On Valentine’s Day, Vestal residents gathered at the Town Hall, calling for the school resource officer (SRO) program’s expansion in the Vestal Central School District (CSD).

Currently, four Vestal police officers oversee the district’s six school buildings. Town Supervisor Maria Sexton cited budgetary concerns and funding priorities for critical town infrastructure as roadblocks for the program’s expansion. Some residents at the protest and the subsequent Town Board meeting questioned the legitimacy of the recently elected supervisor’s concerns. Parents, administrators and teachers from the Vestal CSD joined longtime residents in expressing frustration with the board’s handling of the SRO program.

“The four full duty SROs that work in the schools will continue in their present positions,” Sexton wrote in an email. “There is not — and never has been — any plan to change that. The only discussion that has occurred is whether the program would expand, adding additional full-duty officers. In order to expand the program, we would have to find a way to pay for it … next year and every year thereafter. Unfortunately, the prior supervisor — and Board — left the town with serious budget issues. They did not [include] over $4.1 million of essential expenditures in the current budget.”

After Sexton presented Vestal’s infrastructure needs and associated budgetary concerns, the meeting was opened for public comment. Clifford R. Kasson, the Vestal school superintendent, said that the district had offered to address related concerns by paying half the salary of two new SROs. Sexton’s response led to a contentious, albeit brief, interaction between her and the superintendent, and some residents applauded Kasson before he left the meeting.

John Fletcher, a Vestal resident who organized the Town Hall protest, shared some of the residents’ concerns with the recent developments in the SRO program.

“The reason that the rally was organized was out of concern for the direction that the Town Board is taking,” Fletcher said. “As you can see, the primary driver was the SRO program and the town being able to have their voices heard — that the town’s preference is to remain with active duty Vestal Police officers. The residents feel there is a price being placed on their child’s head, that it’s coming down to a budget decision. I’m dumbfounded with how the supervisor can state that this is not a cost saving, yet she’s saying that the determination for moving forward will be based on cost.”

Some residents entered the meeting assuming that the SRO program would be discontinued entirely because of the budgetary concerns Sexton mentioned. She repeatedly clarified that the program would not be discontinued.

“The four officers are going to stay in place,” Sexton said. “[Residents’] voices have been heard. When we’re structuring the budget, we’re going to pay our bills first and then we’re going to consider how much we can pay for it, to see if we can expand the program. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to expand the program, but it has to be something we can pay for forever if we do it.”

While the meeting’s focus was on the SROs, residents questioned Sexton and the board on other recent local developments. Some asked Sexton about the recent incident where she pulled over a wrong-way motorist on Vestal Parkway. Councilman Stephen Donnelly said that Sexton should be investigated for her actions. Fellow Councilman Glenn Miller ‘78, who was elected on a slate with Sexton, defended her, saying that he would have done the same.

Sexton was also questioned about the abrupt retirement of former Chief of Police Stace Kintner following the incident. She said that she tried to speak with Kintner, but he retired before they could meet.

Residents and Donnelly accused Sexton, Miller and Robert Greene ‘09, another councilman who also ran on their slate, of consistently voting together, regardless of the issue, which Miller and Greene denied. They also suggested that an illegal quorum had occurred at Town Hall the prior evening, saying that Greene had appeared alongside Sexton and Miller for a Town Planning Board meeting.

The description of events was immediately rebutted by Greene, who cited his duties as a liaison to the Town Planning Board, adding that he arrived after the meeting had concluded. A resident who had attended the prior night’s meeting shared that only Sexton and Miller had been in attendance and no illegal quorum had occurred, leading to a dispute between the resident and Donnelly.

“Through the outpouring of public support, I am very pleased to hear that everyone would like to continue the SRO program and its expansion,” Greene, a father to students in the district, said. “It was never on the table to cut [the SRO program], so I’m glad we have discussed it and allayed fears to the public. Essentially, things will be handled when we get to the budget season.”