Bridgewater-Raritan schools chief and mayor at odds over safety

BRIDGEWATER — With less than a month to the new school year, the disagreement over safety in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District has not been resolved, with Mayor Matt Moench proposing that police officers be stationed at each of the 10 schools District and Schools Superintendent Robert Beers saying the district is already taking steps to improve safety.

Moench’s proposal will be reviewed by district officials and school board members in committees before the next board meeting on Aug. 30, just a week before the start of the school year.

“The most unfortunate part of this problem is that it creates the connotation that our schools are unsafe and that’s not true,” Beers said.

Public debate also has the potential to “escalate” anxiety among students and parents ahead of the school year, the superintendent said.

In a letter to the community, Beers had previously said that “the actions of an elected official have attempted to create division instead of cohesion.”

But Moench said, in a letter to the school board, “true collaboration and compromise requires clear communication and goodwill from both sides,” although he “can’t just ‘keep getting along’.” .

The school district is taking a “holistic” approach to school security and has hired four additional “campus monitors” for the new school year who can handle CCTV, ID scanning systems, pedestrian safety, talk to the community and interact with students, teachers and other staff.

Beers said in a statement that the district’s plan “has been put in place and has the support of decision makers within the Bridgewater Township Police Department.”

Bridgewater Police Chief Paul Payne publicly announced on Monday that he will retire on September 1 after a quarter century with the department. No successor has been named.

Earlier:Bridgewater mayor and superintendent split over school safety

The Mayor is proposing that Armed School Resource Officers and Class III Officers be stationed at each school. In a letter to the school board with the proposed contract, Moench said the township is “willing to bear the brunt of the financial burden,” just over $1 million of the estimated cost of $1.3 million.

The mayor’s proposal calls for three school resource officers, eight Class III officers, two alternate Class III officers, and 50% of a sergeant to oversee Class II officers and 25% of a sergeant to manage resource officers school.

When the school is closed for holidays and during the summer, officers would be assigned by the police chief “on other duties” as directed by the chief, the proposed agreement says.

In the 2021–22 school year, the township provided two school resource officers, three Class II officers, and a sergeant, with the school district paying for one school resource officer, three Class III officers, and a percentage of the Sergeant’s time.

Although the township and school district are primarily funded by property taxes, Moench said the school district’s savings “could be redirected to real educational priorities, like more teachers, resources and technology for teachers.” .

A key point in the division between the school district and the township is the chain of command.

Matt Moench, Mayor of Bridgewater

Under Moench’s plan, police officers would report to the police chief, while district proposal staff would report to Michael Voorhees, the district security coordinator; the superintendent and the school board.

Moench argued in his letter to the board that even well-trained and qualified security personnel “do not have the same legal obligations and protections as sworn law enforcement officers” and “cannot see themselves entrusting the safety of our children in the event of a life-threatening or fatal emergency”. “

But the school district says its security personnel “have impeccable credentials and have held leadership positions in community policing, the county sheriff’s department and the New Jersey State Police.”

“These law enforcement officials are employees of the district, not employees of a private security company,” the district statement said.

Although Moench said the township is “willing and eager to work with Superintendent Beers and the entire school board,” he added that “compromise does not mean a concession on any of the fundamentals.”

In June, Moench and district officials met to discuss school safety after 19 children and two adults were killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on June 24. may.

But this meeting led Moench to go public with his plan.

Beers then said the issue “had nothing to do with school safety.”

“Essentially, there is an elected official who seeks to act as mayor, chief of police and superintendent of schools,” Beers wrote in a letter to the community, adding that it was “a game of political power” and that the mayor was engaging in a “smear campaign” against the school district.

“I hope cool heads will prevail and elected officials will let the experts do their job,” he concluded.

Email: [email protected]

Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. For unlimited access to her articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account

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