollis Police Department during the summers. Details surrounding the hiring and contract of the officer would be hammered out after grant approval.

Board members Steve Simons, Tim Bevins, Anne Dumas, Tom Enright, Jim McBride and Chairwoman Pamela Kirby all voted in favor of completing the grant application, which is due Monday. Member Betty Hall voted against applying for the grant.

The board met three weeks ago to discuss the school resource officer program, which provides school districts with police officers who work with student populations in a variety of areas. During that meeting, Hollis/Brookline High School students presented petitions against having an officer in their school, saying the position was unnecessary.

Hollis/Brookline Principal Charles Flahive said the school had held two student assemblies on the issue, and had taken a vote from students, parents and teachers. According to Flahive, students voted 5-1 against having a resource officer, whereas small samples of faculty and parents showed support.

“It’s my feeling that you can solve a lot of things inside a school instead of inside a courthouse,” said Flahive, who has worked with school resource officers in the past.

However, Hollis/Brookline junior Chris Peterson said the school assemblies convinced him the student body was resistant to having an officer.

“I’m a bit skeptical that it can happen in our school,” Peterson said. “I’m a bit skeptical that it needs to happen.”

Hall said she had planned to vote in favor of the program Wednesday night, but she had more questions and was unsure about the penalties of dropping out of the program before the fourth year.

The board discovered that if the district dropped out of the program for any reason, either Hollis or the district would have to pay back the grant money. The district might also be ineligible for federal grant funds for up to 10 years.

“I don’t think that one person is going to change the lives of 1,300 (students), but if one person can do something for 20 or 30 people, then I think it will be a success,” Enright said.

When the position was first presented to the public, Hollis Police Chief Richard Darling said the school resource officer would work in the two Hollis/Brookline Co-op schools as well as both Hollis elementary schools.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, however, Enright said the Co-op Board and Darling agreed it would be “unwise to stretch resources too thin,” and the intention was for the officer to work at the Co-op level. Enright said members of the Hollis School Board had voiced some objection to that plan.

In an e-mail to Superintendent Ken DeBenedictis, Hollis School Board Chairman Doug Cleveland said, “since the Hollis taxpayers are funding the fourth year of the program, we feel that it is only right that the Hollis schools receive some benefit from the program.”

After the Co-op Board voted to move forward with the application, members also voted to drop their grant application if the Hollis School Board decides to move forward with an application solely for its own district.

The Hollis School Board meets tonight.

Emily Cavalier can be reached at 594-5833 or cavaliere@telegraph-nh.com.