SUNLAND PARK — The Gadsden Independent School District Board on Thursday night approved a budget adjustment transferring $200,000 from operating fund expenses to contracted services to cover the cost of school resource officers.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Travis Dempsey said 52 people have already volunteered for the district’s new POPS (for “Parents on Patrol for Schools”) program. announced a week ago, recruiting family members of students to patrol school grounds, checking doors to ensure they are locked, and reporting any problems to school offices as appropriate. Volunteers would not be allowed to carry weapons.
The fourth-largest school district in New Mexico operates 24 schools and a pre-kindergarten center in an area encompassing Doña Ana County south from Las Cruces to El Paso, and east to Chaparral and reaching Otero County. Many of its schools, especially elementary schools, are in unincorporated communities that do not have local police departments but are covered by the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office.
DASO, however, does not provide School Resource Officers, and Dempsey sought an alternative as families across his school board and district called for prominent school law enforcement at the following a series of armed attacks on schools across the United States, including a massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in May.
The last service agreement between Gadsden ISD and the Sheriff’s Department to provide ORS expired in 2019. Dempsey had asked Stewart to continue the program, which the district had paid for, but Sheriff Stewart chose not to renew it.
“She said she was unable to approve my request due to the limitations of available staff,” Dempsey told the Las Cruces Sun-News.
The district recently reached an agreement with the Sunland Park Police Department to organize at least one SRO with plans for a second covering a school located in an annexed portion of the town of Santa Teresa. Last month, the school board postponed approvals for part of Dempsey’s plan, directing him to contact the sheriff and other agencies and explore avenues for more officers. A separate agreement with the Anthony Police Department is in the works for a third SRO, but has not yet been presented to Anthony’s board.
Dempsey said the district’s plan is to directly fund whatever ORS it can under contract with Sunland Park and Anthony Police, prioritizing high schools and expanding to elementary and middle schools if more ORS can be funded. While Stewart said last week that her agency still does not have personnel available to provide the service, she met with Dempsey to discuss cross-commissioning local police to serve in the county outside of city jurisdiction.
Dempsey told the school board that the $200,000, in addition to money already budgeted for contract services, would cover more than was needed to pay three officers, but he said a buffer was needed because the expenses may vary from agency to agency. He and school board members discussed the hope that state lawmakers could appropriate funds to help local districts bring more officers into schools.
Expanding the uniformed security presence across the district was “a bit of a puzzle that we will gradually piece together over time,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight.”
The district is implementing a safety and security plan that has been approved by the state Department of Public Education, Dempsey told the board, and state police, DASO and local police have staged a occasional emergency training at school sites.
When GISD Board Chair Laura Salazar Flores asked if agencies are training at all or most school sites in the district, to ensure agencies know about sites throughout the district, the superintendent said. said agencies pick where they want to train.
The school district pays for background checks for parent volunteers, and Dempsey said the initial plan would be to train them for two hours to walk on school grounds making sure entrances are locked, being mindful to signs of suspicious activity and reporting incidents without getting involved. themselves.
Dempsey said those volunteers and staff would also be trained to watch for early signs of distress or social isolation that could indicate bullying or abuse experienced by students.
Board member Armando Cano noted that a similar program had been offered in the past and had struggled to recruit volunteers. “Hopefully now, with the way things have been and things have changed, I hope all parents can start participating in this POPS program.”