A dispute between Tiverton school and town officials regarding provisions within a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the School Resource Officer position came to a head last week, with town …
A dispute between Tiverton school and town officials regarding provisions within a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the School Resource Officer position came to a head last week, with town council members expressing frustration over the length of time it has taken to reach a final agreement and school committee members signaling further deliberations are needed.
A joint agreement is required in part because the school department and town share the costs related to the SRO position. The debates regarding the content of the MOU started at least six months ago. Last week, it seemed a resolution was at hand, since the town council’s Sept. 11 agenda included a discussion and possible vote on the MOU, to take place in executive session.
However, at the end of the regular business meeting, Town Administrator Chris Cotta and Council President Denise deMedeiros said the executive session would not be needed, since the latest draft of the MOU had yet to be vetted by the school committee.
Police Chief Patrick Jones, when asked by the council to weigh in, noted the latest draft was “our last best offer to resolve this situation.”
Councilor John G. Edwards V said he was under the impression, based on a prior joint meeting, that no further delays on the MOU were expected. “Now it’s dragging out again and we are going to continue to operate without this in place.”
Both Cotta and deMedeiros responded by saying an impasse developed when school officials sought more control over the SRO than they have had in the past, but the changes they seek are precluded by the police union contract and the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
Cotta added that the town cannot bend on these issues. “We are providing exactly what we have always provided for an SRO in the school system. We just can’t sign onto something that takes rights away that are in the collective bargaining agreements.”
School Committee response
At the Sept. 12 school committee meeting, Superintendent of Schools Peter Sanchioni distributed documents which he said he had received earlier in the day that consisted of an updated draft MOU provided by the attorney representing the police department, along with suggested revisions to the draft and notes prepared by the school department’s legal counsel.
Sanchioni recommended the school committee continue the discussion to its next meeting on Sept. 26. Prior to that date, he said he would arrange a meeting with Jones, Cotta, and attorneys for both the town and schools, in an attempt to reach a final agreement.
Referencing the town council’s action the previous night, school committee member Diane Farnworth said she believed school officials were working with the best of intentions to come to an agreement with the town.
“There seems to be everlasting confusion between the police chief and the town administrator on where we are with all of this. I don’t understand how that can be.”
Both Farnworth and Sanchioni praised the work of the district’s current SRO, Jackie Smaldone, who was appointed to the position on March 10.
Acknowledging that the process has taken a long time, Farnworth continued, “I want to make sure we take the time we need to take, to do it right…This agreement has to make sense for everyone involved.”