Sharon to lose trooper in school


By Patsy Nicosia

When Trooper Chip Johnstone walks through the halls as Sharon Springs Central School , it’s no big deal.
He works there.
Trooper Johnstone is one of the State Police’s School Resource Officer and he divides his days between SSCS and, just down Route 20, Duanesburg Central School .
Pick a day and he’s likely to be visiting elementary classrooms. Talking to an auditorium full of Middle Schoolers about harassment.  Slowing down teen drivers just a little too excited to be done for the day. Or helping with an in-school investigation.
Under Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposed budget, however, 92 troopers working as SROs—including Trooper Johnstone, himself a SSCS graduate, will be pulled from the 118 schools and sent back to the streets in high-crime areas like Buffalo and Albany at the end of June .
SSCS Superintendent Pat Green said he and school board members have joined a letter-writing campaign to convince Governor Spitzer to change his mind and they’ve invited teachers to do the same.
“Having someone like Trooper Johnstone in the school really changes kids’ perception,” Mr. Green said. “When he first got here, they were afraid of the uniform. Now, they run up and hug him. They see a police officer as a positive thing.”
In addition to working with the students, Mr. Green said, Trooper Johnstone also helps him with discipline and investigations—so much so that if the grant-funded SRO program is eliminated, SSCS is going to have to consider creating at least a part-time dean of students position to replace him.
SSCS eliminated the principal’s post because of budget concerns a few years ago, naming Mr. Green superintendent and dividing the principal’s responsibilities between him and other administrators.
“We’d have to look at some way to replace Trooper Johnstone,” Mr. Green said. “I’m spread pretty thin. It used to be that I’d have to set aside a whole day for the kind of investigations he’s helped us with. But, already, there are a lot of days I don’t get it “all” done. I can’t do any more and we’d probably have to look at something like a part-time dean of students if the SRO program is cut.”
Former SSCS Superintendent Steve Urgenson wrote the grant for Trooper Johnstone’s position about five or six years ago when the school was having problems with thefts in the cafeteria and even the classrooms.
“He made a real difference right away,” Mr. Green said. “It seems his presence has had a settling influence here. Maybe it’s just coincidence, the things we were having problems with, they’re all down. And it’s not just because he’s a trooper, but because he’s from inside the community.”
The SRO program has proven so popular with schools, that there are nearly 90 districts on a waiting list for one, according to the State School Boards Association.
Also according to the State School Boards Association, since its inception in 2000-01, the State police SRO program has responded to more than 12,000 criminal calls in schools, handled more than 1,000 school threats, confiscated nearly 50 weapons, helped recover more than $300,000 in stolen property, and provided counseling to some 78,000 students.